What Makes Four Years?

Four Vassar Students
Four Vassar Students

Vassar may be just one campus, but there are as many journeys through it as there are Vassar students and alumnae/i. With another graduating class heading out into the world, we got to wondering: What are the classes, extracurricular activities, off-campus adventures, humbling moments, career-altering professors, and life-changing experiences that somehow all come together over four years to make a Vassar career? How does college make us who we are? How does it all correlate?

We asked four graduating seniors to tell us a little bit about what they’ve been up to here in Poughkeepsie (and elsewhere, including junior year abroad) since they arrived in fall 2004. Here are their responses. — The Editors

Molly Finkelstein, Aaron Naar, Nicole Savage, Edem Binka
Molly Finkelstein, Aaron Naar, Nicole Savage, Edem Binka

Molly Finkelstein
Hometown: Cherry Hill, New Jersey
Major: English; Correlate: Classics: Ancient Societies
Some extracurrics: The Misc, English Majors Committee, Editor-in-Chief of The Vassarion, Helicon contributor, Dutchess County Historical Society intern
What’s next: The Columbia Publishing Course

Aaron Naar
Hometown: Lawrenceville, New Jersey
Double Major: Hispanic Studies, Latin American and Latino/a Studies
Some extracurrics: Vassar Filmmakers, Intramural Basketball, Poughkeepsie High School Spanish Tutor
What’s next: Preproduction for a new film

Edem Binka
Hometown: Accra, Ghana
Major: Physics (but really Pre-Med)
Some extracurrics: Vassar Christian Fellowship president, African Students Union, Alive a cappella group, Wellness Peer Educator, URSI Fellow, EMT
What’s next: Vanderbilt University School of Medicine

Nicole Savage
Hometown: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Major: Urban Studies
Some extracurrics: Black Student Union, Council of Black Seniors, Council for Alumnae/i-Student Advancement, Family Partnership Center job coach
What’s next: Counselor for Exploring Transfer Program

Molly Finkelstein '09
Molly Finkelstein '09

Molly Finkelstein
English, correlate in Classics: Ancient Societies

How have you changed since you entered as a freshman? “I’d like to think that I dress better. Also, when I first started school here, I fully intended to have a correlate in math. I wanted to be the only person with an English major and a math minor. It was only through a few scheduling flukes that I ended up with one in classics instead. I was as surprised as anyone. It ended up working out pretty well, though. I’m very hypothetically considering doing graduate work in ancient history. And now I can bother my friends by explaining all of the historical inaccuracies on the HBO series Rome.”

A transformative Vassar experience: “This actually occurred when I left Vassar and went JYA in the spring of my junior year. I got to make the connection that the things I study in Poughkeepsie actually exist outside of the classroom. I went to Dickens’s house in London and the Keats-Shelley House in Rome. I went to basically every museum in western Europe. I went to Greece and Rome for my spring break and put my classics correlate to work. Before I went abroad, I never really thought about any of these places as modern. I sort of just imagined them in the ways that I read about them. I don’t know what I was thinking, but I imagined London like it is in Dickens and Jane Austen, Greece as it was when the Parthenon still functioned as a temple, and Rome when it still had consuls. It was quite the learning experience to see how the cities have changed.”

A favorite class: “English 281: The Medium of Print and the History of Books with Ron Patkus and Robert DeMaria is definitely one of the best courses I’ve taken here. It met in Special Collections in the basement of the library. We got to utilize Vassar’s rare book and manuscript collection. We also learned how to make paper and went on a field trip to the New York Antiquarian Book Fair, which is as exciting as it sounds.”

Some Vassar firsts: “Among other things, I learned how to weave for English 382: Woven Stories. It comes in handy. I made my parents tapestries for Hannukah. I also tried to learn Latin. That one didn’t work out as well. I learned how to drive on the highway. And I learned how to do laundry in the spring of my freshman year. I made my roommate do it before that. The first time I did it by myself, I ended up getting stuck in a dryer.”

Noctes Atticae
Attic Nights

Come on, ask me,
ask me about anything,
anything in this poem,
any poem, anything.

I am Aulus Gellius
and I analyze things.
Poetry, grammar, math,
philosophy, physics, everything.

