Geri Mariano Interview
Geri Mariano was born with diastrophic dysprasia, a condition that affects bone and cartilage, resulting in dramatically short stature and many physical and social challenges. Often people ask Geri if she wants to be called “handicapped” or “disabled.” She always replies, “Just call me Geri!” For over ten years she has spoken to adults and children of all ages, offering insights and sharing observations about challenges, creativity and compassion. I was so glad Geri decided to attend our 20th reunion and wanted to share the inspirational work she is doing. She currently has had surgery on her hip and I am sure she would love to hear from you all. Her snail mail address is: Geri Pinciaro Mariano – patient, Room 8B, Floor A, Helen Hayes Rehabilitation Center, 51 Route 9W, West Haverstraw, NY 10993. Her e-mail is email@example.com.
Liz Foley Interview
Many of us from the Class of 1989 are a generation that has grown up with movies from the time we were born – from drive in theatres to movie cinemas, VCRs and DVD’s. However, few of us know the people behind filmmaking. One of our own alumnae, Liz Foley, has had her own film company, Elyria Pictures, with her life partner, Pete Hobbs for twelve years.
Why the name Elyria Pictures?
Elyria is a town in Ohio, near Oberlin where Pete grew up. The two towns are juxtaposed in a sort of chiaroscuro, which we found fascinating. The name seems appropriate for the company because a place has a spirit that needs to tell its story.
What is the next film you are working on?
We have shot many of our films in the Pioneer Valley. The next film for Elyria Pictures (http://www.elyriapictures.com/welcome.html) is a narrative short. It is a spiritual adventure story about Steve, a young punk rocker, who is thrown out of his apartment. He sets out to crash with a friend and winds up in a strange, enchanted town. He meets a visionary preacher, Brother Wilf, with a terrible secret and a 16-year-old girl named Agnes who helps both him and Brother Wilf to find their way.
What is an overriding goal, drive, incentive with your films?
With each film, I strive to make it the best it can be with the purpose that it reflect real life by having humor as well as drama. I create to move the audience. Currently, I am working to make a narrative feature film entitled “Funny Peculiar”. I have already completed he script. “Funny Peculiar” is based on a very difficult period in my own family life in the early 1990’s. Two actors, Rip Torn and Betty Buckely are committed to playing the parents in the film. Anyone can read the movie because the script is available on the Elyria Pictures website. I am looking for the modest financing needed, less than $1 million, to make the movie. So, if any fellow alums out there are interested in producing a feature film that is full of heart, humour and serious drama, here is your chance. I know that someday it will be a beautiful, successful film.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in New Hyde Park, New York. It was very middle class, pretty boring, although I did have a great high school. High school set the stage for my creative future and for Smith because I was able to enroll in challenging, alternative programs called Community School which had its own faculty, two big rooms with desks and couches, and the freedom to make up curriculum with the faculty each year, as long as I followed certain very loose guidelines. Professionals also taught classes, including a social worker who taught Sociology and a radio engineer at a big NYC radio station who taught a course in Radio Engineering. As a new student at Smith, I was confident about choosing my own educational program. I did a Smith Scholar’s project and made a short film called “Why I Live Here” about Northampton. No surprise, my minor was Film Studies.
As a child, did you have any idea what you would be when you grew up?
I did have a vague notion that it would be entertainment. When I was very little I wanted to be a nightclub singer in a long gown with a fabulous orchestra behind me. I watched a lot of 1940’s movies with my mom.
Why the Pioneer Valley?
I was no stranger to Northampton. My family had been coming to the Valley during my childhood because my parents had good friends who taught at Umass. Compared to Long Island, the Valley seemed like paradise. Initially, I attended Umass. Two years later, at the age of twenty, I dropped out to really identify my professional and academic goals. I worked in social service for a long time and then a good friend convinced me to continue my studies at Smith. I had been doing theatre in Northampton with a small company, The Playgroup, and thought Smith would be a wonderful opportunity to make theatre in a lovely setting while also receiving formal training. Currently, I live part-time in the Valley and part-time in New York, near Columbia University where I received a MFA in film.
