Farewell, Dear Barnard

When I started thinking about this last blog post, my plan was to reflect on my time at Barnard, to somehow sum it up. I thought that if I could make sense of why the last three years meant so much to me, I could tell you something about the essence of Barnard, about what it is that makes this school so special.

But it turns out that I can’t do anything as broad or sweeping as “reflecting on my time here” suggests. I could offer advice and pro-tips—go to office hours for every single class, stay till the end of every exam, figure out what you care about and stick unwaveringly to it, be shameless about spending your weekend nights exactly as you want—but those are just what worked for me. I could ramble on about the inspirational professors and the great dorm conversations I’ve had. But these all feel too abstract and too polished for these crazy three years. So instead I’m going to offer a simple list of the things I’m going to miss most here. This is my last Sunday night on campus, and it has hit me that many of these things, at least in the form I’ve known them, are over. So here we go. These aren’t ranked.

  • Weekend mornings in Joe coffee, on the Columbia campus, overlooking the sunny corner of Broadway and 120th Drinking coffee, doing reading for classes. Drinking coffee, writing papers. With my dear roommate, by myself, before or after the gym. There’s something magical about doing work you enjoy on beautiful weekend mornings. The view:
  • The suite life. Living with five friends who can talk incessantly about dance classes, ballet shows, feminism, politics, and history. Who have all spent whole nights writing papers in the kitchen, who eat Ben & Jerry’s together at night, and make coffee together in the morning. Yeahhh…IMG_1473.JPG
  • Rallying for 8:40 ballet classes. For five out of the past six semesters, I’ve taken a hard, fast ballet class on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, and my approach to it has varied. Sometimes, I’d wake up at 6am and translate Latin before class, so that by 8:40, I was ready for a break. Sometimes, I’d roll out of bed at 8:15 and bring my coffee to class. Either way, sitting on the floor before class, dead tired and also excited to dance, chatting with friends and half-heartedly stretching has been an integral part of my life here.
  • Late nights in the library, drinking crappy coffee, eating snacks purely for the sake of keeping myself working. Pausing to flip through books on the shelves, just for fun. Doing jumping jacks in the bathroom to stay awake. The sense of solidarity that arises, especially in the Barnard library, when the night has gone on for too long and everyone just wants to go to sleep. This picture was taken around 3:30 am, when I discovered that I was the last one left!IMG_1483.JPG
  • Midnight provisioning runs to Morton Williams (the grocery store at 115th and Broadway). Buying ice cream and knowing that somehow or another the paper will get written and the translation made.
  • Walking across campus in the evenings, when the sky is glowing and the buildings look majestic, with a backpack full of books. Becoming suddenly acutely aware of how lucky I am to be able to study something that I care about around the clock, in such a beautiful place, with constant support and encouragement from friends and classmates and professors and grad students.

Right now, I can’t imagine what my life is going to be without these things—but I’m excited to be able to pass them on to you. I realize that the reason leaving is so hard is because this is the first little life that I’ve ever made for myself; this is the first place in which I’ve been completely responsible for making things work for myself. I know that right now that prospect probably sounds a little terrifying to you all—thrilling, I’m sure, but also scary. But you’re going to be able to do it, one way or another, and it’s going to be amazing.

So on that note, I’m going to take my leave. I’m off to create a new life for myself somewhere else in New York (who knows where?), and you’re going to make your own on campus. Please keep me posted on how that goes, and continue to send your questions my way.

As ever,



The End Is Nigh

No, my friends, this is not some sort of an apocalyptic fantasy: I have closed my last blue book, emailed my last paper, and finished my last long night in the library. I’m graduating this week.

What the hey. When on earth did that happen?

I’m planning two last blog posts—this one will be about end-of-year shenanigans, and my last one will be looking back on my whole time here. Obviously, the

President Spar and other campus leaders serving hot breakfast at Midnight!

ultimate end-of-year shenanigans is finals. I have forgone morning runs in the park for very late nights writing. I too am slightly woozy from lack of sleep.

