Sunday, May 22, 2005

College and Quakerism: a dilemma

In one week I graduate high school. Next year I will attend Wellesley College, up in MA. A year ago, if I knew that would be true now, I would have been incredibly overjoyed. A year ago I decided that I wanted to go to Wellesley (and was incredibly excited about it). After visiting a few colleges, I decided to apply to Wellesley early decision (which is binding); of all the colleges I'd seriously looked in to, it snagged me. It was more of a gut feeling; perhaps even a leading. In December I joyfully discovered that I had been accepted. Until a few weeks ago, I had no qualms about this; no doubts whatsoever.

A few weeks ago my involvement in Quakerism jumped up a significant amount. I also was reminded of Earlham and heard a great deal about it from a second-year there (who I met a few weeks ago and who is also an awesome person). I began to question my decision.

Though not everyone at Earlham is Quaker (far from it), it's a community with rules/guidelines based on Quaker principles. There are entire courses regarding Quakerism (such as Quaker Spirituality), which I would love to take. There are wonderful people there involved in the wider Quaker community such as Paul Lacey. It has a decent chemistry department (I'm currently planning to major in chemistry). The more I think about it, the more it seems like the perfect place for me to learn about finding a balance between my passion for chemistry and my devotion to my Quaker faith, in addition to furthering my experiences with both. Alas, I am currently bound (somewhat literally) to my entrance at Wellesley this fall.

Wellesley doesn't have a prominent on-campus Quaker community (though I plan to seek out any other Quakers and get everyone together as soon as possible; previous such organizers graduated a couple years ago, and from what I've heard, no one's picked up the ball). I'm having enough trouble being the only active Quaker at my school as it is; it would be nice not to be so isolated in college.

Through this thought process, it's hard to remember my original excitement about Wellesley. It's up north, near a big city (BOSTON!) but not in one, has awesome sciences, is a small (2300 students) liberal arts college, no greek life, I loved the campus, met a Quaker chemistry professor there when I visited, and had an inexplicable gut feeling about it. Wellesley Friends Meeting is also not too far down the road.

I know that there's no way out of going to Wellesley this fall (unless my family suddenly goes broke in the next two months, which is incredibly unlikely, knock on wood); I know that I will give Wellesley the best chance that I can. Perhaps this inexplicable gut feeling was a true leading (though I'm not sure I properly tested it as such); perhaps part of my calling is to get Friends on campus organized (as I mentioned above). In fact, I bet once I get there I'll feel a ton better about it. If not, then I'll continue to think about transferring. I already feel a little better about it after writing this out and weighing things in a slightly more balanced manner.

Knowing this, I still feel frustrated and confused about this sudden doubt.

I was unsure about the relevance of this post for this blog of mine, but I feel compelled to post it here. If anyone has any comments or suggestions or thoughts (or feelings) about this, please feel free to comment or offer support.


Anonymous Cathy said...

You are better off going to Wellesley College. Some employers look at what college you went and if it's not college they know. They might hold that against you.

Just remember you are going there for education that will effect the rest of life.So better do right the first time than spend rest of you life catching up.

22/5/05 3:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I realize that what college I went to is important in future employment opportunities; however, I feel that even if I did attend a college not many knew about, I could still find a meaningful way of life afterwards.

Also, I'm currently planning to attend graduate school, so wherever I end up going for that may have more of an impact than where I went for my undergraduate experience.

Thank you, though, for pointing that out. I had not really been focused on the after-college part of this, which is something that should be equally weighed in this type of consideration.

Either way, I am feeling better about attending Wellesley this fall; I think there's a hint of excitement creeping back.

-Claire (Quakerspeak)
(temporarily blanking on my password)

22/5/05 10:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Claire, I am a Boston-area Quaker, presiding clerk of Friends Meeting at Cambridge. A Quaker friend in MN suggested I look at your blog entry. I am moved by how deeply you have been searching and listening within, as you approach entering Wellesley college and ponder what you are asked/led to do at this time as a Friend. I trust you will find that Wellesley Friends Meeting is a good spiritual home. There is also a very active young adult Friends group at my meeting, should you feel drawn to make the trip into Cambridge from time to time. Feel free to contact me when you arrive, or before! in the Light, Wendy Sanford

23/5/05 10:45 AM  
Anonymous Robin M. said...


I think that at whatever college you might attend, you could find the group of people who will share your values and your interests. Some places you might have to look harder, but hey, you're going to Wellesley, not West Point.

I personally went rather blindly to a Catholic college. I seem to have entirely skipped over the parts of their materials where it does say Jesuit quite clearly, I realized later. But it was there that I took a great many theology courses that prepared me for the day when I found Quakers - about a month after graduating. It was there that I was able to see clearly what my religious life was not.

