Saturday, June 17, 2023

Back to UVA, 10 Years On

Usually the Foreign Service keeps us abroad, and reunions are rarely feasible to attend. So I was especially thrilled to discover we'd be Stateside for my 10-year reunion since graduating from the University of Virginia (UVA). I didn't know a lot of people at the reunion since I graduated a year early and most of my friends graduated a year after me, but I was excited to explore my old haunts and see how the university and Charlottesville (Cville) have changed since I attended. I'm also glad M (who spent a lot of time at UVA while dating me long-distance from Virginia Tech (VT)) and S could join me, and the reunions team did a great job of including family members.

We drove down to Cville on Friday morning to make it in time for the first event we wanted to attend: a student dormitory (dorm) tour. I lived in dorms all three years at UVA, including as a resident advisor (RA), so I was interested to see what the experience was like today. At risk of sounding like a bit of a curmudgeon, I have to say that kids these days will never know what we went through! All dorms now have air conditioning and elevators, but I spend multiple years in dorms without either of those. M and I will never forget the struggle of carrying furniture up and down stairs and laying out surrounded by fans trying to cool off in the summer. They even have adjustable beds, now, so students can decide what height bed they want! In all seriousness, I'm delighted to hear that dorms now are more accessible and comfortable for students so they can really focus on what they should be there for: to learn.

The newest dorm is called Gibbons House, named after Isabella and William Gibbons. They were an extraordinary couple who built a family, pursued their own education, and gave back to the community as leaders despite being born into slavery and enslaved at UVA for decades. Isabella Gibbons wrote in 1867, "Can we forget the crack of the whip, cowhide, whipping-post, the auction block...the hand-cuffs, the spaniels, the iron collar, the negro-trader tearing the young child from its mother's breast as a whelp from the lioness? Have we forgotten these horrible cruelties, hundreds of our race have been killed? No, we have not, nor ever will." I am glad my alma mater is honoring their stories with this dorm and with prominent displays about their history, and I'm sad I never knew them before.

While I attended a lecture (some things never change), M joined a solar panel tour. Apparently, UVA has a goal to be carbon-neutral by 2030 and fossil fuel-free by 2050. Some of UVA's rooftop solar panels are owned by a local power company that is just leasing the rooftop space, while others are owned by the university. The ones owned by the power company are connected to the grid. UVA has already achieved its shorter-term goal for 25% of its power needs to be met by renewables thanks to an agreement to purchase energy from two solar farms.

My favorite thing I saw the whole reunion weekend was the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers. This memorial was an idea that students passionately advocated for when I was a student (with some vocal opposition), so I got chills walking the site of the actual memorial realized in physical space. I learned that the memorial planning process included a huge range of stakeholders: not just the university administration and students and alumni but Charlottesville community members and descendants of enslaved laborers. That process resulted in an extremely thoughtful and profoundly symbolic memorial recognizing and honoring the ~4,000 enslaved laborers who built UVA and kept it running. You can read more about the effort to get the memorial made and the meaning behind its design on the memorial website. I took a tour of the memorial led by a UVA alumna and descendant of multiple enslaved people, including Sally Hemings and the Maupin family. If you want to learn more about supporting efforts like the memorial, genealogical access, scholarships for descendants, and more, check out the nonprofit Descendants of Enslaved Communities at UVA (DEC-UVA).

I was also touched to see so many signs and memorials around campus and town for the three UVA football players killed in a campus shooting in November 2022: D’Sean Perry, Devin Chandler, and Lavel Davis. Both sides of Beta Bridge were painted in their memory, seven months after they were killed. Moreover, the UVA Alumni Association continues to lead a fundraising effort to support the victims, survivors, and their families; if you would like to contribute please consider supporting UVA Strong.

We also took the time we were in Cville to visit several of my favorite old haunts and restaurants, including Take It Away sandwich shop, Marco & Luca dumplings, The Virginian, and Twisted Branch Tea Bazaar. We even swung by the UVA Bookstore to pick up an outfit for S, because somehow he wound up with way too many VT clothes and not a single UVA item (until now).

