I OFTEN THINK OF HOW Smith College has influenced my life.
I count the ways.
I came to Smith 63 years ago, a high school graduate from a small city in South Texas. We didn’t have seasons—just blazing summers and a norther that would blow in now and then. In high school, social success often outweighed academic success, or so I imagined. And then suddenly there I was, sitting under one of the magnificent trees on campus among the falling autumn leaves, reading Plato. I had to pinch myself.
It was no longer nerdy to ask questions, study much of the time and work hard for good grades. Of course, I still wanted to be asked for a weekend at Yale or Dartmouth, and I secretly wished for a wool scarf striped in a men’s university’s colors.But I had lots of company on the weekends spent with classmates on campus.
In class I didn’t have to stay quiet in order not to outshine the boys. I could ask away. The environment subtly, gently, unnoticed, shaped me. Honed what my parents had begun. Taught me to believe in myself without even knowing it. But it was the professors who gave me the greatest gift: preparation for what became my professional life. It was John Chapman, assistant professor of government, who made all that followed graduation possible.
Mr. Chapman was an academician and a pragmatist. It was he who must have recognized that I needed the real world as well as the academic to thrive. I was a political science major. When it came time to write a thesis, I picked city planning in New Haven, Connecticut, as my topic. The mayor at the time had daringly made city planning and urban renewal the focus of his political career.
John Chapman somehow arranged for me to “work” in the office of the director of city planning planning in New Haven for a semester. I sat silent in the director’s office three days a week, observing and listening. I accompanied the director to community lunches and meetings, eavesdropped on conversations, overheard debates and problem-solving—
in other words, I watched the political process of principle and compromise in action.
Then I came back to campus, read book after book on theory and wrote my thesis. Wrote it in the style of the news stories I drafted back home at the newspaper, where I worked summers. Mr. Chapman thought it good. The second reader said it wasn’t academic enough. My diploma hung in the balance just weeks before graduation. Mr. Chapman sent it to a government professor at Yale who understood New Haven government. He thought it good. I graduated magna cum laude.
The point of my story is that the Smith environment and Mr. Chapman ensured that my education at Smith included the academic and theoretical, as well as the pragmatic and real. Thus armed, I spent the ensuing 40-plus years of my
professional life in journalism and government.
Because I was not afraid to ask questions and because my liberal arts education taught me a bit about a lot of things, I wrote for two Texas newspapers and a New York political/economic newsletter for 10 years. Because I had some knowledge of how government and politics mixed and mingled, I worked in government for another 34 years. I wound up
as senior council aide to the first woman elected to Houston’s city council and as deputy chief of staff to the second woman mayor of Houston.
At 81, I am a woman fulfilled both professionally and personally—and the professional half is due to Smith.
How did Smith influence my life?
I count the ways.
Have a story about how Smith has influenced your life? Send your 600-word essay to firstname.lastname@example.org for consideration.