(A letter I penned to my alma mater after my graduation ceremony this spring. To be placed, I'm sure, in the thick file marked, "rants from the sassy blonde.")
To Whom It May Concern-
My name is Sarah Schwartz, and I am a recent graduate, completing my undergraduate work in Communication Studies in the fall of 2012, and walking with my class this past May, in the spring of 2013. I am deeply grateful for my time at this university, and for the countless ways this community has equipped me for the gospel and shaped me to look more like Christ. If I had my undergraduate career to do over again, I would not hesitate to again choose this university as my place of study. However, there was one aspect of my college career that continues to trouble me, beginning the weekend I moved on to campus as a freshman, and continuing through my graduation ceremony.
It was during opening weekend that I was first introduced to the idea of "ring by spring" in a skit put on by admissions counselors. That same day, at a parent event, my parents were told to greet the people next to them, as they were "possibly their future in-laws". At first I regarded it as a harmless joke, but over the next four years, the idea that I was supposed to secure an engagement ring by the spring of my senior year was mentioned, joked about, or promoted by both faculty and staff, in class, at residence life events, in chapel, and every other venue imaginable. As a communication studies major, I spent four years studying the power of words, gaining a richer understanding of what the author of Proverbs 18 meant when he wrote that the power of life and death lies in the tongue. Messages like the one communicated opening weekend, repeated over and over again by those in authority, even in jest, possess great power, and hold the ability to significantly impact hearers.
My senior year, I lived with six other women, all seniors. We are a smart, talented, and driven bunch; honors students, former RA's, orientation directors, peer advisors, and admissions representatives, girls who not only attended, but thrived in college. Most of us dated here and there as undergraduates, but at the time senior year rolled around, all but one of us were single. None of us came to this university to find a husband. Not that we were opposed to finding a significant other in our time here; it just wasn't our experience. And it certainly wasn't among our main goals as undergraduates.
But despite all of this, each of us experienced a moment in our final year where we wondered if we had done something wrong, if we had failed somehow, by not finding someone before we walked across the stage at commencement. After all, wasn't that the message we had been receiving from everyone from our Resident Directors to our professors for the last four years? That this was our window to find a nice Christian husband? If so, we had failed at this portion of our undergraduate career.
These moments of panic eventually passed...we knew those thoughts were silly. That wasn't the reason we came to college! That wasn't the reason we pulled all nighters writing papers, worked tirelessly at student jobs, or poured ourselves into campus ministries. We came to study God's word and be transformed into the likeness of Christ so that we might better further the gospel. But despite the fact that our college careers were a success in almost every way, there was something in our subconscious that suggested otherwise, as a direct result of years of chatter about obtaining a "ring by spring".
Then, just in case we had managed to silence those silly thoughts, while sitting in our caps and gowns immediately prior to walking out to our graduation ceremony, the narrator of our instructional video heeded female graduates to "keep your eyes open" during the processional, just in case we spotted a man who had yet to give away a ring by spring. From my first weekend as an undergraduate to my last, the message rang loud and clear; what was expected of me in my time here was to find a husband.
Please don't misunderstand me, I have nothing against my dear sisters who walked across the commencement stage that evening with engagement rings on their fingers. I'll be happily attending many of their weddings this summer. What bothers me is the message we received year after year of what was expected of us in our time at school, and I am kept awake at night by the thought that if young women like myself & my roommates, girls who are smart, strong, and sure of ourselves, experienced moments of self doubt as a result of "ring by spring" rhetoric, how much more will the young, impressionable women who come after us be negatively affected by similar messages.
I am, and always will be, a proud alumna of our university. My only desire in expressing concern over this issue is to clear the path for the students coming after me to to more fully experience the blessing of the education our university offers.
Peace be with you,
Sarah C. Schwartz
B.A. Communication Studies
Class of 2012