Gone and back

The year 1988 was an interesting time to be a woman and a Wheaton alumna. As a proud graduate of the Class of 1974, I cherished my diploma from a highly selective and prestigious women’s college. My class was the largest of a generation.

Turning the corner into the 1980s, Wheaton Sesquicentennial was an integral part of the college calendar, commemorating the importance of women’s education, and celebrating an impressive 150 years of history. And then the other shoe dropped. Men were coming to Wheaton, permanently, and not just as 12 college exchange students.

I spent a few years following that fateful announcement simmering and stewing, alternately angry and sad. I missed being part of the Wheaton community. Then, in 1992, my good friend and former executive director of alumnae/i relations and annual giving Sharon Howard ’87 called me. Sharon asked me to re-establish my relationship with my alma mater.

All it took was that one personal phone call. And I never looked back. From 1993 forward, I held a variety of volunteer posts, which ranged from director at large on the Alumnae/i Board of Directors, LGBTA chair, and national Reunion chair. About the time I took on my Reunion volunteer role, my stepson, Andrew Malone ’11, was college hunting. I had an event to attend on campus, and I invited Andrew to join me. No pressure. If he liked Wheaton, great; if he didn’t, that was fine, too.

Andrew loved Wheaton. In 2006, he applied on the early-decision plan and was accepted. I spent his four years viewing Wheaton through a male student’s eyes. And it was really no different than my view. We both loved sports, the a cappella groups, and Wheaton’s many traditions. We still do, but now as fellow alums.

During Andrew’s first Reunion in 2013, I was thrilled to walk with the trustees in the academic procession at Commencement, and I saw and heard Andrew cheering for me in the crowd.

As president of the Alumnae/i Association, I have a constituency of over 15,000 alumnae and alumni. The college that gave me my degree is the same, only stronger, more vibrant, more diverse. Its traditions remain, but its eyes are firmly focused on a very bright and exciting future. And I am proud to be part of it.

—Jane Martin ’74 

Building upon traditions

I grew up in Maine just a few miles from Bowdoin College, where I had often been on the campus for a variety of different events and classes. It would have been a convenient choice for me. However, when I first saw Wheaton, instantly I knew this was the place I wanted to be.

As I walked around Peacock Pond, explored the library and sat in Cole Memorial Chapel, that voice in my head got louder and louder, encouraging me to apply.

I was impressed with the beauty of the campus, the faculty, staff, traditions and location. I had met so many great people as I researched the school—including admission staff members, professors and alums—that I was determined to be in the Class of 1992 and was thrilled when I was accepted. The fact that I would be in the first coed class wasn’t even a factor in my decision-making.

In my first year at Wheaton, I met many students and alums who were, rightfully, hurt by the college’s decision to go coed. Although I couldn’t share in their unhappiness, I completely understood and sympathized with it.

Making this change just months after celebrating 150 years as a women’s-only college struck deep into the hearts of so many. It especially hit those who were seniors and juniors when I started in September 1988. They had applied to the school because it was a single-sex college. That can’t ever be ignored.

However, one of the great things about Wheaton is the strength of tradition, even when some of it changes. I can remember when I had that first tour of the college; I wasn’t allowed to walk through the front doors of the chapel—that’s only for seniors, as is sitting on the steps of the library. And the midnight candle service, Vespers and the Honor Code are all great traditions.

None of that changed with the change to coeducation. We, instead, got a chance to build upon existing traditions, like the Whims and Wheatones, and start new ones, like the Gentlemen Callers.

I loved the sense of community I had at Wheaton, and the ease in having access to faculty in the classroom and beyond. I loved working as a student in the Loft, the Admission Office, Mary Lyon and WCCS, the student radio station. I loved the friendships I developed with classmates and alums alike.

Wheaton continues to be the special place that evokes in each of us our individual special memories, and has connected each of us to special friends and faculty. I truly feel blessed to have spent four years there growing and shaping my future.

—Jason Petty ’92