But morale is high, folks, and not only because I’m super into what I’m studying. Last week was Midnight Breakfast, the famous late-night reading week event. Though it used to be held in LeFrak gym, LeFrak is now being used as a library while our real library is being rebuilt, so Midnight Breakfast was held in the Diana. Pancakes, ice cream, music—it was all there, and so were all of the wonderful friends that I’ve made over the last three years. It was great:)

In addition to these standard shenanigans, we Seniors are being bombarded by a whole series of toasts and parties and ceremonies. I have to confess—all the champagne in the world won’t make me feel ready to graduate. But there is also something enormously comforting in the sense of ritual at work here: even if I’m not ready to leave, my professors think I’m ready, and they’re totally committed to celebrating what we’ve accomplished under their guidance. That vote of confidence is going a long way.

Finally, I’ve been making a bit of shenanigans of my own, between the studying and the school-sponsored partying: I’ve been making time over the last week or so to go talk to all of the professors who have meant the most to me here, about whatever—general life advice, book recommendations, their interests and intellectual pursuits. I’ve had some truly wonderful conversations with them, and I’ve gotten some really wise advice. I feel that I’m getting to be friends with some of my professors, which is quite possible the best thing I can imagine. And, equally awesome, my reading list now ranges from page-turner Italian fiction to Tolstoy, from Ancient Greek poetry to African American intellectuals.

It’s scary, guys; I won’t deny that. But it’s also AWESOME. The whole campus feels simultaneously exhausted and excited. The sense of anticipation is palpable, and no amount of sleep deprivation can dull that.

A Place Full of Opportunities

Dear Barnard Class of 2020,

Picture with Dean Fondiller at the Global Symposium

A big welcome to all of you, but especially to you regular decision admitted students. I understand perfectly what you’ve been going through for the past few months. As your college experience is just about to start, mine is nearly at its end: I am a senior French major and Russian minor here at Barnard. Over the past few years, I’ve learned an immense amount (some of it was even in English), and want to tell you a little more about my story.

While I was raised in and around the Portland metro area in Oregon, I spent about half of my school career, including my last three years of high school, in a rural town of about 15,000. Lebanon is a lovely place…if you like small towns, don’t mind getting stuck behind farm equipment on the road, and think high8724312952_46748ff873_o school football is the height of nightlife. Alright, honestly, the football part is okay, but altogether, as someone who spent her entire first 18 years in Oregon, I was ready for a change of pace. So I applied to seven schools on the East Coast, with Barnard as my top choice. I’ve always felt like a city kid at heart, and I was chomping at the bit for a chance to study in a big city. Even from across the country, I picked Barnard out as being the best of all worlds: a small college next to a large research institution; a calm(er) Manhattan neighborhood minutes away from iconic sights such as Times Square, Grand Central, and the Statue of Liberty; a women’s college in the middle of a city of eight million…what more could I want? So on March 28, 2012, I got the shock of my life when, while visiting my aunt’s house, my grandmother called me to say that I’d received an envelope from Barnard College in the mail–a BIG envelope. I sat in my aunt’s living room shaking, the eyes of my family members fixed on me as I listened to my grandmother open the envelope and read the contents. She only made it as far as the word “congratulations” (AKA the very first word) before I stopped breathing and everything else turned to white noise. After months–scratch that–YEARS of hard work, I was in to the school of my dreams. I was elated, and I’m pretty sure my first (prophetic) words were, “I’M GOING TO NEW YORK!” But then, the realistic voice in the back of my head that I mostly value, but occasionally resent said, “Yeah, but what about financial aid?” For the next two weeks, I agonized, oscillating between exhilaration at being accepted to Barnard, and anxiety over whether I should choose a school that was closer to home and more financially responsible. But in the end, despite knowing that Barnard was the more expensive choice, I decided that the opportunities that awaited me in NYC were far more valuable than the money I would save by attending another institution.

25516246570_06e152a69a_oFast forward to the first time I would ever set foot on Barnard’s campus, in New York City, and on the East Coast: move-in day, August 2012. You read that correctly, folks. I left my family at Portland International Airport and flew by myself for the first time to New York, a place I had only ever seen in movies and on TV. Many have reacted to that fact with cries of, “That’s so brave!” and “Are you crazy?” Maybe I’m one or the other, probably I’m both, but in any case, to me it felt like the most natural thing in the world. As I walked into the gates, I was applauded by Orientation Leaders who welcomed me to Barnard, and within the first two days I was meeting with my academic advisor, who would go on to introduce me to the professor who inspired me to major in French and became my major advisor. There were hall meetings with my RA, meet and greets with other first years, back to school BBQs, club meetings, advising sessions, and so many other community events that made me feel immediately at home.

