Hollins’ Unexpected Magic

on September 6 | in President's Essay | by

As we remember and celebrate the lives of two great Hollins leaders whom we have recently lost, Jake Wheeler and more recently former Hollins president John “Jay” Logan (see p. 3), it is also timely to recognize all the people who have made Hollins so special, especially the faculty and friends who have shaped our lives. One such opportunity to do that was at our last reunion (pp. 10-13), eloquently described by Rebekah Cocke McKelvey ’06 in an article she wrote for The Roanoke Times. Perhaps it will trigger some memories of your own.

—President Nancy Oliver Gray

Reunion parade 2011The excitement was like the first day of college. My car was packed to the ceiling with clothes, lots of shoes, towels, sheets, an air mattress, and a box fan. Driving into Hollins University, my worries of everyday life disappeared like the students on graduation day. I recently celebrated my five-year class reunion at Hollins, Roanoke’s best-kept secret. Successful women from all over the world were reuniting for their second through sixtieth reunions. I had forgotten what a special place this was, but it didn’t take long for me to feel at home when I entered campus and saw the infamous rock painted with “Welcome Home.” Tinker Mountain was smiling down at me and Carvins Creek whispered, “Nice to see you again.”

I wasn’t the type who imagined spending four years at an all-girls’ school. For whatever reason I ended up there, I am ever so grateful.

Our name tags with our class year, along with the local wine, were the weekend’s conversation starters. Everybody you met had a smile on their face as if they were expecting to see you. Everybody was happy.

My best girlfriends and I skipped around campus like we were twenty again, reminiscing about the best four years of our life at this magical place. I noticed immediately that I wasn’t the only one who left her husband out that weekend. Some people just wouldn’t understand Hollins girls and our tacky traditions.

We spent the night in un-air-conditioned dorms. I realized that the younger you were, the hotter your room was. The two-year, five-year, and ten-year reunion classes were on the top floor. Fortunately, the beautiful trees on Front Quad are a natural climate control for this eco-friendly campus.

On Saturday morning, the traditional parade of classes touched my heart. Each class carried a class banner, as the other classes cheered. When the class of 1951 marched, there were only four women present. They had white hair and a few wrinkles, to be kind, but their spirit was young.

As the Front Quad roared with clapping and cheers, I started to cry uncontrollably. For the first time, I realized that even though Hollins feels like a magical place, we don’t live forever. I imagined being that first class in the parade and missing my girlfriends, who are not just girlfriends, but sisters. I thought about how they might feel as sixty years of memories have passed.

A week later, as my friends e-mail one another and “like” pictures on social networks, I wonder if the class of 1951 is handwriting one another exciting letters about the past weekend of fun.

I also wonder if other schools give you the same experience as a small private women’s college does. You can’t really explain in words what a school like Hollins does for a young woman; she just has to live it.

As I enjoyed time with the classes of 1951 through 2009, hearing of their amazing adventures and accomplishments, I was reminded of where my life path started and how lucky I am to share the experience of Hollins with such great women.

McKelvey majored in psychology and is a registered nurse at Carilion Franklin Memorial Hospital in Rocky Mount, Virginia. This article originally appeared in The Roanoke Times (6/19/11) and is reprinted with permission.

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