I was just a freshman at Wesleyan University, but I wanted out. It made no sense. I loved WESLEYAN. I had been looking forward to being there for so long. Back at Stuyvesant HS my friend Danny Grant, who was a year ahead of me, returned from his visit there exclaiming that he knew that not only he but I would someday attend Wes. Fast forward to my early decision acceptance. Everything was set.
In my first semester I took physics, directed experiences in acting, Spanish Literature, and intro to sociology. I also signed up to be one of the student representatives on the EPC, the Educational Planning Council, which was comprised of tenured faculty, lifetime administrators and two student reps. There was one student rep and I was the other. I was in over my head. I was expected to weigh in on policy at the EPC, and then in classes I was a guinea pig (actor) for scenes from classic American plays directed by juniors and seniors, read Latin American literature in Spanish, and was expected to understand physics on the college level. My head swirled. I chose all these things. They genuinely interested me. The only trouble was I could not find myself anywhere in there. I had been an A+ student at Stuy. But here at Wesleyan I was expected to engage because of my own genuine interest. Trouble was I had none.
Enter Meg Zocco. Meg Zocco was the Dean for the incoming Freshman class. I knew her from letters sent before I ever reached campus. But then face to face with her during summer orientation I learned she was there to assist me to get acclimated. She brought the singer songwriter Christine Lavin — whom I loved!— to perform for us at the Center for the Arts. She guided us into a circle and then had us sit down and feel the support of the person behind us. Meg and I would wave as we passed each other on High Street. I pretended I didn’t need her.
Trouble is I liked her. I was always curious about her. She was insightful and beautiful and a little edgy. She seemed to be deeply self respecting while also getting her job done. How did she do that?
And so one day, as I struggled to comprehend Isabel Allende’s Casa de Los Espiritus, I found myself waiting outside Dean Zocco’s door to grab what I thought would just be a few minutes of Meg’s time. But once she ushered me into her office, to sit in the heavy brown wooden furniture, I sunk into a deeper truth.
“I don’t want to be here anymore.” I blinked, shocked at my own admission. What was I saying? I loved WESLEYAN. I was passionate. I loved all my classes. I was directed by Dar Williams in a scene from ENDGAME by Samuel Beckett. I was in love with the people. I made lifelong friends with Andrew Boorstyn, Nikki Hubbard and my other housemates at Greenhouse the first day! My parents and I were captured in a picture on the cover of the guide for parents’ weekend. I was literally the cover girl for WESLEYAN.
“What is hard about being here?” Meg leaned in with zero shame or judgement.
“I love WESLEYAN, but I don’t know why I’m here. It makes no sense to me. I worked so hard to get here.”
“Maybe it’s not the right moment,” Meg offered. “Do you think you need something else?” Again, Meg left so much space. She waited.
“I can’t go home because my parents won’t let me just drop out. I need to have a plan. I need something. I don’t know what to do.”
And then, Meg Zocco gave me a life lesson. It is a life lesson that I have used with hundreds of coaching clients over the years since then. She said, “make a list of the reasons to leave and the reasons to stay. List all the pros and cons.” I did. “Now Jennifer, try the totality of each scenario on. Which is the one that feels right?”
And I sat there facing the two choices and I didn’t want to drop out of WESLEYAN, but I could see clearly for the first time I could not stay. I was 18 and had made my first life choice as a semi-adult.
“Sometimes it’s not clear which is the best choice to make, but we do the best we can to make the choice that we can live with,” Meg offered.
I felt relieved and terrified. Meg assured me I had actually figured out what to do.
“But my parents won’t approve of this,” I told her. “They will kill me.” I told her. “Not necessarily!” She winked.” Let me talk to them.” I don’t know what she said to reassure my parents that I was not completely irresponsible and to permit me to live another day. And I don’t know why in my memory they somehow instantaneously materialized on campus. I can picture them there, in Dean Zocco’s office, unhappily accepting my decision. Yes, they were disappointed. You can’t always have everything!
I proceeded to devise a plan. I found a job through the career planning center as an aide at Perkins School for the Blind (where Helen Keller studied) where I worked with deaf blind retarded children. I secured a job, housing, income and time to better listen to who I was and what I needed. I saved my money and when I completed my internship I headed to Aberdeen Scotland to be in the Leaveners theatre company and participate in an international theatre festival. Then I traipsed through Spain by myself to get closer to Unamuno and Lorca and all the other writers I had only studied in books. Come August I was ready to return to Wesleyan. I studied theatre, Spanish, and became a women’s studies major because I now could hear my true self and I really wanted to hear and tell women’s stories of how they changed their own and others’ lives. And I completed my degree in 3.5 years so I somehow got my education discounted so at least I managed to get that bonus for my parents.
Meg Zocco. Does she know how much she changed my life? Does she know how much she helps every person she touches in the Wesleyan community? And how we in turn touch countless other lives? She has moved through a variety of positions at Wes over the years, but 33 years later she is still there. Now in parent relations, working with parents of students, some who were once Wes students themselves. Is it even possible to measure the impact of all she has brought to these relationships? I am just one student out of a class of 700 in one of those years. She personally supported, counseled and mentored me. She changed my life so I was able connect with and honor myself. And I know she’s done that for countless others.