The privilege of education was the topic Tuesday evening when the Due West Branch of the American Association of University Women (AAUW) recognized 34 outstanding young women from Erskine College and Abbeville County high schools March 24 at the 56th Annual Student Recognition Dinner in the Bell Conference Room of Watkins Student Center on the Erskine campus.
Guest speaker Patricia Bolen talked about the privilege of her own upbringing and education, the privilege of the education Americans can enjoy, and the privilege of her professional work as an attorney.
Brought up in Boston, Bolen attended high-powered schools, and did not fully realize at the time that those schools were exceptional. When she decided to attend Cornell University, some of her classmates might have assumed she chose Cornell because she couldn’t manage to get into Harvard, Yale, or Princeton, she said.
Americans who attend less than stellar schools are also privileged. “What we have in the United States is so mouch better than what most of the world has,” she said.
This was brought home to Bolen when she met a 14-year-old Guatemalan immigrant who was delighted to be placed in an American school once she found a home with a distant relative. “So many United States students view school as a burden,” Bolen said. “This girl was thankful.”
Bolen’s initial interests were in music history and women’s studies, and she focused on these during her undergraduate years, which was certainly a privilege. “There’s a fine balance between studying what you enjoy and studying what will help you get a job,” she said.
When Bolen and her husband, Erskine College Professor of Music Dr. J. Brooks Kuykendall (who earned a Ph.D. at Cornell) moved to Michigan, where he taught at Calvin College, she decided to enter law school at Michigan State University. “Your interests can grow and develop,” she said.
These days, in her work as a public defender, Bolen, now a mother of three, is aware of “the disparity between my privileged life and that of my clients,” many of whom are charged with serious crimes, and nearly all of whom are poor.
But there is another element of privilege that Bolen feels keenly, and that is the privilege of representing her clients. Public defenders are “privileged to do a job we love to help less fortunate people,” she said.
Expressing gratitude for “the privilege of being able to use my education to do a job I love,” Bolen laughed about her recent experience of being in court when she was 42 weeks pregnant, then giving birth about an hour after leaving the courtroom.
Erskine President Dr. Paul Kooistra, who attended the dinner with his wife Sandi, welcomed the honorees, and Professor Emerita of Biology Dr. Janice Haldeman, president of the Due West Branch, spoke about the history of the branch. She also pointed out that Abbeville honoree Bethany Bonds was accompanied by her mother, who had herself been an AAUW honoree when she was a senior in high school, and had gone on to attend Erskine College.
AAUW member Pam Showalter presented certificates to the high school students and Haldeman presented certificates to the Erskine College students.
Erskine students honored and their subject areas were Rachel Talbot, art; Angela Weatherly, athletic training; Rebekah Bowen, Bible and religion; Marti Hemphill and Rachel Moore, biology; Angel Johnson-Shaver, business; Tara Potter, business-accounting; Chelsea Ball and Alanna Ennis, chemistry; Jan McGill, early childhood education; Kelly Walker and Heather Endicott, elementary education; Rachel Talbot, English; Haley Meredith, mathematics; Jennifer Karel, music; Melanie Locke Westhead, political science; Kathleen Watkins, psychology; Caroline Thomas and Haley Meredith, secondary education; and Marlee Rhodes, sports management.
Abbeville High School seniors recognized were Valerie Colvert, English; Kristen Chayka, foreign language; Larissa Oakley, math; Bethany Bonds, science; and Lela Johnson, social studies.
Calhoun Falls Charter School seniors honored were Diamond Crawford, English; Caitlyn Alewine, foreign language; Jocelyn Hozey, math; MaKayla Hicks, science; and Erin Manning, social studies.
Dixie High School seniors receiving awards were Sharayah Lopez, English; Hayle Thomas, foreign language; Savannah Spearin, math; Jeanah Gillespie, science; and Chelsea Lloyd, history.