Saturday morning, it was my privilege as the President of the Wesleyan College Alumnae Association to hear the beautiful sound of almost 1000 people sigh in unison. I’ll never forget it as long as I live. And it all started with me eavesdropping on a couple of little old ladies from a bathroom stall.
This was Alumnae Weekend, when classes return to campus to celebrate reunions; this year we welcomed the classes ending in 4 and 9. We even celebrated two members of the class of 1939 who returned for their 75th reunion. There’s a special luncheon on Friday for the “Golden Belles.” That’s the class celebrating its 50th reunion–this year, the Class of 1964.
Before my duties began at the luncheon–the welcoming of dignitaries, the reading of the roll call, the recounting of their exploits five years before I was born–I ducked into the ladies room. Three woman stood by the sinks, washing hands and fixing hairdos. They didn’t notice me.
They said how good it was to see each other. And how sad it was that some faces were gone. One said, “Time has passed so quickly!” Another laughed, “How did we get so old?” Then the third voice said, “But you know? When I see my friends, even after all these years, their young faces shine through.”
That was the line that made the whole auditorium sigh when I told the story the next morning. We Wesleyannes gather, every spring, for the highlight of our Annual Meeting–Candle Lighting. Each senior chooses a Wesleyan alumna to light her candle, the symbolic act that marks her entry into the Alumnae Association. It might be her big sister, her sister, her mother, a teacher, a mentor, a friend. My candlelighter back in 1990, Mrs. Anne Strozier Threadgill, was in the audience Saturday with her sisters in the Class of 1949. She was my English teacher in high school, and she taught my mother and father as well.
I lit the first candle. Then, as the organ played, the light traveled, person to person, from the stage to the seats, from the front row to the back. We stand in the twilight of the auditorium, all quiet and together, decade upon decade of proud Wesleyannes. We join in a responsive reading of the Benson Charge, which was written by Catherine Brewer Benson, Class of 1840.
Part of the Charge reads: “You of the Class of 2014 who are about to join the band of 9,000 whose privilege it has been to spend their years on the Wesleyan campus–remember that the privilege has been granted to comparatively few persons. Remember that, as Emerson said, ‘large advantages bind you to larger generosity;’ and you owe it to the world to give to others the best that is in you.”
That’s what I treasure about Alumnae Weekend, getting back in touch with the privilege and responsibility of being a Wesleyanne.
In the glow of the candlelight, our young faces shine through.
This is the place where we will always be known.
This is the place where we will always find home.