Carolyn Hamilton is an alumna parent. Her daughter, Frances, was on semester 32 in southern Africa. As the next adventurous and curious band of young women embark on their own adventure, she wanted to share some advice and perspective:
On this winter morning, I ask myself again, how does this happen? How does a young woman find her voice, set her footing, locate her path to impact, celebrate friendships, provide context for her own feelings, and give form to her dreams in a single semester?
Frances has been home from Southern Africa for a month. And in that time, with her face framed in the new bangs she cut as the resident hair stylist for TTS32, I have witnessed her upload 3,000 photos, FaceTime her TTS sisters daily, describe the personal impact of Apartheid on her host mother, Sylvia, whose striped cotton pants Frances wears with love. Frances has shared insights on diamonds, black rhinos, flora alongside the trail up Lions Head, and the fading relevance of the brilliant San People. When nudged, she whispers about important personal moments, like the time she stood alone above the Orange River; sang a cappella with another student in a concrete public bathroom; connected “through the language of emotion” with a child on a dirt street in Soweto. Daily, I’ve watched her radiate a sense of self, dip into her new reservoir of patience, wield new tools for contending with life’s dissonance, and wonder about how to keep her TTS experience close. Lately, she’s actively straddling her experience by raising funds for a cause in Namibia and making brave decisions about her own future.
For clues about how this can happen, I read three months of my sent emails this morning, most of which were directed to Aunge, many to family and also friends. In each case, I noticed gratitude, the origins of which I’ll share with you here.
In writing this welcome, I feel like I’m handing you my favorite book to read for the first time: I’m jealous of what you’re about to experience and I cannot wait until you’re finished so we can talk! Until that time, I am grateful for:
- Aunge. For nearly a year, I watched her name sail into my inbox with group updates or responses to my questions. For nearly a year, I accidentally confused the office number and her personal cell. When Aunge answered the latter, she always giggled, making me feel better for that embarrassing (constant) confusion! Aunge is a master (prescient) communicator. Knowing what we needed and when, she guided us with her cheer, pragmatism and maternal instinct. I told her I was going to have withdrawals. I have them. Some days I just email to say hi.
- TTS Office Staff. Among a hundred other things, these women published the blog and Instagram posts, which served as vicarious expeditions for us parents. We crouched over our devices, sighting our wild, precious daughters – her headband! her smile! her handwriting! From these posts, I learned to let go and hold on at the same time. One night, I scanned a photo of our daughters in a delta I couldn’t name, balancing in boats I couldn’t name, on which day I wasn’t sure; but there was a glimpse of my kid, concentrating. I zoomed in and stared. Letting go, holding on. TTS staff works tirelessly and cares deeply, period. Once, Dalton lovingly sent me a high-resolution blog photo of Frances just because I asked for it.
- Fellow Parents of TTS32. We became friends! We mused about our girls’ sunrise dune hike or the art in their field journals, but also about dreams, worries, politics, and dinner plans. One friend started our parent Facebook page, becoming our Town Crier. With her spoken and written Mississippi accent, she announced updates, sending us racing to our screens. I swear, I am plotting a parent-reunion!
- TTS Teachers. These four women held our daughters for 105 days and simultaneously held space for them to be, evolve, take stands, forge connections, and be vulnerable. I can never know what they did hourly, but I will be forever grateful for the mentor comments these women wrote, which implied that, hourly, they were fully present. How else could they know my daughter so intimately and describe her with such care and precision? More than once, Frances conveyed sitting with a teacher just to talk. Once, she said she didn’t just love a particular teacher, but wanted to be These women taught, jumped, probed, dreamed, ate, hiked, reflected, and ached with our daughters, while guiding them to personal and academic depths and asking during long drives if anyone needed a bathroom break!
- The TTS Mission. Not just a set of inspirational words, but alive with intention and the capacity for fulfillment. I promise you, nothing happens that hasn’t been considered as it relates to the emergence into the world of your daughter as a strong, sensitive, aware, capable human.
- 14 Young Women. I learned all of their names and asked about them on phone calls. I wanted to be closer to them because they were doing it! Their courage, determination and desire to connect with the world led them to TTS. Their resilience, friendships, curiosity, and spirit kept them moving – inward and outward. Their writing and reflections revealed their raw, critical, poetic, and hilarious sides; and their accounting of the world shines with the understanding that to be vital on the planet is to be open. They are my child’s dearest friends.
- YOU! As your daughters adventure beyond you, you will adventure beyond them. You will play, work, grow and worry; you’ll be proud and you’ll hear deep vibrating silence in your home. Your heart will balloon and Your daughters will soar and they will ache…and you won’t be able to fix it. But they will, alongside their sisters and teachers, find their way. And so will you. Days will creep by, months will fly. And, suddenly, you will arrive at the end, all filled up with gratitude, and in so many ways brand new!
Parting words. Some phone calls with Frances were more lighthearted, some more paced and contemplative; one call included a story of Frances looking up during class and locking eyes with a bushbaby in the tree above her. But I will never forget the first call. Three of us sat around the computer, her older sister not yet gone to college. The tone of international connection. The fuzz. The pause. And then Frances, breathing in gusts, a whirlwind of words, declaring she had a list so she wouldn’t forget a thing. “So! Mom and Dad! Just so you know! I want to live here forever – in Africa — happily ever after!”
And so it began. And, so you begin. And, yes, I am so jealous.