First Words

You Are Not Alone

By Patricia Duane Lichtenberg ’90, AAVC executive director

On the morning of September 11th, I walked through the entrance of Reagan National Airport intending to catch the USAirways shuttle to LaGuardia. The night before over 400 Washington-area alumnae/i and Vassar administrators had attended a Vassar-sponsored reception at the National Building Museum to honor architect Cesar Pelli.

I was thinking of Pelli as I walked into the airport — recently and elegantly redesigned by him — when an unexpected sight met my gaze — a group of airline pilots standing in front of the electronic departure screens. It was so incongruous that I was, at first, amused. The pilots looked a bit lost. Something in the way they stood — rock still, faces devoid of expression — drew me to them. The usual blue/black departure screen had been converted to a television screen and showed the twin towers of the World Trade Center. I thought, "This is a movie" and turned to the pilots for reassurance. Their faces were the color of ash. A surreal calm settled over me and I watched myself turn and walk quickly to the ticket counter. My flight — all flights to New York were delayed indefinitely. An unsettling thought rose up inside me. I tamped it down in my mind, but it rose up again. I was alone.

I sped to Union Station to catch up with Bob Pounder and Jennifer Dahnert, who had attended the Pelli event the previous night. I boarded the 10:00 a.m. train and decided that I would slowly walk row by row looking at the travelers. If my colleagues were on the train, I would find them because I didn’t want to be alone. I did find them, and we embarked on a 10-hour odyssey back to Poughkeepsie. All that day we talked and worried about the Vassar alums we know in New York and D.C.

The next morning I went into the AAVC offices to find that the staff had been getting calls from alums looking for friends, from faculty and administrators searching for former students. I gathered the staff together, and we talked about the need to reach out to each other — the need to feel connected and not alone. From that discussion arose our Alumnae/i Check-In page on the AAVC Website. We had no idea that the response would be so overwhelming but we were proud to be able to provide some small service in the face of such sorrow.

The need to gather as a community is natural and reassuring. That lesson was made clear to me in a very personal way on September 11th. As we travel to meet with alumnae/i, as we gather in online communities, and come together in the pages of this magazine, we know that our Vassar ties are strong. Our education and the friendships we form — not only in the years spent as a student but later as the continual alumnae/i community — these things sustain us and continue to draw us back to the safe haven that is Vassar. In recent weeks we have seen many more alums coming back to campus to find solace and comfort from our pastoral campus. But if you cannot come back to campus, do not despair we are always with you.

Now, more than ever, we at AAVC are committed to sustaining our Vassar worldwide community. As long as you have Vassar, you will never be alone.