Sunday, September 18, 2011

Alumni Weekend -- For Longtimers and Newtimers

Is "newtimer" a word? It should be!

Alumni Weekend, September 23 -25, coincides with the Common Grounds Fair. It's going to be a busy weekend for Unity House, with a Parent Reception here on Saturday afternoon, and a Reunion Class Reception on Sunday morning.

It's been an alumni sort of September here, partly because three awesome alums visited Unity House this month.  Our first alum, Monica Murphy (class of 1987), catered a casual supper for the Unity Selectmen at Unity House, which was a great opportunity for Stephen and I to learn about the town's history and current concerns. Monica owns Unity's cool deli and community meeting place, Crosstrax, where she also sells locally grown food, including produce, milk, cream, and eggs, as well as specialty items like soaps and books.  To me, she seems the epitome of someone who walks the walk, having invested her time, resources and considerable energy in creating a thriving business that supports local farmers and craftspeople while providing tasty food choices for the community.

Alum Rosie Ayala (class of 2011), hired this summer by the Admissions Office, came to Unity House later in the month for lunch. Rosie was about to leave on her whirlwind tour of over one hundred high schools and college fairs. It's what she calls her Dream Job -- an opportunity to travel and communicate about Unity College, "one of those rare places where you can be yourself."

Aside from her recent graduation, one of Rosie's most vivid Unity memories is her freshman Nova experience of backpacking the Appalachian Trail. A Long Island native, she'd had little experience with the wilderness, and her Nova trip started out as "a slap in the face." But after several days of strenuous hiking,  she was roused from a feeling of defeat and exhaustion by the sight of a moose crossing the river just upstream from where she sat. She shouted to her Nova group, and became The Girl Who Spotted the Moose.  Everyone gathered around, full of spirit and excitement. When the moose wandered off, Rosie became enchanted by a pulsing in the water near to her, and she exclaimed "The river has a heart!" The long hike has been worth it.

Rosie was joined at lunch by Jen Whelan (class of 2003), who came back to Unity this summer as the Faculty Assistant. Jen sees her position as a way to give back to the college: "If I am making the lives of faculty easier," she says, "they can do a better job for their students." She's taken the long way back to Unity, through the Southeast and the Southwest, and through a variety of different career paths. With all of the places she's been, it's no wonder she feels drawn to the fairy tale about a girl who wanders the earth in iron shoes, which she must wear out in order to reach her goal.

Although they graduated years apart, Jen and Rosie had a surprising number of things in common besides their love for the town and the college. Both women tried several majors during their college days, and both were strongly influenced by professors in the Humanities. Jen spent several years living in Arizona after her graduation; Rosie, who has family in Arizona, was ready to transfer to Arizona State after her first year at Unity -- but at the last minute, in the week before classes began, she chose to return to Unity. "I want to go back home," she told her mother. And that was a feeling that the three of us shared over lunch: our gratitude for feeling at home here.
The 21st century job search for both alums involved "stomach-squishing moments of anxiety" as well as "surreal moments of grace," when everything -- thankfully -- fell into place for them.  They've both found their way home, both personally and professionally. But as Jen says, "There is no typical Unity graduate. We're all different, and that's why we found this place."

When I stopped by Crosstrax earlier this week, I found a group of folks hanging out who had begun their personal and professional journeys to Unity in the 20th century --  Professor Jim Reed (1988 -2010), Librarian Dot Quimby (1966 - 2001), professor Barry Woods (1976 to present), and Alumna Monica Murphy.

 Monica, in her pithy way, left me with a phrase that sums it all up -- "We're all on the same team" --a critical element of sustainable human relations: respecting our differences, acknowledging our common dreams, and acting for the good of the community.