I could spend hours writing up pages of why I think you should choose Barnard. In fact, as a tour guide and office assistant in the Admissions Office, I already spend hours every week telling people why Barnard is so great. But I’m trying to keep this short, so I’ll leave you with the two parts of my experience here that have had the biggest impact on my college career and personal development: my job as a Barnard Student Admissions Representative, and my decision to do a year long study abroad in Russia. Working with the Admissions Office has allowed me to connect with some truly incredible prospective students, and it has been an honor being a part of your college decision process. I take a lot of care to share as much as I can about my love for Barnard, as I wish someone had been able to do for me as a prospective student. Every hour I spend giving tours and hosting students gives me an even greater appreciation of the community of which I am a member, and of all of the amazing opportunities that are right at my fingertips, including study abroad. I decided two things in the fall semester of my sophomore year: 1) I was going to declare a French major, and 2) I was going to study abroad in Russia for a full year. When I went to my advisor and to the co-chair of the French department to tell them those things, the response was: “Welcome to the French Department. Have an incredible time in Russia, and we’ll be here for you when you get back.” That kind of open-mindedness to unorthodox ideas and ambitions is not something you’ll find at any school. But at Barnard, it’s the norm. I’m sure all of you have been accepted to many different, wonderful, exceptional schools. But only one of those is Barnard. We look forward to seeing you in the fall.

Wishing you all the best,
Class of 2016

Ephemeral Moments

image1 Ephemeral—that was the first SAT word I learned and memorized thanks to Sponsors for Educational Opportunity (SEO), my college prep program. However, the impact of the following story doesn’t fit my first SAT word’s definition; there are certain moments, experiences, and times in our lives that are simply not short-lived nor transitory despite how much time has passed—even if it has been a decade.

March 31, 2006. It was a regular day at Saturday academy for SEO students, and we were just about finished with our lunch break. I usually took this time to check my email, which mostly consisted of deleting those pesky mass emails that some people don’t mind leaving unopened in their inboxes. I definitely do not fall within that category. The mere bold font of those unread emails is bothersome to me—it’s almost as if the glaring, striking words are yelling at me for leaving them unattended. I quickly worked my way down my Hotmail inbox, clicking the boxes on the left hand side of those unopened messages for an easy mass-delete once my review was complete.

As I breezed through unnecessary inbox clutter, I stopped in my tracks when I saw “Barnard” in the mix. I don’t quite remember the subject line nor can I recall the specific name of the sender. What I do remember is that the subject didn’t necessarily denote that enclosed in that email was my admission decision. I thought “maybe they’re missing a document for my file…maybe it’s an update to all candidates.” I wasn’t aware that I should expect to find my decision in an email so I proceeded to causally open the email and there it was—aside from “Congratulations!” the email was no easier for me to digest than a Jackson Pollock masterpiece.

In true Introverted Irma fashion, I walked over to one of my favorite counselors at SEO and quietly told her with what I’m sure was the biggest smile she had seen on my face: “I just got an email from Barnard—I got in.” And in true counselor form, she didn’t let the news stay under the radar for more than a millisecond; image3soon enough the entire computer lab had erupted in celebration.

Although I knew that I wouldn’t prefer any of my other choices over Barnard, a sense of panic would grow within me whenever I was asked if I was going to accept Barnard’s offer of admission. I always saw Barnard as the best of not both, but three worlds. For one, Barnard offers an empowering, tight-knit all-women’s community where professors and administrators are accessible enough to know your name. Secondly, you have access to the resources of a world-class research university right across the street. To top it all off, New York City becomes your extended classroom and playground; Barnard has truly always been a no-brainer for me. Yet, somehow I still felt a pang of anxiety when asked if I was choosing Barnard.

Perhaps it was because I also knew that I had been given a gift. A gift that, at once, filled me with immense joy and inexplicable trepidation. Not until many years later was I able to identify this feeling as inadequacy. I never fully embraced how hard I had worked for my spot in my incoming Barnard class; I sincerely hope you don’t spend as much time doubting yourself. This class, Barnard 2020, in particular is incredibly strong. And you still got a nod from the Admissions team. Embrace it. Bask in your accomplishment and don’t let fear nor the words of those who said you couldn’t do it interfere with such a special moment in your life. There was a reason why the admissions committee chose me 10 years ago to join this legacy of strong women. And there’s a reason you were selected, too. I invite you to join us and watch your story unfold here at Barnard.