It was really nice to bring the family with me down memory lane. It'll be years before I get the chance to visit again, so I'm glad we made it this time. The Alumni Association and UVA administration and staff did a phenomenal job of helping us alumni feel right at home again on campus, and they definitely made me want to come back again for a future reunion. Until next time, UVA/Cville! Wahoowa!

Sunday, June 4, 2023

A Weekend Celebrating Beauty, Truth, Goodness, and Love

We had an amazing weekend in Pennsylvania celebrating the wedding of my dear friend W from college and her now-husband P! We drove up from Virginia and made a whole weekend of it. P's family is from India, and they incorporated beautiful Indian traditions into the welcome party on Friday night. We joined other guests in wearing Indian dress, including baby S. We stayed just long enough to see the bride and groom exchange garlands, which signifies their acceptance of and respect for each other. S was exhausted from the drive up, so unfortunately we had to leave to put him to bed before we could enjoy the amazing Indian dinner. (This was one of the many reasons we regretted not booking a room at the main hotel where so many events were held.)

We got settled into our hotel eventually after a bit of a wild goose chase for a pack 'n play after (to our shock) our hotel's receptionist said they did not have the pack 'n play we requested months in advance available. It's a long story, but we were ultimately able to buy a pack 'n play at a local Target and request reimbursement. Otherwise, the room was great and I couldn't wait to catch up on some sleep.

The next day, we knew we had a full morning before the wedding festivities started so I planned an excursion for us to Valley Forge National Historical Park. Valley Forge was the encampment site of the Continental Army during the winter of 1777-1778 during the American Revolutionary War. The park blew me away, and one could easily spend a whole day there in weather as lovely as we had. There were trails where folks were walking, jogging, biking, and pushing strollers. There were areas with scenic views and picnic tables. There was a range of fascinating history and a mix of recreations and original materials.

You can learn more about the history of Valley Forge on the National Park Service website. In recent years, it seems like the park service has really taken some time to research and share the stories of more marginalized people whose experiences didn't feature prominently in most of the mythos around Valley Forge in the public consciousness over the years. Now you can learn more about the women, Black people, and Indigenous people at Valley Forge. We also stopped by the newest monument: one dedicated to Patriots of African Descent by Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, a historically African American service sorority. I learned a lot on this visit, and I appreciate the ongoing effort to expand our understanding of our history and its legacy today.

After that, we returned to the hotel so S could nap and we could get ready for the main event. Once we were ready, we dropped S off with a complimentary nanny service graciously provided by our friends and arrived for the ceremony, cocktail hour, and reception at Philander Chase Knox Estate. Originally built in the late 1700s, the Estate once served as the summer home of Philander Chase Knox, former U.S. Attorney General, U.S. Secretary of State and U.S. Senator. Even President Theodore Roosevelt once stayed in the house! I wish I had taken more pictures at the wedding because everything - from the venue to the decorations to the flowers - was stunning. My friend W has impeccable taste and class, and it showed in every detail.

There was just the right mix of hilarious anecdotes and tearjerker moments in the ceremony and reception that made me grateful I wore my waterproof mascara. We also loved the thoughtful seating arrangements that put us at a table with fascinating conversation partners with passions ranging from fighting cybercrime to studying macroeconomics to running a think tank to diagnosing foot conditions. It was a fabulous group and an unforgettable evening. Unfortunately, we didn't last too long after the cake cutting, knowing we needed to pick up S from the nannies and take him home. Our sweet boy was so tired he fell asleep before we even got there but let us transfer him to our hotel without an issue. It was our first time leaving someone to watch him with other kids, so we had been a little unsure of how he would handle it. To our relief, the nannies assured us he played wonderfully with the older kids there and they had all had great fun trying to teach him how to high-five.

Sunday morning, we joined our friends for a farewell breakfast and were amazed at their alertness given the party had apparently continued long after we turned in until about 3am! It was so meaningful to spend such a special time with friends. One of the toughest things about the Foreign Service is that we're usually overseas and have to miss so many of these important occasions and milestones. I'm so glad we could be here for this one, and we can't wait to host W and P (and any of the many other friends we met this weekend and invited) in Dubai!