Friday, August 27, 2010

Off to School - Friday Five

Today's Friday Five covers one of my areas of specialty, since I went away to boarding school when I was 12 and in the seventh grade.  Herewith, from Martha:

"Yesterday I returned my middle child for his second year of college. He's an experienced dorm resident, having spent two years at a boarding high school. In the lounge at the end of his floor I found a suite of This End Up furniture that took me back to my years in the Theta house at William and Mary. I remember polishing that furniture with my sorority sisters every spring, just before we headed off for Beach Week at Nags Head.

Mindful that many others are heading off to further schooling or delivering their loved ones to the institutions that provide it, here are five questions about dorm life."

1) What was the hardest thing to leave behind when you went away to school for the first time?

My friends and the social life I had imagined for myself with them.  At home, the people with whom I'd gone to school since first grade were off to the junior high that consolidated three rural elementary schools ~ a huge transition in those days.  There would be dances, and a high school football team, and the companions of a lifetime (all of 12 years!), and familiarity.  For me, there would be an all-girls Catholic boarding school run by Ursuline sisters, with exactly one other girl whom I knew.  Buildings filled with expressions of  Catholic faith, of which I knew exactly nothing.  No dances, no football.  Nothing familiar whatever.

2) We live in the era of helicopter parents. How much fuss did your parents make when you first left home?

None whatever.  

3) Share a favorite memory of living with schoolmates, whether in a dorm or other shared housing.

During my senior year of high school (Boarding School No. 2), the school set aside basement dorm rooms as "smokers."  A different era!  Seniors were permitted to smoke, were not restricted to their rooms during the  2.5 hour evening study time, and had no particular curfews.  So we often stayed up down in the smoker well into the wee hours of the morning, writing our papers and smoking (legitimate) cigarettes and talking talking talking.

4) What absolute necessity of college life in your day would seem hilariously out-of-date now?

My brand new Smith Corona typewriter, of course!

5) What innovation of today do you wish had been part of your life in college?

Cell phones.

Bonus question for those whose college days feel like a long time ago: Share a rule or regulation that will seem funny now. Did you really follow it then?

I think that about the only rule left by the time I got to college was that you were supposed to sign out of the dorm if you went away for a week-end.  No big deal.

My own bonus:  Oddly enough in light of my behavior at the time, I am grateful for my six years in boarding school, one Catholic just at the Vatican II turn of history, and one Protestant and founded by D.L.Moody who, despite being a thundering evangelical preacher, left behind a legacy of progressive education for young women.  Thanks to that education, I claim Catholic sisters as good friends and studied the documentary hypothesis in 10th grade; I am steeped in both Roman Catholic and Protestant theology and practice; and I have experienced ambition and excellence both at the edge of Appalachia and in the Ivy League.  I always say that it was the nuns -- highly educated and well-traveled women who ran their convent, their school, and their farm without any evidence of male interference -- who made me a feminist, and Mr. Moody's  successors who offered me a setting in which  religious faith and academic rigor were entirely compatible.

Thanks for all the reminders, Martha!


  1. Thanks for your stories! I love the picture you paint of the "smoker," even if we have a different attitude toward cigarettes now.

  2. I totally would have been in that "smoker" - what a great idea, even though we now know how bad they are for us...your stories of boarding school and the quality of education for a "girl" remind me of the studies by Carol Gilligan, supporting her research that girls really do learn better in same gender learning environments.

  3. wonderful! i especially love your own bonus answer! i agree with Martha--the smoker sounds like lots of fun!

  4. It's nice you had a place where religious faith and academic rigor met in a protestant setting. It may just be the west, but we don't seem to see so much of that.

  5. I just encountered a poem called "Presbyterian Chemistry" in a column entitled "Overheard in the smoker" -- I'll have to transcribe and post...I thought of you when I wandered into it. :)

  6. Interesting and more fun to read than it might have been for you at the time.

  7. I was feeling sorry for you, heading to a Catholic boarding school with no knowledge of it all--and then Moody? WOW! What a marvellous bonus answer!

  8. I love when you reminisce on your unique upbringing. You are most certainly a glorious product of all that diverse input, and the nuns turned you feminist to boot. Love it!