Letter to the Editor

Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Taylor ’79  Elizabeth Taylor ’79 with members from the class of ’49.

Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Taylor ’79

Elizabeth Taylor ’79 with members from the class of ’49.

Editor’s note: Caitlin Lynch ’20 is a current member of the Mount Holyoke News. 

We, the class of 1979, on campus for our 40th reunion, were very much in the middle of a great continuum. I sensed this as I looked forward to the trailblazers of 1949 leading the parade and then as I stepped aside to witness the women of the class of 2019 twine the laurel chain around Mary Lyon’s grave. 

Walking past Willits-Hallowell, I noticed the “Class of 1949” class sign. 

I texted a friend. 

Was your mother the class of 1949? 

“Sounds about right,” she shot back. 

Good enough to send me into Willits in pursuit of the yearbook. The photographs were so large and formal. The class seemed so small, and the women seemed so serious. 

I flipped right to the “H,” found Joanne Hammerman and walked over to a group of women in white with green scarves to ask them about their classmate. 

My apprehension was allayed. “Joanne Hammerman Alter from Chicago. Of course, we knew Joanne.” 

“She stayed alive so she could vote for Barack Obama,” one said. “And I see her son on TV. She was one of the first women to run for office.” 

Had they also met Eleanor Roosevelt? What about Frances Perkins? 

With that they proceeded to regale me with their recollections of Roosevelt and Perkins and, as I anticipated, Vicki Shuck. They remembered being excited about politics in college and that Joanne, in particular, carried on that passion. 

Joanne had spoken of that formative period in her life and how Mount Holyoke had electrified her, and I  shared stories of the Vicki Shuck’s January term in 1976 when pollsters, candidates and journalists visited our political boot camp. 

She encouraged me to be a candidate for Alumnae Trustee. “You aren’t there to rubber stamp anything,” she said. She questioned administration on its decisions and college policies. She said it would be hard sometimes, and it was — but our job as graduates of Mount Holyoke was to hold the College to a high standard. 

Her classmates remembered her fierce love of politics. They not merely recognized her name, but her essence and values. 

The deep bonds of friendship endured for Joanne just as they have sustained me, even though they were separated by exactly 50 years. These relationships were deeply rooted in the College and its history and like hers, mine have grown, evolved and branched out in a vast canopy. I was reminded of this when I paid a visit to the Goldfinch Magnolia tree, planted in 2002 to honor Claire E. Grossman ’78 who died so young, leaving her wonderful family, including her sister, Amy. 

Many of my deep and abiding friendships crossed the boundaries of our graduation year and many were formed in the classrooms around seminar tables. We were hot in the pursuit of new ideas and the best of the professors not only taught us to question conventional wisdom but also engage and learn from one another. 

So many of these deep relationships were enhanced by faculty members who inspired us to continue conversations out of the classroom and enrich our lives, leading us to meaningful work and engagement with the world. 

We learned to hold ourselves — and Mount Holyoke — to high standards. Walking around after the parade, I thought proudly of three of my college (well, one was at Amherst) professors — including my own thesis advisor — who had separately gone on to win Pulitzer Prizes. I was still in quite regular contact with them. 

I remembered my required English seminar, “The Businessman in American Literature,”a class that would never be taught today, but a radical, formative experience in which we not only closely analyzed text, but which led me to think about power and inequality and the hidden injuries of class way before I even read the classic book titled, “The Hidden Injuries of Class.” 

Wandering across campus with my classmates — several of them from our first year at 1837 Hall, including my roommate — I recalled how young we were and fragments of memory from those first months on campus surfaced: the Vietnam War lingered. How long was it polite to stay in the dorm shower? Squeaky Fromme attempted to assassinate President Gerald Ford. Why were there waitresses in the dorms? 

A young woman walked across the green in our direction and as she approached it was clear that she was holding a huge bundle of the Mount Holyoke News in her arms. This issue featured graduation speakers; it was the last of the year, and we chatted for a bit. She was a rising senior, majoring in math and working on a plan for the paper over the summer. 

Moving to part ways, we introduced ourselves by name. In a nanosecond, while one arm held the Mount Holyoke News, the other gave me a huge hug and I dropped my book bag to give her the same. 

Caitlyn Lynch ’20. We spent hours on the phone over the winter. Ethics. Reporting on sexual harassment. Evidence. First Amendment. Caitlin and her colleagues were learning to question the establishment, just as my friends and I had learned 40 years before. 

These were the values Joanne Hammerman Alter ’49 passed on to me, and withstanding the vicissitudes of time, they reach Caitlin Lynch ’20 and those connected by the chain of laurel. 

Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Taylor ’79  Caitlin Lynch ’20 with Elizabeth Taylor ’79.

Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Taylor ’79

Caitlin Lynch ’20 with Elizabeth Taylor ’79.

— Elizabeth Taylor ’79