Baishakhi Taylor, who began work as dean of the college and vice president for campus life on July 1, has been working with other campus leaders to find ways to engage students in the daily life of the college this fall, while maintaining the health of the community.
and the college’s ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
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One face popped up, and then another and then another, until my laptop screen was filled with the smiles I had first seen a half-century ago.
We have a few more wrinkles and crinkles now than when we were students sharing the halls of Jordan House. Many are grayer—especially without our salon visits—and we’re now scattered from Washington state to the Carolinas and assorted states in between. But across the years and miles, the ties we formed as Smith housemates still connect us and never more so than during the isolation we have all experienced amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
For many years, Shelley Evans ’73, once my little sib in Jordan House, has been the human glue that has kept our web of housemates and classmates in touch via emails and mini-reunions. To Evans, teleconferencing online was the logical way to connect when the pandemic hit.
Using Zoom, we took turns giving updates, sharing our worries and how we were coping. Many of us, classes of 1972 and 1973, are now retired. Those with sewing skills described how they were making masks and offered to send instructions. The cooks talked about what they were preparing. The artists, and there are many in this group, talked about their work and how to be creative at this time. Academics described the stress of figuring out how to support students and switch to virtual teaching. An entrepreneur told about trying to launch her business during the shutdown. We heard about children, pets, gardens and keeping bees. The scientists told us about the research they were following on the virus and pointed us to reliable sources of information. We teared up a little, and we laughed a lot.
When we signed off, I felt lighter. Just as we had once shared our innermost troubles and joys sitting in one another’s rooms on the fourth floor of Jordan House, we were experiencing that same trust and support sitting with each other in front of our laptops
“We have a forever connection, an unbreakable bond. I could rely on these friends for probably just about anything,” Evans told me later from her home in Elkton, Maryland. “There is something to the reconnection. Seeing these friends and hearing them and having a bunch all together interacting, it’s such a high. There’s really nothing quite like that.”
And as another Jordan housemate, Susan Kelley ’73, told me: “With my Smith friends, I find that we get right back into the swing of things no matter the time or distance. God, I love that! I do not have to explain myself.”
Even as our group was greeting each other, I knew that virtual meetups like ours were happening across the Smith universe. I’ve always believed there is a quality to friendships made at Smith that is a gift that keeps giving. It’s not surprising that we would turn to the certainty of these friendships at a time when we are all surrounded by so much uncertainty.
As Margaret Gardner ’73 said after one of our Zooms: “Talking in real time with Jordan housemates from across the country is one of the silver linings of this pandemic. … Zooming with them from across three time zones has allowed me to savor memories of the time when life was infinite. At the same time, life has become finite as we share our plans for how to make the best of the time that we have left.”
Reaching out on Facebook and with follow-up calls and emails, I heard from other circles of alumnae about how they, too, were nurturing connections during the pandemic shutdown. Here are a few responses.
AMANDA ORR ’90: “Six of us from Gardiner House class of 1990 had a mini-reunion via Zoom. Our 30th is this year, so we are mourning the loss of an on-campus Reunion, but it was wonderful to get together virtually. After we caught up about how online school is going for our children, how we are all dealing with quarantine in our various locations and what this means for life going forward, we spent some of the time brainstorming potential locations for an alternate in-person reunion when this pandemic is behind us.”
LAURIE MARTONE ’83: “I’d been using Zoom for a long time at work. I thought, Why not get everybody together? We had 15 to 20 on. A lot of us were in Lamont House first year. What struck me was how much mutual support and respect there was. Everybody talked and asked questions and actively listened. It was so supportive. Just to see people’s faces, it feels less isolating. It’s been really sustaining and uplifting. We try to do it weekly.”
GINA KO ’99: Ko, who four years ago started the Facebook group Friday Teas in the Cloud: Where Smithies Sip and Shine, has joined a variety of Zooms with alumnae. “People are coming together to take a break, connect and ‘see’ each other. I started an alumnae group Zoom that was a more general desire to see how people were doing, if there was anything we could do as a community to help. … I have also had Zoom happy hours with my classmates and friends, where we understand each other, needed to hear each other’s voices, see each other’s faces and love on one another.”
MOLLY NUNNELLY ’76: “We’ve had a group of Emerson/Chase House people who have stayed in touch. As the pandemic gained strength, I realized that we could use Zoom to connect more regularly. There were 10 of us on. I love seeing everyone’s faces and talking to the group in real time, rather than waiting on email exchanges. We can go more in-depth, too.”
NATASHA MCGLYNN AND MAYA HOWE ’08: Class co-presidents McGlynn and Howe—“’08 Is Great!”—created a calendar of virtual events for their classmates including yoga sessions, Friday teas and a “yappy hour.” “Having this opportunity to connect and unwind with classmates (old friends and new) brings back fond memories of our time at Smith, while helping us feel more grounded during this time. We are reminded that, no matter the uncertainty, we are not alone—we have our Smith family.”
Independent journalist Linda Kramer Jenning ’72 (pictured in top left corner of the Zoom grid above) recently moved to Bainbridge Island, Washington, from the other Washington, where she taught journalism at Georgetown University.
This story appears in the Summer 2020 issue of the Smith Alumnae Quarterly.