Alumnae Reconnect at Reunion 2018

Graduates swap stories, revive old bonds, and continue to learn from Barnard and each other

By Lois Elfman ’80

The energy was palpable at Barnard Reunion 2018, with more than 1,250 alumnae—generations of graduates—soaking up presentations, participating in discussions, and reconnecting with classmates. Whether reflecting on 1968’s legacy or sharing details of their lives over cookies and lemonade on the lawn, alumnae strengthened their bonds.

Intellectual curiosity remained a constant. On Friday afternoon, Assistant Professor of American Studies Manu Vimalassery joined Mabel Taylor ’18 and Emily Chu Ying He ’21 at a Faculty and Students in Conversation event. Vimalassery discussed a chapter of his upcoming book, Empire’s Tracks: Indigenous Peoples, Racial Aliens, and the Transcontinental Railroad. It focuses on how the Union Pacific Railroad was built largely by Chinese workers and traversed the lands of indigenous people.

On Saturday, Jami Bernard ’78, Elizabeth Freedman ’93, and Erica Jong ’63 participated in a storytelling event produced by the Peabody Award–winning organization The Moth, paying tribute to the College’s lasting impacts on their lives. Freedman told how, in her final semester, her expectations for what awaited her after graduation weren’t what she originally envisioned. Trying something new—acting—taught her that by opening up to life’s possibilities, she had the power to make great things happen. Bernard revealed that as editor in chief of the school’s newspaper, she went undercover to investigate the Unification Church’s cult activities and found herself slightly taken in. “Who doesn’t want the promise of unconditional love?” she recalled. But really, “What I needed was a place where people loved me just enough to allow me to make my own mistakes and learn from them. It was only years later that I realized I already had such a place,” she said. “It was Barnard.”

Jong, for her part, told of how she came to Barnard planning to become a doctor. But after an upsetting experience with a fetal pig, she realized science wasn’t her true calling and embraced her destiny as a writer. In 1991, she created the Erica Mann Jong Writing Center at Barnard, at which the writing “girlows”—“brilliant young women” she refuses to call fellows—help other students with their writing.

“Barnard changed me,” Jong said. “I feel very grateful to have found my calling here.”

Over the weekend, the College’s new initiative to offer career advising and support, Beyond Barnard, provided services to alumnae of all ages. On Friday, Christine Valenza Shin ’84, associate director for alumnae counseling and education, led a workshop about LinkedIn, and with her team of advisers, met with individual alumnae seeking counsel on their professional lives. On Saturday, career coach Kris Ishibashi ’78 led a popular panel on career transitions, featuring Jami Bernard ’78, Elyssa Dole ’03, Elaine Schnall ’88, and Virginia Ryan ’83.

Reunion came to a wonderful close with the Gala Dinner and Awards Ceremony. Tram Nguyen ’03, recipient of the Alumnae Association’s Young Alumna Award, spoke of her deep and abiding love for Barnard. (See more about Nguyen and other award winners here.) A political activist, she said her dream is to wake up every day and answer what democracy means to her.

The Woman of Achievement Award went to actor, writer, and producer Lauren Graham ’88. As part of a Barnard a cappella group, she learned the joy of being part of a team of diverse and dynamic women. Her memories of her time on campus, like those of so many other alumnae, she said, are “gifts that continue to be part of my life.” •


Lois Elfman ’80 is a journalist whose work often focuses on higher education.

Latest IssueSpring 2023