Last month I was invited to a fundraising event in New York City for my undergraduate alma mater, Mills College.
I live in the New Jersey suburbs and, therefore, drove in to the City to meet up with my close friend Harriet, another Mills alum. We met at a café around the corner from the event, had some coffee and got caught up on the past year since we saw each other. Harriet lives in Connecticut, so we only see each other about once a year. At the party we met several other alumnae and traded stories about life at Mills. My favorite part was talking to women who were the class of 1958 and who spoke about what the campus was like 50 years ago. Although I lived off campus my junior and senior years, women in the ’50s and ’60s lived primarily on campus. The exception was women who were married with children; they lived with their families in neighboring towns. I had my first child at age 35; I cannot even imagine being married with kids while in college.
There is something about Mills that is unlike any coed university or college I visited. For one, I am in touch with almost every single one of my Mills friends, and they, too, are in close contact with friends they made at Mills. I formed an unparalleled bond with women at that school. Most of us live far away from each other (many live on different continents even) but we somehow make it a point to get together for milestone birthdays and other special events. When we meet up, we laugh until our cheeks hurt and our sides are splitting. If we can’t make the distance, we connect by phone at least once a month. If one of us goes for longer than that without touching base, the others call her and ask, “What the hell? Where have you been?”
To this day, I can name only a couple of women I have met after college with whom I have bonded the way I did with the gals at Mills. Women who attended Mills see the value in other women and aren’t threatened when they meet new women. We know how important our female companions are and treat them as sisters. We travel around the globe together, because we wouldn’t want to share that incredible experience with just anyone. We encourage each other through good times and bad. We sometimes get angry and argue with one another because we are as close as one can get to another person without being related. We celebrate successes, births and even failures (because you can learn from those, too). In short, we are the reason Mills was built: to support women no matter what they do.
I have two daughters and people ask me if I would send them to Mills. I say sure, if they want to go there, I would be thrilled. My friend Susanna, her sister, Sudie, and her mom, Judy, are all Mills alums. I look at them and think how amazing it would be to attend functions as a family with formidable bonds.
But even if my girls choose another college or university, I will always be thankful to Mills for the gift I always wanted: sisters.
-Roxanne Dowell, Class of 1988