I'm soooo Holyoke
It was a hot sunny day last Friday, and on my way home from work, all the college girls were out and about. As soon as the temperature hits 50, the kids around here start pulling out their flip flops and shorts, and for the girls this means the short shorts. As I sat at a stop light, I watched two girls cross the street, sporting espadrilles and t-shirts for dresses. I thought to myself, "You just wait 15 years and you will not be able to wear outfits like that!" Then I realized that 15 years ago, I didn't wear clothes like that at all. Ever. I never looked like your typical college girl. I never had long, pretty, shiny hair. Thanks to my boy hair cut, I didn't own a brush for all four years of college. I never wore makeup. I preferred Teva sandals over stilettos. Neither my looks nor my personality fit the norm, so instead of trying to fit in, I did what came naturally to me. The final product-me-wasn't a social outcast by any means, just a funkier, quirkier version of "normal". Don't get me wrong. It's not that I didn't want to be seen as pretty or attractive, but just not in the traditional way. As a teen, I struggled to balance finding my "unique identity", my personal need to succeed academically, and the desire to be popular and pretty. I think most of us go through a similar experience during our teens as we figure out who we are by comparing ourselves to others. Obviously, I survived those difficult, identity-defining years and came out, well, an older version of my teen self. In most circles, I believe I can pass as your normal, average person. I'm not any better or more talented than many folks out there and I'm pretty likable (right?) and can hold a conversation with just about anyone. I'm of average size, height, and intelligence. To describe me, would be to describe a thousand other women. Now, I said before that I felt I never looked like a typical college girl. I lied. I did. When I was younger, I looked like your typical all women's college girl. The day my parents dropped me off at college, I happily blended in like a leaf on a tree. At my college, nobody wore makeup, nobody wore heels and nobody ever even noticed that I didn't brush my hair. I know the jokes that are out there about all women's colleges. I know the myth about Scooby Doo and the five colleges in the Pioneer Valley- that my college is Velma. Well, sure, we are! I wear dark glasses and, my hair, when not cut pixie-style, is often in a bob with bangs. But it's not just her looks that links me to the cartoon character. Velma is outspoken, smart and quirky, which sounds a lot like me and my college classmates. I thank my parents for giving me the opportunity to spend four years expanding my knowledge about the world and learning to become an educated global citizen . I thank my college and all the people involved in its community, for allowing us to push beyond our comfort zone while still maintaining our quirky identities. Some of you may be annoyed by this post. How can I assume that every woman who went to an all-women's college is the same? How can I compare us, and limit us, to a cartoon character? Listen, what I'm really trying to say about this is that one of the things I liked most about my college is that I could be whoever I wanted to be. We weren't all exactly the same and our differences weren't limited to our clothes and appearance. What we did all have in common was the opportunity to be ourselves and to have the time to figure out what that really meant. I could stop trying to be someone else and just be me, take it or leave it. Since I work at a college, I reflect upon my own college days quite a bit. On campus, we often focus on retention and speak with perspective students and families about finding a college that is the right fit. I know, without a doubt, that my college was the right fit for me. It was before I ever even knew it existed, and it continues to be a part of me to this day. I like to think I was outspoken, grounded and strong before I attended college, was even more so upon graduation, and have continued to be 12 years later. The other day, my colleague was teasing me about some of my outfit choices. She told me, Oh, Melissa, some of your outfits are soooo Holyoke!" I challenged her to provide me with an example. "Ok, easy," she says, "striped socks and green clogs." I laughed. She was right. I just can't, from head to toe, fit the mold. Maybe I can wear the Ann Taylor suit now comfortably. Maybe I don't need to have purple hair to show that I'm funky. Yet, I like that so many women come up to me and say, "I love your hair. I wish I was daring enough to cut mine all off, too." I take pride that I'm the only one in my office who wears silly socks and ugly shoes. I take pride in being comfortable with myself, even if my choices aren't the same as the choices of others. College re-affirmed for me that I can do and say things that aren't popular and it's not really about wearing funky socks, it's about being able to back up who I am, what I do, and what I believe in. You may think that my colleague was being rude, but she wasn't. Her teasing me about my funky clothes was her way of saying that she gets me. It's not really about my short hair and striped socks. It's about those other qualities; that I'm resilient and energetic, outspoken, grounded and driven. Like my funky clothes, I hope my attitude and demeanor reflect who I really am. And I guess when it comes to college, you can take me out of Holyoke but you'll never take the Holyoke out of me.