Where do you teach and what has been the most challenging aspect of teaching?
While in New York, I teach at the New York Film Academy, the Borough of Manhattan Community College, and Five Towns College. In my role as teacher, the biggest challenge is keeping the material fresh and current so it is stimulating to present to the students. With my love for teaching, a performance in itself, I develop new coursework for each class. This dual living – geographically between venues and professionally between film making and teaching – provides me with balance both personally and professionally.
What is your best memory of Smith?
One of my fondest memories of Smith was shooting my first film “Our Lady of Desire.” With access to Smith’s only 16mm camera I headed to St. Mary’s Cemetary on Bridge Road. Even though it was a wintry, snowy day, physical plant took me and my tripod around the cemetery so I could get elevated shots of dramatic grave markers from the back of the truck. The employee from physical plant helped me all afternoon in search of dramatic images. It was he who found a small, weathered angel I had missed. The image was one of the best in the film.
Why film? Why not writing novels or photography- what was it about film that got under your skin and compelled you to create?
My dreams of making films had originated at Umass. When I got to Smith, I realized those dreams had to be realized. Film and theatre are both right for me because of the group processes. Poetry was my first art form. I still write and study; however, I find it to be very lonely. Social by nature, I love to do things that involve other people, using my innate leadership skills to inspire and bring out the best in other people. Making films gives me the opportunity to do that repeatedly.
Visually, I find the moving image compelling. Unlike photography or film, the movement is actual, instead of frozen, adding another whole dimension to the concept of composition. On a more personal level, some of my earliest memories are of going to the movies with my mom or watching movies on TV with my whole family. Although my parents surrounded us with a myriad of different avenues for creative expression, it was film that manifested itself in me. Culture was important to both of my parents and it shows in my work as I seek creative inspiration from the life in front of me.
Other interests, hobbies, passions?
Although filmmaking and teaching presents a very full schedule, my other true passion is family and friends. Two brothers, a sister-in-law and two 2 ½ year old nephews are a constant in my life. This network of friends stretches back to grammar school and forward to people I have met in the last few years as a filmmaker. My partner Pete is the rock I rest my soul on and I feel incredibly lucky to have the amount of love and care that comes my way. I want to do everything I can to respect and treasure that. As many of us in the class are faced with aging parents, we are confronted with circumstances that are intense, often making us stop and say, “oh my gosh, this isn’t really happening, it’s like I’m in a movie.” I lost both my parents in the past year and a half. Such a loss has made me aware of how fragile and temporal life is.
Margaret Williams Interview
Margaret Williams’ work covers from Alaska’s Aleutian Islands to the far shores of Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula – over a million square miles of the Bering Sea’s shallow continental shelves and deep-water basins. Based in Anchorage, Alaska, she is director of the World Wildlife Fund’s Bering Sea Ecoregion Program.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in a small town in Massachusetts in the country, near the New Hampshire border.
If someone told you when you were 8 what you would be doing and where you would be living, would you have believed them?
Probably, it is a dream job for me. Though, the job I have wasn’t really an option when I was young and thinking about what I could be when I grew up. I remember this book I had and you had to check off what you wanted to be: a nurse, a flight attendant, a teacher. It was a book where you put your picture in it and listed your friends and memories and then there was an area where you checked off what you wanted to be but the girls had limited professions. Of course the boys had fireman and other things like that. I just checked them all off.
Where did you live at Smith?
I moved around. I came to Smith Sophomore year. I had been at George Washington in D.C. I wanted to get out of a small school situation and George Washington was so urban I was initially attracted to that idea. I was also interested in international studies but when I got there it was way too urban for me so I tried Smith. Smith had a good cross country team too.
What was your major at Smith?
American Studies. I also studied Russian language while I was there. My Russian studies started at George Washington. I also took a Russian course at Amherst.
At Smith, during exams I studied at the Northampton library and I looked at a National Parks magazine that was covering something called Beringia Park. It was this idea to create a park spanning the Bering Strait, across the Russian/American boundary. It was such a great idea to do diplomacy through protected areas. I was very interested in the concept of improving foreign relations through conservation.
