Written on July 1st, 2011 to be posted on July 31st, 2011, 29 Tammuz 5771, my mother’s yahrzeit.
It’s been a bittersweet week for me. I finished the job that I hated at TC which, for obvious reasons, was great, but it’s also the end of my nearly two year stint at the school, and just like two years ago, I say goodbye to a routine and a neighborhood and a subway stop and so much more. I think, more than my actual graduation, I felt like I had finished what I never did when I went to grad school the first time, accumulated a bunch of credits, and wandered around dazedly for a year. I don’t remember how I felt when I left the school for the “last” time but it wasn’t anything like this time, I’m sure. I kept seeing echos of that experience as well as the last two years as I walked around the buildings for the last time this week. The classroom where my psych professor in the 90′s told us how she had been childhood friends with Perry Farrell and they had made a pact that they would marry each other if no one else would (eighteen years later, I had my financial aid exit seminar in that room so I could find out how my loans will follow me around forever, yay). The office where I had my interview for last year’s job – I was still at The Record Label and had bought a suit the day before (my office this year was just a few doors down – I passed the other one almost every day). The lounge where I hung out the first time around because I was commuting and needed to be there early to grab a parking space and the second time the scene of ice cream socials and collaborative groups. The classroom where the first time around, one day, I suddenly realized I had left my keys in the car, couldn’t concentrate, left in the middle, and called a locksmith to break into my parents’ car. I didn’t have a class there the second time, but again, I passed it it almost every day.
I received the seventh degree in my immediate family from Columbia. My dad has two graduate degrees from there, my mom had a BA and an MA, and my brother has two graduate degrees as well. Next year my niece starts college and will hopefully get the eighth. The university is also two blocks from the seminary to which my family is closely connected. In sum, the neighborhood always felt like home and I’m sure I’ll be back, but not on a daily basis. Every year on my mom’s yahrzeit we go to the cemetery but I don’t feel her there, probably because I rarely went there with her when she was alive (it’s a family plot, but decently far away). Where I have always felt her most was at Barnard, which I walked past every day. My mother loved her time at Barnard. She wasn’t from New York but she loved it and made the most of her time and education. She kept scrapbooks through her years there, which I found after her death and took home with me. In them she kept programs from ballets and Broadway shows, handouts from committees and activities she took part in, notes from friends and boyfriends, letters from my grandparents, and many other things. She kept up with her group of friends all throughout her life (without Facebook!) and wore only one ring besides her wedding rings: her Barnard class ring. She felt there was a certain type of “Barnard woman:” a woman who accomplished important things, and she tried to be this woman in her life. She succeeded.
I almost went to Barnard. It was my first choice until I visited Hopkins. My mother never showed any disappointment that I didn’t go there and I’ll never know if she felt any. But we did the tour together and I’m glad I had that experience with her, even though I barely remember it. I recall one thing supremely well, though, and it was when I was away from her, having my interview. The interviewer was trying to give me a sense of the sort of network that alumnae enjoyed. She described how Suzanne Vega, a graduate, had called the school recently looking for a student to assist her. You see, the woman told me, Barnard women want to work with other Barnard women. I don’t know why this stayed with me through my life but when I first heard the song Tom’s Diner, I knew which diner it was, because I knew Suzanne Vega had gone to Barnard.
Every day when I went to school these last two years, every day, I paused as I walked by Barnard and made “eye contact” with the gate and the main building, which is called Barnard and says Barnard in great carved letters. I wanted to tell my mother I would finish and I would become an educator, as she had been. I was on the Barnard campus three or four times in the last two years and I always, always thought about how my mother had walked down the exact pathways and maybe sat on the step on which I was sitting. It wasn’t until this week, when I was totally finished that I realized that going into education wasn’t the thing that would have made the greatest impression on my mother, it’s that I finally obtained the love of learning. And I have. I love to learn and would go back to class in a heartbeat. I think this thirst for knowledge was my mother’s hallmark and legacy and I’m glad I finally inherited it. Now I too will spend my days trying to inspire it in others.
בזכות מרים נחמה בת הרב יצחק
Title is from Tom’s Diner, a song by a true Barnard woman, and the cathedral referenced is the one in which I finally graduated.
Suzanne Vega – Tom’s Diner (the version most people know)