You've Got a Friend

Drawn together by Barnard, alumnae forge deep friendships across generations

By Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux

Illustrations by Libby VanderPloeg

Barnard women are a special breed. And whether they attended the College decades ago or in the past few years, their Barnard bond draws them together. Alumnae find that wherever they go, they feel an immediate kinship upon meeting a Barnard woman. In many cases, that spark develops into a deep attachment across generational lines. In the following pages, we profile four pairs of alumnae who epitomize the way the Barnard spirit brings women together.

An Endless Beautiful Funny Conversation

It’s not unusual for Emmanuelle St. Jean ’04 to call Frances Sadler ’72 at 6 a.m. St. Jean is an early riser, and when she needs advice about a thorny issue at work, Sadler is there.

“Frances is the only person, besides my mother, who takes my calls at that hour,” St. Jean says.

Though 30 years separate the pair, they have developed a fierce and inimitable bond. “Emmanuelle is the daughter I never had,” Sadler says.

They first met at an event for Barnard women of color in 2002, while St. Jean was still an undergraduate. The two fell into conversation about St. Jean’s interest in working in public health. After St. Jean graduated, she called Sadler for career advice, and their chats quickly veered into personal territory. The pair discovered they had gone to the same school, Midwood High School in Brooklyn, and they connected over the experience of being women of color at very different moments in Barnard’s history. St. Jean stopped attending church regularly in graduate school, but after Sadler encouraged her to reconnect with her faith, religion took on a bigger role in St. Jean’s life.

Their relationship thrives on a near-constant stream of communication: the two speak on the phone nearly every day, talking about an absorbing new book or rehashing St. Jean’s latest date. On any given day, Sadler’s inbox fills with a dozen or more emails from St. Jean—sharing the day’s news, the latest music, and funny photos and articles from the Internet. Sadler, who has been a Barnard trustee since 2008, works at an organization that provides support to home care workers in New York City. St. Jean is a health care director in Washington, D.C.

Sandler and St. Jean
Frances Sadler ’72 & Emmanuelle St. John ’04

The two regard each other as family. When St. Jean’s father passed away suddenly, just before she moved to Atlanta in 2007 to begin graduate school, Sadler stepped in to help by connecting St. Jean with her own Barnard friends in the area. Sadler’s friends swiftly took St. Jean under their wing—picking her up from the airport, showing her around the city, even inviting her to a family member’s wedding reception. “It meant so much that Frances created this instant community around me while I was picking up the pieces from my father’s death and adjusting to a new place,” St. Jean says. And when one of these friends died a few years later from cancer, St. Jean organized details of the funeral so that Sadler and her friends could grieve.

Over the years, the women’s families have also grown close. St. Jean has been a regular attendee at the Sadler family’s annual Fourth of July barbeque on Long Island, and Sadler’s brother gives her dating advice. The two women visit each other regularly. One evening last summer, after attending a Barnard professor’s lecture at the Folger Shakespeare Library, they lingered over dinner at an Ethiopian restaurant on a leafy side street in a suburb of Washington, D.C., before walking back to St. Jean’s apartment. Sprawled in soft armchairs, the women tried to reimagine the layout of St. Jean’s living room—What if the bookcase went there? What if that painting went here?—before falling asleep well after midnight.

“Our friendship is an endless, beautiful, funny conversation,” St. Jean says. “There’s nothing we can’t talk about, and there’s honestly nothing we don’t talk about.”

In a bare-bones conference room in Santa Monica, a pair of political junkies spent hours calling voters on flip phones on behalf of a candidate for the state senate. They laughed when they were rebuffed—“I don’t care about this election!”—and celebrated when they hit pay dirt: a voter who agreed to support their candidate.

Sharing a passion for politics

“Phone-banking is so much better when you can do it with a friend,” says Kate Pynoos ’09 of dialing voters with Barbi Appelquist ’98.

Though they attended Barnard a decade apart, both women developed a passion for politics on Broadway and 117th Street. Their paths into the political world had similar trajectories. Both cut their political teeth working for a Clinton—Appelquist registered voters for Bill, while Pynoos was a summer intern for Hillary. Both went to law school and now work in fields that keep them connected to politics. The two first crossed paths a few years ago, when Pynoos discovered on Facebook that a Barnard alumna—Appelquist—was running for the state senate in Pynoos’ Los Angeles district. Though Pynoos was living in Geneva at the time to study international law, she wrote to Appelquist and volunteered to help.