What graduate studies did you pursue that led you to work in Russia?
After Smith, I worked with the Park Service in Glacier National Park in Montana. They have a training program called the Student Conservation Association. Then I went to Middlebury to do the intensive six week language course because I felt that I was losing my Russian and then I went to get a Master’s degree at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.
In your work, is there anything you find that a Smith education provided which has helped you in your profession?
Definitely, the obvious liberal arts thing is about critical thinking and writing. I used to go to the writing lab and Mary McDonald was an amazing instructor who helped me so much. I would give her a paper before it was due and she would provide really instructional editorial advice.
What is the most striking difference between environmental work in the US and Russia?
There are many more opportunities here, environmental protection is more institutionalized. There is a more general understanding and support of environmental laws and regulations. In Russia, environmentalists are scientists. There isn’t as much activism. There is a greater ability to enforce laws here in the United States.
When most Americans think of Russian nature, they think of environmental catastrophes—Chernobyl, oil spills, pollution. Are we seeing the whole picture?
Few people know about the amazing and good things. There is a system of protected areas called Zapovedniks. It is a really unique category and they have put more land into this category than in any other place in the world. These huge areas are set aside for conservation of wildlife and wilderness, but not for people. The government pretty much prohibits visitation, but to make up for funding, some ecotourism is developing.
Russia, with one-eighth of the Earth’s land area, has one of the world’s premiere systems of these strictly protected areas, called “zapovedniks.” The year 2006 marks the 90th anniversary of these areas. What could the US learn from this system? Do we have anything comparable?
We can learn about the benefits of setting aside areas for ecological processes to take place. The United States has wilderness areas but many of these are heavily used by people which impedes the natural processes to be able to occur and be studied. Also, Russia has a strong educational program for scientists. They have amazing skills of observation and data collecting.
You have visited some of the most remote areas in the Bering Sea, places that have never been inhabited, built upon, bombed, subjected to introduced species, or overgrazed by reindeer. Most of us won’t experience such untouched places in our lifetime. What would be the first thought that comes to mind you would want to convey to someone about such places.
Those areas are getting fewer and smaller and with climate change taking place and with increasing population we need big and wild areas more than ever – somewhere where nature can be resilient. It is so important to ensure that protected areas can exist. Teachers and Park Rangers are some of the most important people to help protect such places for the future and they are the worst paid. Supporting parks and protect areas is very important. You don’t have to see and visit them to understand their importance.
You founded the first English language publication on nature conservation in the former USSR, Russian Conservation News. What compelled you to do this? Did you have any restriction about what you could write while you were in Russia?
When I got to Russia, I was learning such amazing stuff, I felt it was very important to share it with the West. The Russian conservationists were doing important work that could contribute and yet so little information was available in English. The Journal has grown into quarterly publication. I have collected a lot of information that has never been compiled that even the Russian Government didn’t have. The strength of the Journal is that it doesn’t belong to any one NGO, it is simply a voice for Russian Conservation. I am looking for funds or an institutional home such as a college, university etc. to ensure that it continues to be a valuable resource.
The link below tells you more about the goals of the journal.
Have you seen a polar bear up close in your travels (I had to ask)?
I got pretty close last year on the Russian coast of the Arctic, on the Chukotka peninsula. I had been travelling all night across the Tundra to this remote village and I arrived in the early morning and went to have some tea. Someone came into the house and said there was a bear. Just about 500 meters out of the house a Polar bear was eating a frozen walrus. The walrus had been killed in a stampede. It had been there since the Fall.
Nicole Friedler Interview
Nicole Friedler has been photographing memorable events and families for ten years. Her images have been published in Town and Country, InStyle Weddings, Vanity Fair, The New York Times, Boston Elegant Weddings, Grace Ormonde Wedding Style, The Improper Bostonian, Martha’s Vineyard Weddings Magazine, Cape Cod Bride, and most recently on The Martha Stewart Show. All that experience aside, she approaches her work with a sense of spirit, a sense of style, and a sense of humor so that each photo is its own experience that is filled with life and emotion. No image is mundane and each one is imbued with the character of the moment and the people. You can also watch an interview of Nicole Friedler from a local Martha’s Vineyard station: http://friedlerphotography.com/video.php.
