My Big College Miracle

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by Mary Jo Shannon

Homecoming at Mary Baldwin College was last weekend. The campus has expanded since my college days, but the hills are the same! Whoever said that “MBC” stands for “Mighty Big Calves” – the result of constant climbing those steep hills – was especially observant. After over fifty years away from Staunton, my pace has slowed considerably, and as I walked, I found myself remembering how I happened to become a Mary Baldwin alum.

I’m embarrassed to admit that I did not really choose to go to Mary Baldwin College as a day student. I preferred to go away from home, but without money that was impossible. Mary Baldwin was the rational solution. It chose me.

Thanks to my geometry teacher, Lillian Eisenberg, who was an MBC alumna, I received a small scholarship to Mary Baldwin. I also learned that the Commonwealth of Virginia was offering scholarship money to students who would agree to teach within the state. I applied and received funds to cover the rest of tuition for my freshman year. A job in the college library would help pay for my books. So despite my fears that I would stand out like a poor relation among “all those rich girls,” I became a Mary Baldwin girl.

My fears were unfounded for I was accepted and soon made many friends. The classes were stimulating, the professors challenging, and I knew Mary Baldwin was the right college for me. Despite my preconceived disfavor, I looked forward to four great years until graduation.

But now I faced another hurdle. I could reapply for another State Teacher’s scholarship, but each year I received assistance required my promise to teach in Virginia for two years. Did I really want to tie myself down for eight years after graduating? I wasn’t even sure I would like teaching. What if I wanted to get married? So many changes can take place in eight years.

The more I considered the situation, the more I hesitated to apply. Finally, I decided to raise the money I needed. I worked during the summer repairing text books for the Augusta County school system and saved most of the money I earned. When the school year began, I resumed my job in the library, and worked at a Staunton theater selling candy and popcorn in the evenings. I managed to pay the first semester’s tuition on time.

During Christmas holidays, I worked in sales at a department store, but despite my best efforts, I was unable to pay the bill in full. The bursar was understanding and allowed me extra time, but despite my best efforts, I could not raise the $150 difference. I dreaded to check my mailbox, for each week I received another friendly reminder.

One morning in March the note was different. It said to see the bursar right away. I trembled as I approached his office, certain that he would require me to leave the campus. To my surprise, he said that someone, who wished to remain anonymous, had approached him and asked if he knew of any worthy student with financial difficulty. He told her about my situation, and she paid the remainder of my bill. He smiled and shook my hand. I wept.

Later, I received a notice that the State was changing the requirements for the Teacher’s Scholarships. Only one year of teaching would be required for each year of assistance, and this action would be retroactive. Now three years is doable, I said to myself as I reapplied two more times.

During the years since I graduated, I have given back to Mary Baldwin College through the annual fund more than the $150, and I’ll continue to do so, for Mary Baldwin offers assistance to those who need it. And each time I write a check, I remember the miracle that saved my college career.