Warmest regards,



Where I Became a Better Version of Myself

26068986171_3dd9531d90_oSpring days like today, gloomy and still a little cold, always remind me of the day I received my acceptance letter to Barnard. I grew up in Italy, where students attend renowned public universities for free, but the system does not do much for nineteen year old students who want to keep learning and exploring different paths. After many discussions with my parents about the pros and cons of attending college in the United States, I applied to Barnard right at the deadline. The possibility of attending a liberal arts college in the heart of New York City excited me beyond my wildest dreams, so I placed all my eggs in Barnard’s basket, pressed submit, and hoped for a gentle ride.

Moving into my dorm during NSOP

A few months later my mother called me while I was on my way home from school and urged me to rush because a carrier had just dropped off a parcel from Barnard. I sprinted home, books and notebooks swinging in my backpack, over-analyzing the word parcel and what it meant for my future. At home I opened the package with trepidation, aware of my father muttering under his breath “it will be okay either way, it will be fine.” Whenever my parents argue with me that emailing decisions has taken away from the ceremonial interpretation of the size of the envelope, I remind them that I received a “big envelope” and we all still thought I had been denied. Fate proved us wrong and we all jumped with joy as I read the words “Congratulations!”

Fast forward seven years later, and I still call Barnard home; not only because I spend at least eight hours a day on its campus, but because Barnard gave me a sense of belonging that extends beyond its iron gates. Living among smart, curious, ambitious women compelled me to develop my own voice and sense of self. I wanted a seat at their table; I wanted to make them proud to call me a peer. I became a Barnard woman because of the examples that surrounded me: women from all over the world and from different walks of life who were following their passions and falling into new ones, all while challenging the status-quo. When I enrolled, I didn’t think about the impact that the people at Barnard would have on me, and yet because of that impact I would make the same choice all over again today. The liberal arts curriculum at Barnard encouraged me to grow through exploration; it taught me to think critically beyond the classroom; to step outside of my comfort zone and embrace the unknown, whether that meant taking an intimidating seminar or a Swing dance class in a sweaty basement on Columbia’s campus. Even though I never returned to that basement again, little by little I tore down the walls between what I thought I knew and what I had no idea existed.


You become an adult in college. I know: I thought I had all the answers to the universe when I graduated from high school too, but having gained some perspective, I now understand that I became my own person in college. During those four years, I learned to poke holes in truths I had never questioned before and see if they would crumble or stand tall. I learned to listen to the women around me who held different creeds, and I allowed change to peak its head. These realizations happen to college students all over the country, so I encourage you to take them into consideration while choosing which institution you want to belong to when you build your own set of values. I became the woman I am today because a portion of my formative years took place on Barnard’s campus. The college enabled me to become a better version of myself:  it polished me, made me stronger, bolder, more considerate. Barnard set a standard for me by investing in my growth and empowerment as an individual and especially as a woman, and I will not settle for less.

My four years as a Barnard student live in the conversations I have with my dearest friends (alumnae et non), in the books I choose to read, and in the movies I choose to watch. They are in the hour-long conversation I had with my coworkers the other day on the socio-political themes in LEMONADE. Whether I am walking into Milbank or down Ponte Vecchio, Barnard is never out of reach.

Best of luck,



What Will Barnard Teach You?

I didn’t attend Barnard. To be honest, as an introverted, suburban Floridian, it never even occurred to me to go to college in New York City. (Now, I can barely imagine living anywhere else!) Even so, all of my life I have been surrounded and shaped by Barnard women.

My aunt graduated from Barnard in the late 70s, an English major who wrote her thesis on the theme of nature in Jane Austen literature and went on to earn her Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology. My cousin transferred to Barnard from a BFA acting program seeking greater intellectual rigor and more academically driven peers. She blended her interests in history, art, and women’s studies into a thesis on Artemisia Gentileschi and is now a professional actor and model. My mom and step-dad first met through the Columbia Marching Band when she attended Barnard and he attended Columbia. (He played the saxophone. She played the wood block.) Over thirty years later, they reconnected and married thanks to the magical fates of New York City. And now, my step-sister is the latest addition to this proud Barnard family, a psychology major currently studying abroad in Germany.

These women, all with different passions and life paths, share something special. They all have the same trademark Barnard characteristics: deep curiosity, a 19030132366_35894d231f_ocritical mind, warmth, and the courage to be themselves.