At Haverford or Earlham, etc. the temptation to just coast on the definitions of Quakerism that have come before you might get in the way of trying to forge your own Quaker identity, not to mention the tremendous experience you will gain trying to pull together an on-campus worship group. You will be called on to explain what is Quakerism and this will be a good exercise.

In college, I learned a lot of things that I never dreamed of before I arrived. I grew up in a small mountain town on the other side of the country and was so excited to be in a protected part of a big city. The undergraduate population of my university was equal to my hometown. And at school, they were all basically my age, they were all so smart, and they were all really good looking, I don't know how they managed that part, but it struck me sharply that first month. As they say, your mileage may vary.

If your initial instincts told you Wellesley was the right place, for all the reasons you mentioned, then it will probably be enough to get there and get into it. I think it would be stranger if you had no second thoughts about the subject.

23/5/05 11:48 PM  
Anonymous Robin M. said...

P. S. If you already found a Quaker chemistry professor, that is a huge step. There might not be one at Earlham, I don't know how deep Quakers run in their faculty. On the other hand, I recently read that the new priest in charge of promoting and enforcing the Jesuit identity at my university has as one of his main research topics: the spirituality of John Woolman. Go figure.

23/5/05 11:52 PM  
Blogger Liz Opp said...

Hi, Claire-- I'm poking my head into your blog again after an exhausting week...

A few things: First, like you, my gut took me to Haverford College (I fell in love with its duck pond, and the talk of 'community'). I had no exposure to Quakerism at the time; my father is an alum, though, and it was what I was looking for. A small school, 2-3 hours from my home, beautiful campus near a big city, academically rigorous.

Second, I'm glad Wendy posted here. I find that Wendy has a sort of spiritual hospitality and huge heart, and my guess is that she knows Boston-area Friends pretty well. I hope if Way opens, you'll be able to meet her.

Third, Robin's comment makes me smile. She writes:

At Haverford or Earlham, etc. the temptation to just coast on the definitions of Quakerism that have come before you might get in the way of trying to forge your own Quaker identity, not to mention the tremendous experience you will gain trying to pull together an on-campus worship group. You will be called on to explain what is Quakerism and this will be a good exercise.

Hah! Believe me, you'd be called on to explain Quakerism to most of Haverford as well! A few years ago, I spoke directly with the president of Haverford College to tell him that I would no longer be contributing to the college until Haverford stops touting itself as a Quaker school. Very few faculty members and administrators have connections to Friends; very few students are Quakers or come from Quaker families; and--at least when I was a student, in the early 1980s--the student body conducts business according to Roberts Rules of Order!

During the course of our conversation, the president Tom Tritton invited me to serve on the college's version of its Board of Directors. When I asked him about the relationship between that governing body and the administration, Tom said, "Oh, the entire board doesn't decide on anything. Only a small group of the board meets with administrators and then THAT group decides on things. You can't have that many people make a decision..."

I calmly replied: "Well, I serve on FGC's Central Committee, with more than 125 members, and we've made all sorts of decisions based on the Spirit."

I have since had conversations with Quaker high school students and a few of their parents who have been looking into Haverford. I've openly said that I believe a Quaker who goes to Haverford will be greatly disappointed by the lack of Quakerism on campus.

Granted, Haverford is no Earlham, and I had considered taking a semester to go there. But I was too root-bound to the east coast at that time, and I quietly finished my education for the time-being at The 'Ford.

I'm convinced, though, that my introduction to Quaker Meeting for Worship came at the right time for me, as a result of being a naive student of Haverford College.

Claire, keep listening; continue to discern; and trust that the doors are never completely shut or even locked. There is always a Way if you feel called elsewhere...

Liz, The Good Raised Up

24/5/05 11:30 AM  
Blogger Claire said...

Robin - To quote you as Liz did,

At Haverford or Earlham, etc. the temptation to just coast on the definitions of Quakerism that have come before you might get in the way of trying to forge your own Quaker identity, not to mention the tremendous experience you will gain trying to pull together an on-campus worship group. You will be called on to explain what is Quakerism and this will be a good exercise.

This did come to me in this reconsideration process - perhaps it is best that I am in an environment that isn't necessarily comforting of or familiar with Quakerism. I'm already in such a situation, but it's a much smaller student body (550-600), and it's in my home town. Besides, a lot of growth and change happens in college.

Also, I have already been called upon many a time to explain Quakerism; as I learn and experience more, I find the way I explain it changes (I definitely try to give a brief outline of the diversity of Friends, but I need to find a way to do this that makes sense without confusing people). I imagine I'll have to continue to explain Quakerism wherever I go.

Liz and Robin - thank you both for relating your college experiences (or at least part of them). I always love reading both of your comments on posts of mine.

There is always a Way if you feel called elsewhere... - very true, and something I need to remember whenever I feel like I'm getting stuck in my future.

