Since the devastating news, I had been, between tears and grieving, trying to find a way to come to terms with this reality. I have been thinking and thinking and thinking. This came to me in the middle of the first night of learning what had happened. I had been sitting with it since then… Okay, I had been concentrating on putting that one foot in front of the other and doing my best to hold all my bits and pieces together. But last night, in part because it was Gloria’s birthday, I emailed this letter to the Dean of Student Affairs. Below it, is her response. Below that are my thoughts. Below that, feel free to let me know yours.
Dear Dean Ayravainen,
My name is Diane C. Wiltshire and I am a lower senior at Hunter College. I am writing to ask for your assistance with a reality that is as close to my heart as it has broken my heart.
Three years ago, in a Philosophy class I met another student; her name is Gloria. In large part because we were contemporaries, we gravitated towards each other. From there, a friendship, a sisterhood was formed that has allowed for us to navigate our academic journeys even stronger in our two-some. Because we were older students, with lives and especially histories that at once propelled us forward as at times threatened to pull us back, we signed up to be the cheerleader each of us needed to keep on going. With the knowledge of past abuses and struggles, we vowed to use our pasts to make us better; never bitter.
It was not always easy. In fact, often it was downright difficult. There were those moments we cried, yelled, thought of giving up, secretly gave up, but always, always, always, reached out to the other and got right back on the track. We made plans… to graduate together. And for life after. I kept encouraging her to “go all the way;” telling her that at our ages (we are both in our fifties) going back to school at this juncture in our lives, stopping at a Bachelor’s degree was almost an insult to ourselves. I kept encouraging my friend to at least achieve her Master’s degree (I intend to achieve my PhD).
Last week I found out my friend Gloria had died. I cannot even write these words without my heart starting a whole new course in breaking. I am simply devastated. As of yet I do not know what happened; but I am praying to find out. Literally praying. What I do know is this: approximately three weeks ago we ran into each other as I was leaving my class and she was waiting on hers to begin. We hugged and reminded each other it was time for our monthly get-together. So, we promised to be in touch and parted. A few days later I started reaching out, via text and calls. All my calls to her cell went directly to voicemail and my calls to her job went to her automated answering service. I tried every couple of days with the same result. At one point I remembered she had told me of her plan to go with her daughter to Mexico; I thought maybe it was that time. After about one week or so I began to be quite uneasy and even sent her a text saying that. No response. This past Tuesday I tried her cell again; voicemail. I called her job and this time someone answered. I asked for her; the woman hesitated. In that moment I knew something was terribly wrong; and, I was correct. She told me Gloria had died; but told me nothing else. Even as I begged for information. For clarity. For something. Anything.
Since then, I have been in a fog of disbelief and grief. Functioning is challenging; but I am even more determined now. And, this is why I am writing to you; I need your help please. In honor of my friend, my sister, I would like to finish her classes… so she could graduate. Please. Gloria had had a difficult middle of life; but she was finally at peace and proud of herself. She had a home and, she had a job. She had school. She had friends who loved her; like me. And, because of that love I would like to honor her. I would like to finish what she started. Her life was interrupted; I know not why. But, her dreams, aspirations and hopes do not all have to be; I am capable of fulfilling a part of it. My plan is this: after this semester, I believe I have finished all the classes necessary to satisfy my major. So, with your help (and with the help of an advisor to ensure I proceed correctly), I would like to know what classes Gloria had left to satisfy her requirements to graduate and, I would like to take those as my electives. This way, we both finish and we both graduate. Please.
I cannot adequately quantify what this means for my soul. I truly need to do this. But, I cannot do this without your help; I do not know what she had left to do. I do know she was a Psychology major and did not have too many classes left. Please, please, please help me to do this for my friend; even where she is she needs this ‘win’ and, God willing, I am capable, able and willing to do this for her. And, for myself. My heart is shattering for all she has lost and, I know what graduating would have meant to her daughter. Please help me to give this to her. From her mom.
Despite my confusion and pain, I will continue to believe that there is a God and, because of that, I pray He not only continues to give me the strength and wisdom to continue with the same attention, dedication and determination I have always employed, but I pray and trust He will guide us all in making the right decisions in this.
I simply want to honor my friend and give to her some of what she has lost.
Please help me.
Diane C. Wiltshire
Thank you for your lovely and moving tribute to your colleague. How nice it is to find a kindred spirit with whom you can share your journey in education. It is also wonderful that you found that place at Hunter.
Unfortunately I cannot grant your wish to take the remaining courses for your friend and have her graduate from Hunter. You certainly can take courses but they cannot in any way be transferred to your friend’s educational record. All diplomas and degrees are sanctioned but the state of New York and altering them is a matter of ethics and legality. I know your thoughts are all good and you wish to help your friend and family, but this is not possible.
I wish you all the best in your studies and future adventures.
All the best.
My initial thoughts? So many celebrities are given honorary diplomas and degrees just for being what, famous? Rich? Nice guys and gals? However, the State of New York will find what I am asking to do illegal or unethical? Honoring a student who, through no fault of her own, got her life and plans interrupted is unethical? Aiding and allowing me to walk in her remaining academic footsteps to symbolically finish what she had started is not something they can make happen? Or just not willing to make happen?!
Okay. I do not want to add anger to the emotions I feel; at least not yet.
T0 be continued…