Sunday, March 20, 2011

watson reunion

On the Ides of March - March 15th - every year, the Thomas J. Watson Foundation reveals its new list of fellowship recipients for the year. During this same week, Watson alumni all over the world gather to celebrate and connect at soirees called "Ides of Watson."

I received my Watson Fellowship nine years ago as a college senior but attended my very first Ides of Watson on Friday night. It was a wonderful, fun evening meeting other past recipients, learning about their projects, and sharing in the spirit of inquisitiveness, possibility, and fearlessness that defined that special year abroad.

There was a gambit of recipient years represented last night. I met a gentleman, who received it in 1969 and was the very first singer to earn a Watson. There were a number of recipients from the mid-80s and some from the late 90s. I met a woman who received her fellowship in 2001. And there were what seemed to be a healthy contingent from 2007 to the present.

It was during the immediate months following my return home from the Watson that I learned I had cancer. I was 23. I am 31 now. During the intervening years, my interests were elsewhere: notably my health and then, graduate school. I had thought about attending last year's soiree but didn't in part out of an uneasiness of how, when asked, would I talk about my life since 2002. Yes, I was teaching this time last year but I had just started. Things still felt very uncertain. Doubt about where I myself was going after cancer made the experience of spending an evening conversing about accomplishments and five-year plans with people whose lives I imagined had progressed on flawlessly to be very unappetizing. Looking back, I recognize the narrowness and just sheer falsity of my thoughts. Watson or not I have so much to be proud of (and thankful for).

At least once during Friday's soiree, I found myself laughing inside at myself. While socializing with the youngest recipients, I was reminded of just how time has moved on since my senior year and how I've changed in various ways. It's amazing.... And yet at the same time, that same "itch" to seek, explore, question, and challenge oneself endures.


This is one of my favorite pictures from my Watson. I'm sitting in the niche of an ancient Roman capitol building in Dougga, Tunisia (January 7, 2003).

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