Turning down pleas from charities asking for money is easier in lean times. You don’t refinance your mortgage to give thousands of dollars to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. Saying no to volunteering, however, is much harder for me. This year at my kids’ school alone, I was a room parent, art coordinator for the fall fundraiser, field trip driver, and co-chair of the spring social. When another mom asked what my plans were for the summer, I joked that I was checking myself into rehab for over-volunteerism. My husband is not amused. If I weren’t so busy not getting paid, imagine how much writing I could do!
One of my favorite volunteer jobs combines my two loves – writing and connecting with people. For the past decade I have been a Class Secretary for the all-girls’ boarding school in Virginia that I attended. The job involves collecting the latest news from my former classmates and combining it into one article for the school publication twice yearly. I enjoy hearing about their lives and observing how the collective voice of our class has aged through the years. When my kids were little, it gave me an excuse to write on deadline. It was my blog before there were blogs. The alumnae office only tried to censor me once; not everyone gets my sense of humor, apparently. I do not give the school any money. I assume they appreciate my gift of time.
That’s why I got a little miffed when I received an email with a donation request from the alumnae relations office. It wasn’t that they asked for money, it’s the way that they asked. “As a Class Secretary, we always encourage our volunteers to make a gift to the Annual Fund.” Anyone who went to this elite school, even someone who got a B in English like I did, can see that the introductory phrase does not agree with the subject of the sentence. Now, this might seem a tad nit-picky. My Italian grandfather, who had a habit of using double negatives and ending sentences with prepositions, was one of my favorite people. I never, ever corrected his English. But then, again, he never asked me for money. I consider sending off a snarky email to alumnae relations. What are they going to do, fire me? Once I have calmed down I decide that the request was penned by some poor underpaid twenty-something just trying to hold on to her job.
Something is still bugging me, though, and I finally figure out what it is: I am being asked to endorse something I do not believe in. I don’t care what the statistics say about all-girls’ schools — that they give young women more self-confidence to speak up in class and excel at math. My own experience belies that. I never had trouble speaking up (big shocker) and I still suck at math. When I finally encountered males again in college, they were the only thing I could think about. Forget all of the incredible extra-curriculars Northwestern University had to offer. I was too busy with my anthropological studies on Fraternity Row. Fellow Class of ’85ers have confessed to me that they felt imprisoned at our elite prep school and became “sexual predators” once they got to college. Our school prepared us well academically, but failed us in every way for the social and emotional aspects of becoming women.
My former school has a huge endowment. That place has been churning out well-read, ambitious, socially inept girls since 1906 and will continue to do so until long after I’m pushing up daisies (my grandfather’s expression). Conversely, the school my children attend in Southern California is only forty years old, and still trying to build its financial base. Their school places the same emphasis on life skills — cooperation, flexibility, integrity, common sense, and, yes, sense of humor — as it does on academic achievement. My kids can’t wait to go to school each day. I love what the school stands for, which includes, but is not limited to, the grammatically correct use of English. And that is why they’re getting all of my money.