Watching Hillary Clinton’s commencement address at Wellesley reminded me of my experience with the college which is just outside Boston. It’s on the Boston Marathon route about 7 miles into the 26-mile run. Passing Wellesley was a highlight because the students were out in force vigorously cheering on the women runners & I ran the marathon several times.
There was always some drama when I ran the marathon: like the coworker who kept insisting (even when he passed me on the route) that I wouldn’t make it but then faded out 6 miles from the finish line (unfortunately for him, I passed him at that moment); or the friend who wouldn’t speak to me again when I finished & she faded out; or wanting to stop & punch the lights out of all the misogynists commenting on women’s bodies as we passed (it was like an echo chamber & we could hear it all); or the time I set out two hours early so I wouldn’t finish last & ended up obstructing the world class runners coming up behind me; or the time I finished last accompanied with a 68-year-old woman & five Japanese foreign students whose friends put up a finishing tape for us when everybody else had gone home. We were on the 6 o’clock news as the losers.
I had such good feelings about the Wellesley students that when I was in my 50s & heard about a special scholarship for older students, I applied for it. Part of it entailed attending some classes & I chose some on the history of 1970s feminism. It was impressive to me that the young professor had a very accurate take on the history I had been part of making.
Part of the application process required samples of my writings which were especially copious from my trade union activities but I also had a bundle from my feminist work going back to 1970 (especially many articles on reproductive rights), work from civil rights & antiwar work. I left out the socialist stuff.
It was a very competitive scholarship so I was not surprised when I was turned down. Especially since I was twice the age of most applicants. But a friend suggested I inquire of admissions why I was refused. I wasn’t curious but did phone them to ask. The admissions officer reviewed my file & could have graciously said they selected more impressive candidates. Instead, she said I didn’t measure up to their intellectual standards. I burst out laughing & asked “Are you calling me stupid? You’re teaching history that I helped make.” And that was that.
My friend later said she wasn’t calling me stupid but that I wasn’t the kind of person Wellesley was looking for–not just in terms of youth but in terms of politics. It is after all the alma mater of Clinton, Madeleine Albright, & other such notables. Likely true but I didn’t need consolation & would never confuse the snooty admissions officer with the young students cheering on women runners.
I’m not one to live with regrets & this would be the least of them anyway. Often the impediments in life become detours to a better destination.