It’s not really for a living,
it’s just that winter is cold
and nights are long. Too long.
What do you want to know?

How tall Hercules is, how the vestal virgins
are chosen, which type of wind blows
from which direction in every season?

I’m no romantic.
I don’t believe in metaphors.
All I can tell you is
the truth, everything.
— Molly Finkelstein

Did you write a senior thesis? “Yes, a collection of poetry titled Attic Nights.” (See the title poem from Molly’s thesis, above.)

What will you miss most about Vassar? “The library. Also, working on The Misc. I would say my friends, but they’ll all be in Brooklyn, too.”

Molly’s advice for the incoming class of 2012: “Don’t spend too much time on facebook.com. Take Art 105-106, you will not regret it. I waited until my senior year to take it and now I almost wish I had been an art major. Also, probably most of what you do your freshman year will be a mistake, but it’s best not to worry about that.”

What’s next? “I’m attending the Columbia Publishing Course in New York over the summer and then hopefully I’ll have a job in the city.”

Edem Binka '09
Edem Binka '09

Edem Binka
Physics (but really Pre-Med)

How have you changed since you entered as a freshman? “I definitely see the world through very different lenses now. Before coming to Vassar, I admit that my view of the world was very myopic. I had never really been involved in open dialogues about race, sexuality, and religion until I came to Vassar. I had very fixed opinions on these issues that were mostly shared by many of the people around me. This left little room for debate and critical thinking. But at Vassar, I’ve had plenty of debate on these issues. I have become better prepared to engage people of very different backgrounds on these pertinent topics.”

What will you miss most about Vassar? “I’ll definitely miss the people most. I’m sure everyone says that, but it’s testament to the wonderful and supportive nature of the people at Vassar. I’ve made many good friends here—friends whom I truly cherish and who continue to inspire me. Since coming to Vassar, I have been readily welcomed by the families of faculty and staff. I actually feel like a part of their families.”

Edem Binka working with a House Team
Edem Binka working with a House Team
A humbling Vassar experience: “This was at a spoken-word show organized by Vassar’s Feminist Alliance. It was my first time at any spoken-word event of any kind, so I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I had never seen such a powerful display of emotions and feelings like I did that night. It was an overwhelming experience. I left the show knowing that there is a lot of injustice in this world and that it’s unfortunate that people like me need such occasions to become fully aware of this. It really changed me; I believe I became much more sensitive and receptive to these issues from that point onwards.”

A favorite professor: “If I had to pick one, I’d go with Judith Nichols of the English department. Before taking her creative writing class, I was convinced I was a terrible writer. I actually met with her before the first class to express my apprehensions, but she was very encouraging and convincing, so I took the class. I ended up loving the class. I actually started harboring thoughts of pursuing a writing career. Fortunately, I came back to my senses eventually.”

A Vassar first: “Beginning Modern Dance with Steve Rooks. After the first two minutes of my first class, I wanted to head for the door and never return. I was so uncoordinated. Even worse, I had to dance in front of large mirrors, so I had no illusions about how bad I was. But I didn’t leave. I stuck with the class and I absolutely enjoyed it. I definitely plan to take more modern-dance classes in the future.”

Edem’s advice for the incoming class of 2012: “Have an open mind. The education you get at Vassar is so much more than what you learn in the classroom. Get involved on campus. Join organizations that share your vision—and if you don’t have one yet, interact with the numerous visionaries on campus; you’re bound to discover your passions sooner rather than later.”

What’s next? “This summer, I plan to go home to Ghana for the first time in three years. I’m going to do my best to rest as much as possible and plan on finally teaching myself how to play the guitar. I’ll be starting medical school this fall at Vanderbilt. Moving to Nashville will be a new experience, but I believe after my experiences at Vassar, I should be able to take on anything the world throws at me.”

Adam Naar '09
Adam Naar '09

Aaron Naar
Hispanic Studies, Latin American and Latino/a Studies (LALS)

How have you changed since you entered as a freshman? “I came in thinking I was going to study studio art and English and play on the tennis team. Instead, I study LALS and HISP and make films in my free time. I knew that I would do film projects no matter what, whether in school or out, but I also realized that I would probably get a whole lot more out of a book like A Cultural History of Cacao if I read it with some solid academic guidance. As a result, I decided to spend my class time outside of the film department.