There’s a common myth that those who work in Admissions all attended the colleges or universities that they represent, so I’m often asked, “Why did you choose Barnard?” When the inquirer finds out I didn’t, they typically become sheepish and try to retract their question, but I like to answer it. The truth is, I too chose Barnard; I simply chose it at a different point in my life than the one you are in right now.

I had worked for multiple years as an admissions officer at other institutions and was looking for a new opportunity to grow. I wanted to work for a selective institution, where I would be pushed to read applications closely and think deeply about the kind of student who would fit best in our environment. (And we do read deeply – don’t be surprised if an admissions officer approaches you at Open House with praise for your essay.) I wanted to work for a small institution where I could have one-on-one conversations with applicants and work closely with current students. I wanted to be in the kind of intellectual environment where I would learn as much from students as I could from my colleagues.

And I have learned so much from Barnard and the students I have worked with as tour guides, Senior Interviewers, panelists, and colleagues. I have learned about Black Holes and intersectionality and symbolism in Mrs. Dalloway, sure, but I have also learned larger lessons. Despite my own liberal arts background, Barnard women have taught me the real value of the liberal arts. They are excellent communicators and embody interdisciplinary thinking, searching out the intersections between Dance and Chemistry, Africana Studies and Women and Gender Studies, Psychology and Religion, Theater and Human Rights. As activists, allies, and aspiring professionals, they have taught me how advocate for myself and others. And as members of this community rich in resources, they have demonstrated how to seize every opportunity for growth and learning. They are at once some of the smartest, most accomplished women I have ever known, and also some of the most down-to-Earth, supportive, and humble.

Barnard and its students have taught me so much about how to be a modern woman and lifelong learner. Barnard has taught me all of this, and I have never even had the privilege of taking a single class here.

Just think what Barnard could teach you.


Kelly Sutton Skinner

Associate Director of Admissions



A Dean’s Perspective

I always get nostalgic at this time of year. Admissions decisions have gone out, spring flowers are emerging and there is a buzz on campus. First-years are running off to labs or gearing up for shows and dance performances, seniors are putting finalizing touches on their theses, and sophomores are getting ready to declare their majors. I came across a box this winter when I was cleaning out my room at my parents’ home (yes, “my room”, even though I haven’t lived there in 30+ years). It contained several items – a program from the first Broadway show I’d ever seen, a party hat from New Years in Times Square in 1985 and 2 key pieces of memorabilia that I think may have defined my experiences as a student at Barnard.

The first was a letter from the head of the French Department at Barnard, congratulating me on narrowing in on

Letter from the Chair of the French Department

becoming a French major. “Un bon choix!” the letter says. At the time I thought it was a daring choice. You see, I had never taken a French class prior to starting Barnard. I knew I loved languages, having studied Spanish and Latin throughout high school. And when I started college I was encouraged to explore new areas, so I jumped on the idea of another language. Well, I fell for it. I would have the chance to study abroad in my junior year in France, immerse myself in French conversation classes, literature, and movies over café and croissants. I had no idea where this major would lead me or how it would connect to job placement (something my father asked me every day for a while), but I jumped in anyway. Well, I didn’t become a French professor (although one of my good friends did) nor did I keep up my fluency as I should have (though it was great fun to practice again recently when I went to Paris for Barnard’s Global Symposium). But I was exposed to books and conversation and an international experience that I’ll treasure forever. I met three of my dearest friends during my junior semester abroad and learned that I am pretty darn good with maps and directions! Ultimately, I chose to pursue a career in education (Admissions!) but I do not regret my major one bit. “Un bon choix” indeed!

My calendar from 1986

The second item from that box in “my bedroom” included my calendar from 1986. I hadn’t even realized I’d kept it. What fun I had reading through it with my daughters recently. It was clear I studied a lot, since every day listed “study for Chem” or “go to math help room”(that one appeared more than once too!), but it also listed things like “pick up paycheck”, “party at Dave’s tonight” and “find out about summer job.” Some things at Barnard never change – our students today are just as busy and thrive on mixing in studying, fun, and a part-time job or internship, just as I had back in 1986.

I wanted to share this slice of my life, because as students think about embarking on this next phase of their life, I want them to know that Barnard opened doors for me, pushed me to take risks, and I had a huge amount of fun along the way.


Dean Jennifer Gill Fondiller ’88