A Dean's Perspective

I always get nostalgic at this time of year. Admissions decisions have gone out, spring flowers are emerging and there is a buzz on campus. First-years are running off to labs or gearing up for shows and dance performances, seniors are putting finalizing touches on their theses, and sophomores are getting ready to declare their majors. I came across a box this winter when I was cleaning out my room at my parents’ home (yes, “my room”, even though I haven’t lived there in 30+ years). It contained several items – a program from the first Broadway show I’d ever seen, a party hat from New Years in Times Square in 1985 and 2 key pieces of memorabilia that I think may have defined my experiences as a student at Barnard.

The first was a letter from the head of the French Department at Barnard, congratulating me on narrowing in on becoming a French major. “Un bon choix!” the letter says. At the time I thought it was a daring choice. You see, I had never taken a French class prior to starting Barnard. I knew I loved languages, having studied Spanish and Latin throughout high school. And when I started college I was encouraged to explore new areas, so I jumped on the idea of another language. Well, I fell for it. I would have the chance to study abroad in my junior year in France, immerse myself in French conversation classes, literature, and movies over café and croissants. I had no idea where this major would lead me or how it would connect to job placement (something my father asked me every day for a while), but I jumped in anyway. Well, I didn’t become a French professor (although one of my good friends did) nor did I keep up my fluency as I should have (though it was great fun to practice again recently when I went to Paris for Barnard’s Global Symposium). But I was exposed to books and conversation and an international experience that I’ll treasure forever. I met three of my dearest friends during my junior semester abroad and learned that I am pretty darn good with maps and directions! Ultimately, I chose to pursue a career in education (Admissions!) but I do not regret my major one bit. “Un bon choix” indeed!

The second item from that box in “my bedroom” included my calendar from 1986. I hadn’t even realized I’d kept it. What fun I had reading through it with my daughters recently. It was clear I studied a lot, since every day listed “study for Chem” or “go to math help room”(that one appeared more than once too!), but it also listed things like “pick up paycheck”, “party at Dave’s tonight” and “find out about summer job.” Some things at Barnard never change – our students today are just as busy and thrive on mixing in studying, fun, and a part-time job or internship, just as I had back in 1986.

I wanted to share this slice of my life, because as students think about embarking on this next phase of their life, I want them to know that Barnard opened doors for me, pushed me to take risks, and I had a huge amount of fun along the way.

Dean Jennifer Gill Fondiller '88

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