Appelquist and Pynoos
Barbi Appelquist ’98 & Kate Pynoos ’09

The pair struck up a correspondence, and Pynoos edited some campaign materials for Appelquist, who lost the race, an unusually competitive Democratic primary. With Pynoos back in California for the general election, the two joined forces to make calls for the candidate who beat Appelquist. “It’s motivating to have a friend who shares these passion projects,” she says. “We have so much in common because of Barnard, so that makes the connection much stronger.”

On a late afternoon in the fall of 2015, 16 women who had attended Barnard in vastly different eras—the 1950s and the 2000s—gathered for an afternoon tea that was the result of a meeting of the minds of Roz Paaswell ’59 and Alex Loizzo-Desai ’09. The pair had met the year before at a Reunion lunch for the two classes and had been looking for ways to foster more connection.

Leaping over a 50-year gap

“It’s really a testament to the strength of our Barnard connection: we’re always trying to learn from other women, even if there’s a big age gap between us,” says Loizzo-Desai.

As the two women rearranged furniture and set out food for their fall tea for the two classes, held at Paaswell’s home, they fell into an intimate conversation about their lives. They found unexpected points of similarity, such as both having married at a young age.

Paaswell and Loizzo-Desai
Roz Paaswell ’59 & Alex Loizzo-Desai ’09

“I got married when I was a junior at Barnard, but that was normal then,” says Paaswell, who was surprised to learn that Loizzo-Desai wed at 25. They discussed how Loizzo-Desai balances career and marriage. “Today, women have so many more challenges, and it was interesting to learn how she handles them,” Paaswell observes.

In 2010, Wendy White ’81 and Vanessa Garcia ’01 spent 10 hectic days together in Edinburgh, Scotland, at the world’s largest arts festival. Sharing a two-bedroom walkup with a friend and Garcia’s sister, the pair threw together meals of hard-boiled eggs and spaghetti in the few spare minutes when they weren’t promoting and performing the plays that had brought them there. In the streets of Edinburgh, where performers vie for spectators, White donned a yellow jumpsuit to catch the eye of potential audience-members while Garcia spun a hula-hoop. Together, they spent the days shimmying in the street and the evenings performing.

Dancing Together on the Streets of Edinburgh

It was “exhausting and exhilarating—it almost felt like this adventure out of time,” Garcia says. “We were in this amazing city, spending pretty much every second together, and it brought us closer together.”

The two first bonded over their artistic endeavors: Both women are playwrights and visual artists. They had just connected through a Barnard listserv in the fall of 2007 when White impulsively invited Garcia on a trip to Amsterdam, where White was producing a play at a festival.

“I just felt this genuine immediate spark, and I thought, maybe she’ll think this is odd, but why not ask her to come with me?” White says. Less than an hour later, the response from Garcia came back: “Yes.”

Both of the women’s fathers had passed away shortly before they met, and as they prepared for their trip to Europe, Garcia found herself drawing on White for support. “Not many friends—and certainly not people you’re just working with—understand what it’s like to be in mourning and can respond the way you need,” Garcia says. “But Wendy was just this incredible well of empathy.”

white and garcia
Wendy White ’81 & Vanessa Garcia ’01

Back at home in Florida, White became a regular at Garcia’s Christmas and Thanksgiving celebrations. Despite living an hour’s drive from each other, they made a point of meeting once or twice a month to catch up over dinner. They refer to each other by nicknames: Garcia is “Lady V,” and White is “Hollywood,” a version of a nickname she had as a child.

In 2010, Garcia moved to California to pursue a PhD, but she and White remain close. The two continue to draw artistic inspiration from each other, even from a distance: during a recent work crisis, White texted Garcia for help, and Garcia responded swiftly with “pages of resources, so many things that I needed—it was a lifesaver at a really tough moment,” White says.

When White and her husband were putting the finishing touches on their new home in Pine Island, Fla., last year, Garcia was their first visitor. During her stay, Garcia pulled out her recorder to begin a new project: interviewing White for an essay about her life and work. With the tape rolling, they sat outside over a couple of beers and talked into the evening.

“We always circle back to each other,” White says. “We might not be family by blood, but we’re the family we’ve chosen for ourselves, and I think those bonds are just as strong.”

Latest IssueWinter 2023