I pointed to a line on the carpet in Ms. Lynch’s second grade classroom. “Stand here.” The student stood.
“Loud and proud!” I told her. She began reading to the class.
Every Friday afternoon at Vassar, a group of thirty to fifty students go back to second grade. At Warring Magnet Academy or Overlook Primary School, Vassar mentors help the kiddos write pen pal letters to a student at the other school. At the end of the year, all of the students come to Vassar for a field day, to meet their pen pals, do team-building activities, and hang out on campus.
During my junior and senior year, I facilitated P.E.A.C.E. One of my jobs as president was to lead a classroom—to introduce the weekly prompt, and to invite the students at the end of the session to the front of the room to share. My “Loud and Proud!” shtick is relatively new, but in many ways it represents the culmination of my Vassar experience, a positive effect of what my Vassar community has taught me to do and to be.
In my freshmen writing seminar, a wise peer told me: “If you go outside of your comfort zone, your comfort zone will only get bigger.”
Initially, heading up P.E.A.C.E. was nerve-wracking. But the advice was spot-on; with the help of many loving, thoughtful peers and professors, my “leadership role” became fun and enriching, the idea of building and solidifying bridges from Vassar into the Poughkeepsie community exciting instead of daunting.
On Friday nights, while in a dorm room drinking beers, the conversation turned to P.E.A.C.E that afternoon—a student who had memorized every Metro-North train station, another who had asked a mentor whether or not she was married, a kid who finally spelled the word “friendship” correctly.
The following week P.E.A.C.E was often on my mind during discussions sustained in and out of the classroom—about race, gender, class, town-gown divides. When Friday rolled around again, I attempted to apply what I had learned in Rocky or the Old Observatory in the second grade classroom.
Sometimes I succeeded: I complimented little girls on their talents, not their clothes; I abandoned working on a prompt to listen to one little boy tell me all about his school in Guatemala and how it is different from Overlook.
Sometimes I failed: hungover from drinking the night before, when a student asked about spelling, I wouldn’t sound out a word but instead give him or her the letters. Or when one day a student started talking about her own racial identification—“I’m half!” she proudly exclaimed—I smiled and did not continue the conversation.
We P.E.A.C.E. mentors don’t give the students much—a few fun sessions, a field day at Vassar. One lucky student got two juice boxes instead of one.
I am grateful, though, for what the experience of being a part of P.E.A.C.E has given me—a place to productively connect a community of friends and to apply critical knowledge.
On P.E.A.C.E. day last week, I got up and danced in front of 120 second graders. I’m not a dancer but it didn’t matter. My voice was booming, my movement clumsy, but I was loud and proud.
P.E.A.C.E is just one example of an opportunity I have had at Vassar to work on becoming better: to navigate spaces better, to interact with people better, to be a better citizen. Yet, while it was firstly a space of learning, it was secondly a space of happiness.
Although Vassar has many flaws, that is what the best of my college is—a critical community sustained by friendship, buoyed by laughter.
—Emma Daniels is an English and education double major and the outgoing P.E.A.C.E. President.