The Vassar Class of 2014 Facebook page is clogging up my newsfeed: friends, acquaintances, and seniors I didn’t know existed have been scrolling back through the posts they made as incoming freshmen—when they asked about classes and houses and where they could buy those lanyards that would noisily identify them as freshmen from across the quad—and then commenting on their freshman thoughts. It’s funny to see how different (or exactly the same) we are now, but I have no freshman posts to scroll back to.
As an accepted student I didn’t post to the group, still hung up on high school issues and not ready to fully immerse myself in college life. But I don’t have to look at Facebook to remember what I was like four years ago. I remember my scared, shy freshman self well, even though I doubt she would recognize me now. Vassar has helped me grow in many ways, but more than the friends I’ve gained and the knowledge I’ve acquired, I am thankful for Vassar for helping me gain a voice.
I joined the Miscellany News my first week at Vassar eager in every sense of the word: I wrote two articles for the first issue. I still remember how anxious I was about interviews, the way my voice shook and my hands sweat, prompted by the long-held fear that what I had to say wasn’t good enough. I was a bundle of nerves before and after every interview, but kept going and kept writing, thanks to the positive feedback my articles received from an endlessly supportive editor and the welcoming staff. I found a family among other high-strung perfectionists who loved a good story, who would stay up until dawn to finish the paper each week, who told me the inside scoop on which classes to take and which events to go to. I became Assistant Features Editor my second semester freshman year, then spent a year as Features Editor and a semester editing News. By the time I left the paper to go abroad I had my own group of impressionable reporters to assign articles to, and I had gained a confidence that I couldn’t have imagined having when I drove up to Main building with my parents in a rented minivan on a very hot day in August.
A voice is more than confidence, though: it is the ability to think critically and considerately and then speak with an assuredness that your words matter. Writing and editing for the Miscellany News helped me find that voice, but Vassar encouraged it. With classes and classmates that challenged me to think differently, Vassar helped me gain perspective on the world and consider issues more broadly than I had before.
Gradually I began to speak up in class, to hold my ground when others disagreed, to join clubs and go to events from which my old self would have held back. I lived in London for a semester, mastering the tube lines and learning how to take proper tea; I wrote a senior English thesis on a subject I love while commuting to an internship once a week; and I asked a boy in my Postmodernism seminar to take me to Lemongrass (he remembers this differently).
I’m not a fan of nostalgia and I hate cheesy pop songs, but I’ll have to admit there’s no better way to put it: Vassar changed me. The classes I took changed me and the people I met changed me and the professors I took classes with changed me. I am not the freshman who moved into Main four years ago, the girl who wanted to be a journalist and have a correlate in Political Science. I have met my closest friends in unexpected places and have taken courses in everything from the philosophy of art to the dark ages and nonfiction writing. I discovered new passions and changed my mind, fell in love, and have become more than I ever thought I could be.
I don’t regret the fact that I don’t have Facebook posts from four years ago to scroll back to. Vassar will always be a reminder of how far I’ve come and how much farther I can go. I know that I have to move my stuff out of the TA’s soon but I’ll be taking a wealth of knowledge, a new strength, and a desire to continually challenge myself with me everywhere I go from here. I’d like to thank my compatriots on Production Night, my fellow classmates and friends, and every professor I’ve had (with a special shout-out to my thesis advisor) for helping me learn that my words and voice matter.
—Danielle Bukowski is an English major and was a former News and Features Editor for The Miscellany News.