“Physically, I broke the majority of the bones in my face sophomore year when I fell off a volcano while in Guatemala, and now my face is predominantly made of titanium. A minor change, I guess.”

A significant Vassar experience: “While studying JYA in Bolivia, I took a visual anthropology class where I created a documentary about the Bolivian village Puñaca Tintamaria, one of the oldest, poorest, and most overlooked villages in Latin America. Founded circa 2000 bc, it is currently on the brink of extinction. I was one of the few North Americans ever allowed into this remote community and the first to make a documentary record of the village through an interview with the village elder. I created the documentary in an attempt to preserve the rich history of a dying culture as well as sound the alarm regarding the ecosystem’s degradation. It was this experience that sealed my desire to be a filmmaker. And I got credit for it!”

A Vassar first: “I danced in the opening to the Rocky Horror Picture Show freshman year. My cheeks are still red, but it felt good to step out of my shell.”

Two favorite professors: “Jonathon Kahn in Religion and Jeffrey Seidman in Philosophy. They are terrific!”

Aaron Naar
Aaron Naar

What will you miss most about Vassar? “Being surrounded by peers who have related interests and are motivated to accomplish similar goals. The majority of people on campus — students, faculty, and administration — are supportive, encouraging, and willing to help you out. I am definitely going to miss the compassionate community.”

Did you write a senior thesis? “No, but I did Senior Independent Work in Hispanic Studies working on my documentary film Juntos Estamos Divididos (Together We Are Divided).”

Aaron’s advice for the incoming class of 2012: “Prerequisites are merely suggestions. Take a geography course—the department is underrated; take as many seminars as you can; ask a professor you like to supervise an independent study; join an intramural team; create your own VSA organization.”

What’s next? “I start preproduction June 1 for a film I am shooting in August called Happy Birthday. After the shoot wraps, I am going to be putting together a production studio for my company—Shoot the Sky Productions—in Brooklyn, New York, with some other Vassar grads. Then we start working on the next film.”

Nicole Savage '09
Nicole Savage '09

Nicole Savage
Urban Studies

How have you changed since you entered as a freshman? “Since freshmen year I have gained more confidence in myself and my academic abilities.”

What will you miss most about Vassar? “The random get-togethers with and living close to my friends.”

A transformative Vassar experience: “Working as the AAVC intern, where I hired, trained, and managed 100 students to staff reunion. This was the first time I had to bear that much work and responsibility in addition to my academic work and extracurricular activities. While I was scared out of my mind, I appreciated the opportunity and enjoyed being accountable. This experience, along with my academic success, has helped me to develop more confidence in myself.”

Some of Nicole’s favorite classes and the professors who taught them: “The Criminal and the Carceral, Tyrone Simpson; Black Marxism, Pinar Batur; Race and Ethnicity, Diane Harriford; Ethnic Geography of America, Yu Zhou; American Politics, Luke Harris.”

Nicole Savage '09 and Adriana Fasano '06
Nicole Savage '09 and Adriana Fasano '06
Some Vassar firsts: “I had the opportunity to travel outside the country, doing JYA and taking an international studies course. This constitutes two firsts for me because it was also my first time traveling without my family. I learned to operate a spotlight and light board for the Black Students Union’s Souls with Voices show for three years. I also learned to operate a sound board for the play For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf. I also tried and have come to enjoy the spinning machine in the gym.”

Nicole’s advice for the incoming class of 2012: “Truly enjoy these four years. By this I mean take as many random classes that you are interested in but aren’t necessarily in your field of study. Also, find a good balance between school work and your personal life. While it’s important to dedicate a lot of time and effort to your classes, you will be happier if you have friends, clubs, or something non-class-related to look forward to.”

What’s next? “Working as an Exploring Transfer Program counselor this summer. I'm also currently in the interview process for the Destination Fellowship in Philadelphia and applying for jobs at non-profits and social service agencies in Philadelphia.”

Photo of Nicole and Adriana courtesy of Nicole Savage. All others, Jim Smith.