Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Uncommon Women and Mountain Day


Yesterday was Mountain Day at my Alma Mater - Mt. Holyoke College (for UK readers this is a university not sixth form college). This is a wonderful tradition where the bells are rung and there are no classes - you are to seize the day. Unfortunately for me yesterday I couldn't down tools and go climb Mt. Holyoke itself, but I did remember doing that on a glorious Fall day with the trees not quite in their full autumnal glory. I can almost remember the smell of the dry ground and leaves crunching under foot....we won't talk about being out of breath and wondering why I was so unfit........


That Mountain Day fell so closely on the heals of a wonderful alumnea event held at St. Anne's College Oxford was rather nice. Although I was unable to attend the whole weekend symposium - Brain Power: Build It, Use It, Keep It I was able to join for Saturday evening which included a special session, Wobble, Warbles and Fish: the brain basis for dyslexia, given by John Stein, professor of Neuro-Physiology at Oxford and chairmen of the Dyslexia Research Trust. Fate smiled on me as I arrived at the same time as the professor and we made our way together to the lecture hall. I confessed to him that he was the reason I had left DD on her first exeat from boarding school to hear him speak. I explained that DS1 is severely dyslexic which wasn't surprising as both DH and I were. He said he needed families like ours as they continued to research the genetic link.


At the beginning of the lecture the reason he looked so familiar to me became clear - he is Rick Stein's (for non UK reader's Rick Stein is one of the UK's great chef and is based in Cornwall and is known for his fantastic fish recipes - I have two of his fish cookbooks on my shelves in Cornwall)brother which was not the reason for the fish in the title of his talk but could easily have been - it was fish oil.


His talk was amazing for me as everything fitted not only for DS1 but for me. I will not try and sum it up at this stage. I want to take some time to google his work and see if I can find links and explore the connection to dyslexia with writers in particular. I have to confess to being at times so full emotion during the lecture that I was too overwhelmed to take my normal copious notes - that and the words were far too long for my dyslexia too cope with quickly!


Now having left the US in 1989 and traveled a very different path to one I had ever could have dreamt while sitting inside Mt. Holyoke's ivy covered walls I have had very little to with my Alma Mater since I went to my tenth reunion - I think I was living in Calgary at that time. My twenty-fifth is arriving in May and I keep thinking that I am only twenty-eight so how can this be????


So sitting down to dinner at St. Anne's College brought so many memories back (first of my time spent not far away at Trinity College) but of what an exciting and empowering group of women (Mt Holyoke is an all women's college). I heard a phrase that I hadn't heard in years - Uncommon Women and as I looked around around I realized I too was one of them. Mt Holyoke pushed and challenged me in ways I never imaged at the time. It made me realize that all things were possible if I gave them my all. The best gift that it gave me was my first academic failure - up to that point I had cruised through my academic life without much effort, but thankfully one professor pulled me up short and brought me task. This taught me how to truly learn a skill - you need to work, work, and rework until you have it right - first time isn't always best. Boy is that important in writing fiction!


Now nearly 25 year years on and I realize that it has given me much more. During my years there, the sense of being uncommon sinks through your skin without you realizing it and it drives you. It makes you realize that you can make a difference in the world whether it is one life or hundreds that you help.


I looked around the hall at the alums and sensed the power of the call. For some it had been quiet change and others huge. I looked across the table at two young alums, '07 , one now doing her PhD at Cambridge and the other at St. Anne's, who had the world before them. I could feel their excitement and found that same emotion still lingered in my heart.


I think the most interesting change I noted was in the speach given by the current president Joanne Creighton - she spoke of the college's diversity and the need to continue the growth of diversity. Back twenty-five years ago the call was still for equality....How the world changes (in some ways - yet in some parts of the world I have lived equality is still desperately needed).........


So after such a long and wandering post, I wonder what your schools have given you. Aside from a package of academic learning what did you take away from your formal education?

8 comments:

SueG said...

What a great post, Liz. Having just dropped my younger son off at Harvard, we have been thinking a lot around here about the value and importance of a liberal arts education -- for my money (and it's a lot!), one of the best things US culture has to offer. I went to Wesleyan (in Ct) back in the late 70's and I still feel its influence. Wesleyan taught me to be creative with my life, not to be afraid to innovate. The road does not have to be straight and that the unusual is possible. It also taught me that it's not enough just to be smart. You have to be open, tolerant and persistent as well.

liz fenwick said...

SueG - I'd say you gained a tremendous amount from your years at Wesleyan! I think a liberal arts background sets you up to learn for life. Your son will have a brilliant time at Harvard. I keep thinking about US universities for my lot but we shall see. However they might gain some sense of the fact that they are American too which at the moment is a bit thin on the ground ... :-)

ChrisH said...

Fascinating and thought-provoking post, Liz. Passing my eleven plus made me realise that I could pass through doors where money couldn't buy you a place.

Debs said...

Interesting post. I didn't realize that dislexia was/could be genetic.

Flowerpot said...

Interesting post Liz. My formal education did very little for me except destroy my confidence, but I suppose I did learn to work hard.

HelenMHunt said...

I think I got more from my primary education than from my secondary education. I had a fantastic teacher at primary school who taught us anything and everything and taught us to think. By comparison, secondary school was all about getting ready for exams.

Susie Vereker said...

Interesting and moving, Liz. One would never know you were dislexic.

Anonymous said...

carolc said...

Great post Liz and really pleased you got so much from the lecture. How fortutious to meet the man himself.

Similarly to you I had an English teacher in my final year at a well known Melbourne boarding school who gave me a D- on my first essay. A consistent straight A in English, when I approached her she told me she intended to pick my work apart until my work moved to another level. Throughout the year I slowly improved in her rankings and sailed through with an A in final exams.

Teaching is a true calling for some people.

x
Carol