I was sixteen when I turned down a full scholarship to Wellesley College. I don’t remember what that scholarship was worth in 1972 dollars, but I’d have to say, from my perspective now, that it would have been priceless. Wellesley offered me an open door into science and philosophy and language and strong women and self-esteem and intellectual passion that could have opened the world to me. They offered me Aristotle and Simone de Beauvoir, Sartre and Collette, Emily Dickinson and Michelangelo. They offered me classical sculpture, medieval history and macroeconomics, the riches of the Renaissance, fluency in a language, travel abroad, and in 1972, the rare opportunity to live at the beating heart of the emerging wave of feminism.
For years, whenever the subject came up, I joked with my mother, “If I’d gone to Wellesley, Mom, I just would have come out sooner.” That cavalier dismissal was my way of taunting my mother-but perhaps I was also deflecting the lost opportunity I must have sensed even then. When you turn your back on all of Western civilization and thumb your nose at a world-class education, when you say you want nothing to do with a network of some of the brightest and most talented women in the world, you are burning one serious bridge behind you. I would not get another shot at that kind of education. I’m sure some other high school senior was glad to have it; my refusal to accept the scholarship made some other parent’s day. But at the time, I was gleeful in my disdain for Wellesley, absolute in my dismissal of all it stood for. I slammed that door behind me and said, “No, I do not want your money. I do not want your school. I do not want your traditions and your hallowed halls. I do not want to be a Wellesley girl.” The day I turned that scholarship down I broke my mother’s heart, broke it in a way that I can only now, four decades later, understand.
“What’s the big deal?” I told her, as only an arrogant teenager can do. “It’s my life.”