What house did you live in?
What was your major?
French and Studio Art minor
How did you decide to go to Smith?
My mother went there, so I took a look at it while I was looking to apply to schools and it came out on top above all the other places – plus I didn’t get in to Harvard…
Aren’t you glad you didn’t get into Harvard?
Was anyone at Smith influential to your career as a photographer?
Remember Chester Michalik? I spent the summer before my junior year in Northampton, working at the library so that I could get on-campus housing, and I took my first photo class at the summer school at UMass. I met with Chester late in the summer and asked him if I could do a Special Studies that first semester since I’d taken Photo I and Photo II wasn’t offered until second semester. He approved it and I was off! Stephen Petegorsky, my Photo II teacher was also influential.
Do you think they still have darkrooms at Smith?
I would assume so, as you really should learn the fundamentals of the art form before moving on. I don’t have any clue how or what they teach there now. I shoot completely digitally now, having switched over fully four years ago.
What led you to focus on Wedding photography/family portraits?
I think my love at looking at our family photos over the years drew me to what I do now. Because I know the importance of reliving my family history through photographs, I feel very happy that I’m able to provide people with the invaluable service of preserving their special moments for them. I fell in love with photography that summer before my junior year in Northampton, and am a naturally gregarious person who’s interested in people, so the two things just went hand-in-hand.
Are you willing travel for an assignment or do you only work on Martha’s Vineyard?
I do travel for work – and love to do so. I’ve been to Italy, Chicago, Southampton, NY, New Hampshire, New York City, Boston, Miami, Grand Rapids, MI and San Diego for weddings, and do family portraits when I’ll be in one area for a bit – San Francisco, New York and Boston mainly.
If you are a bride, what do you want to look for in a photographer?
I suggest people look at the work first and see what moves them in terms of images – some photographers do fabulous “glossy” work, creating images that look like they come from magazine pages. Others, like myself, focus less on the glam and more on the emotion of the moment – I tell my clients that if they can look at their photos and think “That’s not just how we looked, that’s how we
felt”, then I have done my job.
During a wedding, how crucial is your relationship with your
client and the client’s with the photographer? I ask this b/c I
remember getting my picture taken at a friends wedding and the
photographer was just mean and scary, barking orders at us. It was
hard to smile.
It’s critical that people feel at ease when you’re photographing them. The dumber the comment or joke I tell, the better the photos look!After choosing a few photographers you like, communicate with them, and, if possible, make an appointment to get together with them, look at their work in person (so much is able to be done online now), and, most importantly, see if you LIKE them and
feel comfortable with them. Your photographer will be on the one vendor at your wedding with whom you will spend the most time, so it’s kind of like dating: you have to be comfortable with the person. And it’s even better if you like them. I am really fortunate that some of my dearest friends over the last ten years are former clients.
How did a Jersey girl end up on Martha’s Vineyard?
