Address by 2012 Alumna Achievement Award Recipient
Margaret (Peggy) Perkinson ’72
Perkinson offered these words at the Reunion Banquet on Saturday, June 2, 2012 after receiving the Alumna Achievement Award.
Thank you, I cannot express how much this honor means to me. I am so grateful for it and for my time at Saint Mary’s College.
At the risk of sounding pedantic, I’d like to share my reflections on the Saint Mary’s experience from an anthropological perspective. Most cultures provide structured processes, rites of passage, to assist in the transition from late childhood to early adulthood. During this transition period, young people are removed from their childhood environments and taken as a group to a relatively isolated place. Wise elders impart knowledge critically important for functioning in adult roles. Heightened states of awareness are sometimes part of this experience, induced by sleep deprivation, physical or mental torture, chanting and dancing, or perhaps by other means, sometimes resulting in a vision quest and insight into future goals. Strong bonds develop among those who share this transition. Initiates are considered to be in an in-between, liminal state, not quite children, not quite adults – an ambiguous, sometimes dangerous status that requires isolation from the rest of the tribe. At the end, the initiates return to their village in special garb to be greeted by a grand celebration that officially acknowledges – both to the community and to themselves – their newly acquired adult identity and status within society.
Some of this may or may not coincide with your memories of your time at Saint Mary’s. To me it rings fairly true. To me, it was a liminal, luminous time – a sacred life space – when we had the privilege to step away from the worlds of our childhood, learn from wise elders, try out new roles as if they were garments to see what fit, and form life-long bonds of friendship to support us in the life to come. I think of my time here with great gratitude, for the liberal arts curriculum and especially for the great gift of majoring in humanistic studies. What an intellectual adventure that was – to explore the great works that comprise our intellectual heritage: from the early Greeks to Augustine, Erasmus, Dante, Machiavelli, Milton, Pascal, Voltaire, Thomas Moore, Goethe, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Sartre, Camus, to name just a few. To marvel at the rich array of arts and philosophies – those current and those passed down through the ages; to absorb the lessons of history, guided, prodded, and challenged by our Saint Mary’s teachers, with our beloved Bruno Schlesinger in the lead; and to reflect on the relevance of all of this to our current and future lives.
We emerged from Saint Mary’s as if from a cocoon, with glistening wings bright with the prospect of the future, aching for flights to as yet unknown destinations and destinies. We took with us a solid foundation, empowered with the skills of critical, analytic thought and guided by personal philosophies, acquired as a result of our grappling with life’s big questions as seen through the prisms of civilization’s big thinkers. We emerged prepared to make a difference in the world, to use our individual talents where they would have an effect. We emerged graced with a “convoy of support,” our lifelong Saint Mary’s friends who shared this rite of passage, this very sacred life space.
Our cohort emerged simultaneously with the emergence of the Women’s Movement. By virtue of our birthdates, it has been our fate to redefine what it means to live a meaningful life as women in our society. I have no doubt that has presented challenges to all of us, in ways that younger graduates may strain to understand. It is our great fortune that Saint Mary’s demanded that we develop the necessary skills, while providing a nurturing sacred space that allowed us to identify our hearts’ desires and go forth to pursue them.