When my son was born six weeks early, a co-worker told me that all the trials and tribulations we were facing would turn out OK and just “become part of his story.” At the time, I wanted to punch the person through the phone, because I thought he was minimizing the situation and didn’t understand. However, he was right. My little guy is now an amazing 12-year-old because of all the things that are “part of his story,” and I share the idea and what it means to me now, all the time.
Prompt: What's the best advice — or worst advice — you've either given or received?
My adviser was a senior member of the history department in 1964 when I had my first advising meeting with him. We chatted a bit about course selection and then he asked, “What do you intend to do with a history major? Become an airline stewardess?”
Even now, after 50 years, I remember being very surprised. And I did not go to work for an airline after graduation.
“Don’t apply to Grinnell. You’ll never get in.” From my high school guidance counselor.
“Just put your dreams on the back burner and strive to make HIM (ex-husband) happy.” Said by a marriage counselor.
"Do what you love, not what makes you money.” Although true in the long run, it’s often very hard to do what you love without making money first. Also, lack of money can inhibit other non-career goals, like having kids. If you try to pursue what you love right off the bat, there’s a good chance that in order to survive you end up doing something you hate AND being poor."
I was a “secretaries’ assistant” back before secretaries were administrative professionals in Steiner, and Helyn Wohlwend was my boss, before she was a Writing Lab instructor. One day she asked me to call in an order of supplies or something, and I had never done that before and wasn’t sure how to go about it. Helyn told me, “Sara, everybody is faking it. No one knows exactly what they are doing. No one got a manual that you didn’t.” That has always stuck with me. Everyone is just making life up as they go along. It makes me feel better when I get overwhelmed and think I should have all the answers.
Prompt: Grinnell students read a great deal for their courses. What has stuck with you from your course reading, and why?
It’s not who you are — it’s where you are that matters,” Theresa Geller, associate professor of English, concluded after a lecture on Robert Stam’s and Ella Shohat’s seminal book, Unthinking Eurocentrism: Multiculturalism and the Media. Prior to my arrival to Geller’s Film Analysis, Theory, and Criticism course, I had not encountered a book that critically interrogates popular culture to the extent and intensity that Stam and Shohat do with this book.
From critiquing colonialist discourse to racist politics of casting, this book helped decolonize my mind, influence my activism, and bridge the divide between theory and practice. Now, every time I engage with activism outside of the classroom, I ask myself: “Am I helping dismantle the unjust power relations? Is this empowering the disempowered? Am I transforming the subordinating institutions and discourses?
Reading Plato’s Republic during my freshman tutorial had a profound impact on my view of tolerance, governance, and understanding of the human condition — especially when comparing to The Prince. Plus, it seems to pop up all the time: as an essay topic on my National Board certification, in discussions with colleagues, and as a reference in all things political.
The opportunity to read and engage in vigorous, respectful debate is of paramount importance in learning to coexist.
There is also something inherently satisfying about being well-read; maybe a bit smug and superior, but still …
In Professor Homer Norton’s British History course (1950–51), I learned the importance of reading original sources before making a judgment on historic and current issues. Today we can more easily find those original sources on the Internet, but I learned how to do basic research in the Grinnell library.
I revisited campus as an employee from 2014–16. During my “victory lap,” I had the pleasure of taking Professor Shuchi Kapila’s Introduction to Postcolonial Literature course, and Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh was the most impactful read for me. The first book in a trilogy (which I just finished, having received the third book for Christmas), Sea of Poppies presents perspectives on the British opium trade in China from a varied cast of characters. Readers engage with the effects of western imperialism on characters of different genders, ambitions, religions, social statuses, countries of origin, and cultural mores in a captivating, humorous collision of narratives. The novel was all the more interesting in the hands of Professor Kapila and students of different backgrounds, class years, and majors. I wish everyone had the opportunity to experience this book like I did, but I recommend it anyway.