I was supposed to attend my roommate from NYC’s wedding on the Vineyard in June of 1998. A number of things were going on at the time, not the least of which were that the boyfriend I was dating in Boston and was going to go with broke up with me two months before; because my roommate was getting married I had to look for a new place to live; I was hating my job and interviewing for a big job at AOL that would have meant me moving to Virginia (!) and was attempting to get fired so that they would pay my unemployment. Plus, a weekend on the Vineyard (even ten years ago) would have been about $800 for transportation and lodging and the wedding present and…I just couldn’t do it. So two weeks before the event, I bailed and called the B&B owner – with whom I really got along and had several phone calls – and asked if I could get my $100 deposit back, to which she replied that if she rented the room it would be no problem. I believe one of my Smith friends took the room, but don’t really remember….So, dot dot dot, the summer went by (miserably), I moved back into the apartment I had been living in on the East side (rented
from an elderly Smith alum through the Smith Club of NYC) prior to moving to the West Side, took my four weeks vacation all at once by announcing it to my boss and walking out the door (hoping to get fired) and then I got fired and realized I had to start looking for work again. I then decided that balancing my checkbook would be a good start and I realized (mid-August) that I’d not gotten my deposit back, so I called the woman at the B&B on the Vineyard. She went into a ten-minute apology and the end of which she went on about how the girl she’d hired for the summer had fallen down her stairs and broken her ankle two weeks before and she was doing everything herself and…I wasn’t working?! Did I want to come up there and help her? So six days later I arrived on the Vineyard, only for four weeks. Which turned into six, near the end of which my employer told me that she and her husband were going to Florida for the winter and needed someone to housesit and watch the cat…I told her she was torturing me, and that I would think about it when I went back to NYC (which I had to do).I should add that, the week before this conversation, I booked my first wedding – I was carrying my camera with me at the farmer’s market, and the lemonade stand guy asked if I was a photographer. We started talking and he said he was getting married over Columbus Day weekend and wasn’t going to have a photographer but realized how important it was. He was a graphic designer, and so we agreed to barter – I’d shoot his wedding and he would design my logo and business card. And that was that.So I returned to NYC and less than 24 hours after my arrival had to get to
a subway to make my way downtown for a dentist appointment. I could not make myself get on the train at the first stop I came to, so I kept walking until I had five minutes to get to the dentist and so jumped on the train at the next stop. As I was putting my token in the turnstyle, all of the people were getting off an uptown train and as I was reaching to put the token in, some big, miserable guy came walking straight at me through the turnstyle and he looked so miserable and worn-out that at the moment, looking at his face, I
decided I would move to the Vineyard. So I went up two days before
Columbus Day weekend with all my worldly possessions in the back of a
UHaul and started handing out my business cards. And that was ten
Wow, if that random guy at the turnstyle only knew what an
influence he had on your future!!
Then again, maybe he wouldn’t care. Right?!
How do you think Smith has had an influence on your life since
graduation – other than a Smithie taking your room at the B&B.
I do believe that it has opened some doors in terms of people seeing me as accomplished and intelligent “Oh, YOU went to SMITH…”, the insinuation being that I’m super-smart. I also have gotten a couple of jobs because Smith alums read my biography on my website where it states that I went there. I also believe the best thing I got from mySmith education was how to problem-solve, and that has certainly helped me run my own business and get along in general in the world.
Can you believe we are approaching our 20th year since graduation?
What happened?! Where did the last 20 years go?! I spent the night in a dorm at Wellesley last year (my adopted sister just finished her sophomore year there) and I slept on her floor on an air mattress and you know what?! The air pressure in the pipes went wonky and the fire alarm went off at 1am – just like that time in Wilder when I was fire captain!! So there I was in my flannel pjs in the dorm courtyard with 100 18-20 years olds thinking that I felt like I was right back at Smith – only that was 18 years ago!!! I went back to sleep – and the
alarm went off again 2 hours later – my last time spending the night in my sister’s dorm!!
Did you have a vision of who you would be or what you would be doing in your 40’s when you were still in College?
Yes, actually, in the summer before my junior year, I had a voice speak to me telling me that I would be a photographer, so I had the feeling that I would be doing it, though I couldn’t tell you back then that it would be here on the Vineyard in this capacity. I also felt that I would really be known in my community for my profession, so being one of a select number of photographers on the Vineyard has provided that. I thought I’d be married and have children by now, but life takes turns that you can never anticipate, and you learn to adapt. The man I’m with is going through a divorce and has grown kids, so by the time all is said and done, I don’t think that children will be a part of my life. Which now, though I always thought I wanted children and a family, is completely okay.
What is your craziest wedding story?
Well, that would be the wedding of the two crazy coke-heads I did about ten years ago in May, the hottest day on record in mid-May, I might add. The wedding started three hours late because the groom was doing something
(sniff) and had to go pick up a calligraphy sign that they had paid hundreds for – it was for people to sign at the reception.There were about forty people there and as I photographed I was asking people how they knew the couple. I got answers like “I wait on them at their favorite restaurant.” “I mow their lawn.” “I frame their artwork.” No kidding. The guests were plowed by the time the ceremony happened, because the bar was opened so that people didn’t pass out from the heat while waiting.Then the bride fell off of her Manolo Blahniks while doing their first dance – a tango to the theme from that Al Pacino movie where he plays the blind veteran. They were both completely high. And the lawnmower guy was having sex with the groom’s sister (who was twenty years older than he) in the bathroom. And the groom was standing out by the cook tent eating the filet with his hands and not sitting down with his bride.And then they had a baby six months later. And he died of a drug overdose five years ago.How’s that for crazy?!
