At our annual reception for our graduating Interns and Bigs, I shared advice that had resonated deeply for me the minute I saw the graphic on Instagram: “Leave space for the dips.” This nugget of wisdom comes from Jamie Varon, who leads a digital course, “Living with Intention.” As I affirmed for our graduating students, the past few years have provided us with many – too many – opportunities to absorb the fact that we don’t always get to select the challenges that we’ll face or pick the lessons that we’ll learn from them.
As the Class of 2022 arrived here in the fall of 2018, we, as a community, were marking one year since the events of August 11 and 12, 2017, noting their deep impacts on the UVA and Charlottesville communities. We knew that we faced challenges, both local and global. We knew the work that needs to be done in pursuit of gender justice and equity for all who have been marginalized, the work that needs to be done here on Grounds to support students in their pursuit of their academic goals and personal flourishing. But I doubt anyone anticipated the actual contours that these students’ UVA years would take, from a truncated 2nd year and largely virtual 3rd year to walking the Lawn on the hottest of May days.
Over the past four years, there have been stretches of unnatural quiet across Grounds, moments that the University’s activities were curtailed or conducted virtually. As I write this, we are again moving through quiet spells on Grounds, but now it’s the expected lulls. These weeks between Final Exercises and Reunions, the liminal space between celebratory send offs and joyful welcome backs, as well as the longer stretch of summer before the new academic year arrives are ripe for reflection.
In the weeks and months ahead, the Women’s Center staff will reflect on the lessons we’ve learned from this year’s graduates. I hope that in the months and years to come, they will similarly reflect on and absorb the lessons they learned from their time with us.
A collage of images plays through my mind: an intern in their cap and gown on the Women’s Center porch, posing for a graduation portrait; a Big sharing reflections on their time in YWLP; joyful hugs and shrieks of joy as graduates processed past me on the South Portico of the Rotunda, steps away from their walk down the Lawn. In the weeks and months ahead, the Women’s Center staff will reflect on the lessons we’ve learned from this year’s graduates. I hope that in the months and years to come, they will similarly reflect on and absorb the lessons they learned from their time with us.
Jamie Varon reminds us that, “There are so many valleys you must walk through in order to recognize the peaks.” The past four years have presented them – all of us – with many valleys. I do not want to deny the pain that many face when walking through these valleys. Here at the Women’s Center, we bear witness to that pain. We work to alleviate it and address the circumstances that create it.
We also know that, if we’re open to it, these valleys can provide us with the pauses that nurture growth: “Let yourself appreciate the beauty of contrasts. Stop expecting yourself to never need a pause, a break, a lull. It’s all part of it. Take an exhale. Let it all come to you when you least expect it. Go live. Go be. Go enjoy.” Yes, we knew when we recruited the students who graduated this year that our community, our world, and by extension, they, faced significant challenges. But they met these challenges, and, in the process, they inspired all of us at the Women’s Center.