My Mills education hasn’t been books only. Around this time two years ago, I’d already paid a tuition deposit for another local MFA program. But when I first drove onto Richards Road, I knew this would be my next academic home. It just felt right; Richards was my grandfather’s last name. He was a great writer, a word enthusiast, one of my earliest influences. As a young girl, I used to do homework at his house while he studied foreign languages and swiftly completed the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle, the hardest of the week. For him, words weren’t just an assembly of letters; they had histories, origins. He insisted I consider such things.
Most important for me at Mills has been the word community. By way of context, to be close to campus I moved to Oakland from San Francisco where I’d lived since 2005. I loved my new neighborhood and apartment, but shortly after settling there I started to feel unsafe. My car was stolen twice; I was threatened while walking my bike through the park. The news of more dangerous crime nearby felt stymieing.
At the same time, here at school I began studying prose and poetry that grappled with questions about community. Is our natural state one of peace or are we more war-prone? What, if anything, should we consider shared space? The entire Earth or nothing at all? Every piece we read in the Commons Class, offered by the English Department, provoked deep thought, new imaginings. We read Leslie Marmon Silko’s novel Ceremony about land rights and war trauma, about who owns the storytelling of oppressed communities. What was theoretical was also very real for us.
From the poetry of the Occupy Movement to Emily Dickinson on death and the grave to John Milton against government censorship of thought (Aeropagitica, 1644), every week enlightened me.
The readings also worked in tandem with Mills as an institution by encouraging, even demanding, an attention to one’s community. There is the hectic outside world, yes, but there’s also the welcome of Mills, the teaching of the Millsians.
I’ve been lucky to attend talks by inspired scholars and activists, to hear writers share their work–humorous, political, elegiac–on Tuesday nights in the Bender Room. I’ve also enjoyed blogging for The Campanil, reviewing fiction submissions for 580 Split. And helping other students has made me a better writer and mentor.
My first few months here, I used to get nervous when I read my work aloud. Now when this happens, I think about our clock tower, the oldest concrete structure west of the Mississippi. And I calmly finish reading in a way my grandfather, who lived to almost 100 years old, would be proud.
Long after I graduate, I will continue to think about all I gained from my time here. Thank you, Mills College, for the past two years. I look forward to many more.
Megan D. Brown