I have always thought this task would be an incredibly stressful job – especially during those “I do’s” when you can’t exactly ask them to repeat the vows so you can get a second shot at it. Are you able to enjoy yourself at weddings or is it a lot of hard work?
I do not get stressed out about missing a shot. If I do, well, I do. There are usually plenty of other people in the audience clicking away who catch what I might not, though I don’t go into the situation with that thought, of course. I love what I do and enjoy it immensely, though, at 41 (after ACL construction in my left knee and doing it for ten years), it IS a lot of hard work. It is significant physical work during the event when I literally sit down for 30 minutes out of 8 hours, lugging 40 pounds of equipment around, running here and there, anticipating where people will be, etc. Keeping up with technology and the demands of digital photography and computer work is also very difficult – I was never a computer genius, but I have to have to edit all my work…
So, after capturing the moments of endless ceremonies and families, do you think all that time looking at this concept of family and marriage through a lens has changed your perspective of what it all means?
I don’t think so – I’m still amazed by people and their interactions and relationships and I love being able to give them what I found so precious, which was a record of my family history. I still cry at most weddings and get goosebumps and smile while I’m photographing, so it’s all good. I truly think I have one of the best jobs in the world…
Was there some moment or event that made you think you should really pursue your motivational speaking?
I’ve been thinking about this question quite a bit . . . it was many years in the making and I have now come to realize the seeds were actually planted while I was at Smith. I wish I could pin point the actual date and year but it all started at Smith in various ways. I was involved in Student Government and spent a lot of time raising awareness about access (or lack thereof) on campus and in general about various special needs. As part of the Awareness Days that were sponsored by the Student Government Association and the College Administration, I took part in panel discussions. Another key turning point was my very first talk with the children from the on-campus day care center. They would see me most every day zooming by (and I would zoom often) on my “buggy”. As children do, they would stare, giggle, and/or point. They didn’t know me and hadn’t seen too many “different” looking people like me. I wish I could remember exactly how it came to be but at one point the teachers and I met and decided I should talk with the students so I would be real to them – a real person. After that first gathering with the children – whenever I would speed by on the buggy – they would then wave hello. In my Senior year a classmate’s mother, Judi Minsky, enrolled as an Ada Comstock student and had to write a paper on Mainstreaming. Judi knew me through her daughter who was at Smith, Randi, and asked if she could interview me. Judi asked me a few pivotal questions such as, where I went to school and how was I treated by my classmates. My answer was indicative of this overarching mission of my current motivational speaking: Public School and fine – I was just Geri. We had a small district with less than 200 kids in each grade at that time so everyone knew everyone, including me. The idea began to crystallize that children don’t make fun of people they get to know. My church runs a Nursery School and probably over ten years ago I began talking with the three and four year olds about people who are different — the most basic of conversations about not being scary or mean or a bad person because he or she looks different. Friends who knew I was doing that began encouraging me to expand my talks. I did so about four years ago . . . starting very slowly and in my own school district. The past two years I have been going out of state to do talks and everywhere I go I have been given very positive feedback and encouragement to do more.
Your personal story on your website is very powerful: www.justcallmegeri.com. One minute you are 18 months old in the care of social services and the next you are an adopted member of a family with three older siblings. Have you ever thought of finding your birth parents?