Wendy (if you do check back at all) - Thank you for letting me know of you and the Friends Meeting in Cambridge! Perhaps if I ever spend a Saturday night with those I know at Harvard I'll be near enough on a First Day morning. Either way, I'd love to meet you sometime once I get up there and get settled.

24/5/05 3:53 PM  
Blogger Jeffrey Hipp said...

Ah, I see Wendy has already beaten me to it! :) I'm one of those Young Adult Friends at Friends Meeting at Cambridge she mentioned.

Wellesley MM is a great meeting. And you'd be close enough to Cambridge to make it to the monthly YAF potlucks at Cambridge. About 15-25 YAFs make it out on a typical potluck. Plus, I'm co-clerk of the New England YM YAF group, and would love to fill you in on the details of that group's retreats.

I found your blog through Amanda at Of the Best Stuff, But Plain . She's often in Boston, hanging out with me. So if you enjoy young-adult-quaker-blog-networking-geekery (YAQBNG, for short,) you might be able to meet up with her. My dear friend Rob, of Consider the Lilies , used to go to FMC, but has since moved to London. *sniffle*

So, in short, you'll have plenty of chances for Quaker connections. Feel free to drop me an e-mail when you get into the neighborhood!

30/5/05 1:23 AM  
Blogger Liz Opp said...

Jeffrey, Claire, and Wendy-

I'm so glad all of you have connected, at least electronically! I sense the Spirit responding to your concerns, Claire, and I hope you'll let us know if Way opens for you as the summer creeps along (or flies by!) and you prepare for your journey at Wellesley.

Liz, The Good Raised Up

31/5/05 11:38 AM  
Blogger Claire said...

Thank you, Jeffrey! I'll definitely try to do a few things with the YAFs at FMC throughout the year, that sounds great.

I am definitely feeling much better about attending Wellesley this fall. I think part of what was causing me to feel such doubt was a sudden feeling of not feeling welcomed as a student, or more specifically, as a future chemistry student. I had been going through my pre-registration forms and suddenly discovered a change in their chemistry placement policy which would make it much more difficult for me to start in the course I'd been planning to start in, and would make it painfully easy for me to end up in a basic chem. course all over again (I've moved past that stage in my chem. studies). Chemistry is something I'm pursuing with great passion, and to disrupt my hopes for the near future was to make me feel estranged and unwelcome. This whole situation made more of an impact on my thought process than I originally realized.

I eventually calmed down a little, decided that studying for a chemistry placement exam wasn't the end of the world, and then talked to a friend of mine who's currently a chemistry major at Wellesley. She said she'd talk to some chem. professors about it on my behalf, and in the process has given me more hope. It was good to get to the heart of my doubt and sort it all out.

Anywho, that entire thing aside, I have renewed excitement about Wellesley, as well as Wellesley Friends Meeting and Friends Meeting at Cambridge.

Thank you all so much for your ideas and support and connections!

31/5/05 4:11 PM  
Blogger Contemplative Scholar said...

I learned about Quakerism and started attending Meeting when I was in high school. When I first went to college (not a Quaker college), I found much good support in the local Quaker Meeting there. But I was unhappy at that school. One night, I was visiting one of the Quaker families, and their son was home from Earlham on break, and he was just glowing about how wonderful his first year was, so far. This amazed me.

I dropped out of college after two years, and by the time I went back, it was to Earlham. The world of Quakerism was hugely important to me in my young adult years, helping me to gain confidence in myself and helping me to appreciate how the academic life is not necessarily a life of seclusion from real-world problems, but can provide the basis for important kinds of activism.

Someone commented that it is important to choose a school that is well-known. While Earlham may not be as well-known as Wellesley, it is very well-known among Friends, and depending on the exact nature of your call beyond college, that can be a more important "credential" than being from a good non-Quaker school! But, of course, it depends a lot on what you want to do.

For my part, things have worked out very well. Earlham gave me the confidence to pursue the academic life. I am very happy with where I am in life now. I teach at a small college (not Quaker, but itself idealistic in good ways), and just about every time I see the president of our college, Earlham and/or Quakerism come up in conversation, because, after all, Earlham is better known than we humble Quakers might tend to think, and is highly regarded for its distinctive stance within the world of academia.

I'm not at all trying to persuade you to change your mind -- you seem to be coming to peace with your decision, which is great. I used to live in the Boston area, and agree wholeheartedly with what others have said about how wonderful the Quaker world is there.

I just wanted to (a) affirm that you have good reasons for finding this a hard and serious decision -- it is; and (b) share a bit of my unconventional journey to reassure you that life isn't unforgiving of our hesitations and uncertainties. Life can be patient with us as we try out different options. What's most important is that we keep Listening and trying to discern -- which you do already seem inclined to do! I wish you well!

10/6/05 12:25 PM  

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