A year ago this May, I achieved a personal milestone. With my husband and children in attendance, I walked across the stage at George Mason University and received my Ph.D. in education. The path to that stage began some 20 years ago, during my senior year at Wheaton.
I attended Wheaton from 1982 to 1986 and it was a perfect fit for me. I didn’t specify that I wanted to attend a single-sex college, but several of the schools I pursued were just that: all women. Perhaps I instinctively realized that I would be more comfortable at an all-women’s institution, and that I could learn to be my authentic self in such an environment. I knew that I wanted to attend a small college, where I could become involved in various activities and make genuine connections with faculty members.
Wheaton was far enough from my home in Peabody, Mass., that I felt independent, yet I could still return to eat a home-cooked meal or to celebrate a special occasion. But there was something more, something intangible about Wheaton that just felt right. I intrinsically felt like I belonged right there, in Norton, for my college years. (And little did I know that I would end up meeting my roommate and dearest friend, Debbie Leonard Barrette ’86, through whom I eventually met the man I married one day after graduation in 1986.)
There on that quaint, New England college campus I began to undergo a transformation, as Wheaton provided me with various opportunities to discover who I was and who I would become. Because Wheaton’s physical, academic and social environments felt safe, I tried new activities and took chances that I previously had not taken in high school.
I auditioned for and joined the Whims, although I had never sung before, not even in the shower! I saw the need for students to exchange textbooks, so I organized a campus-wide used book sale. With the positive support of my peers, I began to see that I could try new things and be successful at them, and that I could make a difference.
While I was growing as an individual, I was also academically inspired. I realized that I loved learning new things and I enrolled in classes that went beyond the standard requirements of my political science/history major. I may not have needed “Calculus II” in order to graduate, but I wanted to challenge myself. (I received my only college C in that class.)
I attended classes with professors Nancy Norton and Alex Bloom and unearthed a passion for American history. Both professors inspired me with their levels of expertise, as well as their personal teaching styles, including Professor Norton’s personal invitations to tea at her home.
When I graduated from Wheaton on May 31, 1986, I knew that I wanted to pursue the highest level of education and earn my Ph.D. I viewed this as a personal goal, to challenge myself to the highest academic levels. But beyond that, I wanted to become an expert, much like professors Norton and Bloom, and to reach the apex as an educator. With the opportunity to discover myself beginning at Wheaton, I never doubted that I could do that.
A few months before receiving my Ph.D., as I was preparing my doctoral dissertation for submission, I became emotional as I wrote the acknowledgments that appear in the front of the document. Of course I paid tribute to my supportive husband, Stan, and to my children, Jordan and Lauren, as well as to my dissertation committee members. But I also was compelled to acknowledge the source of inspiration—Wheaton.
Today, I teach graduate students at George Mason University and American University.