Making the Right Choice

The other day, the Bryn Mawr College twitter account tweeted a question for mawrtyrs to consider: “when was the first moment that you knew you’d made the right choice in coming to Bryn Mawr?” As I pondered the question, a number of lovely memories popped into my head. Would I say it was at the admitted student’s day in the spring, when my host student brought me to meet her roommate and I discovered the roommate was a friend of mine from camp? Or maybe when my dean knew who I was when I first walked into her office, because she’d remembered reading my application essay and had a class written down that she thought I’d like (it was costume design, and my essay was about being the head of costuming for my high school theatre productions)? Or was it when I walked into introduction to biological anthropology and anthropological archaeology, my first class of the school year, and saw that the classroom was filled with photographs of the women scientists who had preceded me at this institution? All of those moments stand out to me as times I knew I’d made the right choice–though of course each of the traditions I went to also solidified my certainty–but there was another memory that I knew really held the key.

During the first month or so of my freshman year, my customs people, Gabby and Angela (who is also a banter blogger!), organized what they called a “deep tea.” Their customs people had done the same for them, and they wanted to pass on the experience. I should note that this year, students have stopped referring to meetings and such as teas in light of racist connotations of the word (in the past, African-American students were apparently expected to serve the tea to their white counterparts, which is absolutely not something any of us now would want to condone), preferring “hall hangouts,” “receptions,” and other, clearer terms. Unlike most other Bryn Mawr meetings, though, we were actually drinking tea as part of our main activity, so I’ll continue to refer to this event as a “deep tea” for the remainder of this blog post.

The deep tea was a bonding experience for our customs group, an elaborate icebreaker that got us all to open up to each other. Gabby and Angela had put a bunch of questions in a mug, ranging from things like “talk about your happiest memory” and “what’s your favorite TV show?” to things like “what are you afraid of?” and “how do you hope to change in college?” Everyone was allowed to answer as many or as few of the questions as they wanted, provided they were holding one of the rubber ducks that indicated they were in the speaking order. We all promised to keep the content of each other’s answers secret, in order to ensure that people felt comfortable sharing with the group. We talked about our prom outfits, parents, institutional and everyday racism, religion, our hopes and worries for college, and so much more. I think we depleted more than one box of tissues–by the end of the tea, almost everyone was crying or had cried (not all tears were sad tears, though). My friend Sohini spilled her tea on me while sitting down, which is actually kind of how we became friends!

It was a really emotional evening, but in the best possible way. With a customs group of 21 people plus the two customs people, the idea of bonding with each other had seemed intimidating at first. But the tea brought out everyone’s concerns and passions, and helped us find things we had in common with each other. I’d been nervous about sharing anything personal with such a large group of people, but I knew that everyone would follow the honor code and respect each other’s privacy. When I looked around the room at the end of the tea, I knew I’d found a group of people I’d always be able to rely on to understand me–not just the people in that room, though they were all of course important to me, but the larger Bryn Mawr community, for we only represented a cross-section. My customs people had created a trusting space, and I knew I’d always be able to talk to them about my problems. Because they’d also shared a lot of personal stories, the tea also helped me see them as friends rather than the kind of camp counselor role I’d been thinking of them as filling. Though I may not still see or talk to everyone in my customs group every day, I know that we all have each other’s backs, and I found some of my best friends in that room. That was how I knew Bryn Mawr was the right choice: it was full of incredible women from all kinds of backgrounds, each of whom wanted to make this community the best possible place to be.

Lantern Night 2016

To be honest, I wasn’t really looking forward to Lantern Night this year. I hadn’t been feeling well that weekend and I was stressed about a lot of homework, so I was worried that committing to be a swinger during the ceremony was going to be a huge, unpleasant time-suck. I didn’t want to be stressed during Lantern Night, but there was nothing I could do. As a massive thunderstorm raged outside, I stood around Thomas Great Hall with my friends, trying to memorize the Pallas song during our last few hours before the beginning of the ceremony (the lyrics can be found in Greek and English here). I tried to remind myself of why I’d signed up to participate in the first place: I know a lot of first-years (including my cousin), one of my best friends (Sohini, who was my roommate last year) is a traditions mistress, and another close friend from our customs group is the songsmistress, I’d liked being a runner last year, and I love the cloisters and Bryn Mawr.

the cloisters earlier on Sunday afternoon during a dress rehearsal

the cloisters earlier on Sunday afternoon during a dress rehearsal

inside TGH before the ceremony started--absolute madness!

inside TGH before the ceremony started–absolute madness!

Before Lantern Night could begin, there were a lot of preparations which needed to happen. Swingers are juniors and seniors who stand in the arches of the cloisters and swing their lanterns up and down while singing the Pallas Athena. We provide the background music for the runners as they deliver the lanterns to the first-years. After the first-years pick up their lanterns and sing the Sophias, we sing the Sophias on repeat until they’ve all left the cloisters. Each arch is supposed to contain one junior and one senior, and we raise and lower our lanterns in contrasting patterns. While we were waiting for everything to start, everyone started to arrange themselves in the arches, searching for a partner. My former customs person, Gabby, teasingly tried to get my friend Jamie and I to fight for the honor of standing next to her, but our friend Cordelia stepped in to claim me as her arch buddy. I was also right next to my other former customs person, Angela!

Cordelia's red lantern and my dark blue one (my candle was a bit tall and only lit up the top half of my lantern for most of the night!)

Cordelia’s red lantern and my dark blue one (my candle was a bit tall and only lit up the top half of my lantern for most of the night!)

When the lights were all darkened in Thomas, the crowd fell into a hushed silence, and the first-years began filing into the cloisters in the quiet darkness. As their robes rustled with movement, I felt my stress begin to fade away. At the cue of Sofi, senior songsmistress, we all stepped up into our arches, lanterns at the ready. Though I didn’t exactly know every word of the Pallas, I knew enough to sing loudly and clearly as the first light blue lanterns were dashed across the still-wet grass. I fell into a ceaseless rhythm, switching arms at the bottom of my swing whenever I felt the strain on my muscles and grasping a bit more of the song with each rendition. I remembered my own Lantern Night, and how beautiful and strange the whole ceremony had seemed. It still held some of that mystery for me, even though I knew the identities of most of the black-robed figures lining the stone walls. My hell daughter, Maya, was a runner, and she tapped me lightly with each pass, each time reminding me of the incredible community I’ve found here at Bryn Mawr.

my dark blue lantern

my dark blue lantern

I started to notice the weight of my lantern around the fifth rendition of the Sophias, though the ceremony mercifully ended before I could really find cause for complaint. My throat was dry and cracked from singing, and I realized my eyes were brimming with tears. I watched Sohini master the hordes of confused first-years trying to return their robes, got hot chocolate with my hell mom Emma, and caught up with my cousin to delight in her light blue lantern next to mine. I felt like I’d been set back on track, and regained some of that wisdom we sing of passing on. I love the giggle that resonates through the crowd as generations of Mawrtyrs remember the joys of the up-tempo “Enthoumometha orthos hosa praxomen orthos” line in the Sophias. I love seeing hundreds of lanterns shining in the night, championing wisdom and community. I love Bryn Mawr, and welcoming new family home. Happy Lantern Night, baby blues!

Maya (my hell baby), Cecilia (my cousin) with her new lantern, and me!

Maya (my hell baby), Cecilia (my cousin) with her new lantern, and me!