I have thought about it and have done some preliminary searching years ago. My biological parents had a son before me and they kept him as he was “normal.” Though the Mariano family is my family in every way possible – I was never formally adopted so my legal name is still my biological birth name. Because I know my birth name the searching was relatively easy. I actually know where my biological brother lives with his wife and two children – not far from my home. Because he was only three years old when I was born – I have no idea if he knows of my existence. I know I don’t want to knock on his door and be “rejected” again. Perhaps one day, if ever I write my story in a book form, he’ll figure out who I am and he will come looking for me. As for my birth parents, I don’t know if they are still living or not. Part of me would like to tell them personally how much they missed out on not keeping me . . . but part of me believes now I was meant to be elsewhere and maybe I wouldn’t be the person I am today if they had kept me.
What was your major at Smith?
What were your interests while at Smith?
Dancing! Soccer – going to home games, Student Government, Volunteering.
I was so glad you attended the 20th reunion. Being back on campus, did you perceive any sort of progress in accessibility issues with new buildings that have gone up since our departure from the campus?
I didn’t get around campus as much as I would have liked to – to do an informal survey but what I did see was encouraging and yet some of what I saw was still sadly the same old story. The Women’s Financial Independence Center (on Green Street) headed up by Mahnaz Mahdavi was in an inaccessible location and I wasn’t able to get in which disappointed me. There was a special event there during the Reunion Weekend and I was looking forward to going to it. Also – a bit surprising was that the accessible bedroom in the Reunion house had a bed that was not accessible. This situation was quickly rectified but it just showed again that such needs are not taken into account. My overall wish is that accessibility would be woven in future designs as universal design and not be so apparently separate. The World War II Memorial in DC is a beautiful example of universal design – one where people with limitations don’t feel separate because they have to go off to the side to use a ramp.
You recently had hip surgery at the Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan and will be at the Helen Hayes Rehabilitation Center soon. What are your hopes with this latest operation?
My hope is to stay upright and mobile/walking without debilitating pain. I probably should have consented to this surgery two years ago but wasn’t keen on spending potentially four months in the hospital rehabbing (in 2003 when my left hip was replaced – total time was four months). Last year I knew I couldn’t put this off any longer. I had hoped to have the surgery more in the winter months but there were delays and so April 1st was finally the date. Many people in both hospitals were surprised to know I live alone and do not own a wheelchair. They have not been able to see me as I usually am – upright in my prosthetics. Ironically, like most people – I have taken walking for granted – having been in prosthetics since age 18 months – before I even knew I was “different” or could pronounce “prosthetics” – so staying independently mobile/ambulatory is very important to me. I think I am much more user friendly in an upright position even if walking may be considered more of a burden than using a wheelchair. One person suggested seven years ago that I give up walking since I could get around faster in a chair – I was horrified and could not consider that. Finally – and much more superficially – I am looking forward to having a new pair of prosthetics made – and in time for my 25th High School reunion. Not only will I get to have input over their shape but I am also hoping for some new improvements – ie: bendable knees!
You also recently received a degree in Therapeutic Recreation. Who do you work with on a daily basis? Do you find that your physical limitations put you on a better level with your patients?
I have worked mostly with the adult day population – those with age related dementia (including Alzheimer’s). These jobs have been short term/temporary positions while still getting my Master’s and finishing my certification (obtained January 7th, 2010). Though I am not yet an older adult with cognitive deficits – I can understand how it feels to be treated as though there is something wrong with you. Unfortunately I know what it is like to be talked down to/patronized. And I know how important it is not to just pass time but to add enjoyment and meaning. In the future I would love to work with children and/or returning soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan who have had life changing injuries. Yes, I do think my physical limitations give me personal insight and empathy to what this population may be experiencing. When first considering this field, my soon-to-be advisor/mentor told me that she thought my life would be a benefit in the field. I have seen therapeutic recreation as both a consumer and a provider which is quite useful.
What is your best memory of Smith?
There are so many – hard to choose from. My best memories are always about being with others and doing something together such as Junior Day Rally Day Show for which I was “director” and part of the show. Participating in each Graduation either as Sophomore Push or Junior Usher and always talking with the older Alums who stayed in Lamont House are other great memories. Our Graduation is definitely a highlight. Mary Maples Dunn even paid for my graduation gown to be altered so it would fit. During the actual graduation ceremony, I was able to walk up a ramp that was built at my suggestion. I met President Dunn a few months before Graduation and told her my concerns about the ce