There is a saying, “our experiences influence the person we become.”
I thought I would kick off the celebration of Women’s History month a day early by sharing with you my experience attending an all women’s college.
When the time came to reveal to my friends that I would be attending a small private Catholic women’s university, many of them made fun of me by calling me a wanna be lesbian or feminist. They were confused as to why I wouldn’t want to experience the “traditional” college experience. For them, guys and partying were what they were looking forward to, not academics. For me, college wasn’t about partying or hookups, or even finding a husband, it was about trying to figure out who I was a an individual, exploring my purpose in life and giving myself the world of opportunities.
At the time, I wasn’t aware of the benefits of attending an all women’s college. The male-free environment allowed me to come out of my shell. Reflecting back on my high school career, I remember spending most of my time waiting to be heard. I would speak, but it felt as though no one was listening. My voice never seemed to be strong enough amongst the people I surrounded myself with. I now understand the people I called my “friends” were a part of the problem. I wasn’t being lifted or supported; instead these “friends” bullied me and made me feel worthless with their laughter and words. The less I spoke, the less I felt worthless. I felt it would be easier to listen to those around me, than to try so hard to be heard. I decided to live in a lifetime of silence. I didn’t realize it then, but when I made the decision, I not only silenced my voice, but my opinions, hopes and dreams. It wasn’t until I started my first semester at Saint Joseph College that I realized the mistake I had made. During my first year, I was surrounded by women who valued academic excellence, respected one another and committed themselves to making St. Joe’s an outstanding place to be. At that moment I realized I had made the best decision of my life.
Throughout my time at St. Joe’s I felt myself slowly crawling out of my silence. I came out of the darkness and developed into a stronger, more independent woman who was confident in her own skin. I no longer waited to be heard, instead I was eager to engage in intellectual conversations where the women who surrounded me valued my opinions both inside and outside of the classroom. I found my passions for community service and leadership though involvement on campus.
One of the moments that truly changed my life took place during spring break my senior year. Serving Sisters, our student group dedicated to community service, traveled to Biloxi, Mississippi to help disaster relief organizations. I remember stopping for dinner at a local restaurant. We had just been seated when a man approached us. He asked us if we were volunteers. We told him that we were volunteers on our spring break. With a tear in his eye, he looked at each of us and simply said “thank you.” It was hard for me to process those words because we just arrived and hadn’t even done any work. Yet, we were already being thanked, just for our presence and desire to help.
Isn’t it powerful that two little words, humbly stated can have the deepest impact? At that moment, I realized I was living the college’s mission statement: “I was ready to do whatever I could, to reach out to others, in the spirit of Mercy.” Not with fancy words or buckets of money, but with my hands and the skills I’d learned at St. Joe’s, I was ready to make a difference.
I had the opportunity to share that story with my fellow classmates at my graduation in 2007, as part of my commencement speech. Never in a million years would I have dreamed that my words would finally be heard in front of thousands of people. I found my voice and never looked back.
Since graduating from college, I have been pursuing my dreams by working on a Masters in Student Affairs. Throughout my graduate studies, I have had opportunities to share my experiences attending an all women’s college and the impact it had on my development as a young woman though presentations and conversations. Now, I am proud to share my voice and hope that my words encourage other young women to find their own path. I know how developmentally important my undergraduate education was to me. I proudly support the 48 remaining women’s colleges who are proudly standing strong. There is indeed a place for each of us to find our voice.