Dear W&L Alums,

I’m reaching out because I need your help. I need you to take a few moments and remember your W&L days. The glory days. The wild and incredible ride college was for all of us. I need you to remember your roommates, your classmates. Remember the fun you had. The incredible gift our classes were. That first time you walked over the footbridge. Remember the feeling you have when you’re on campus. The beauty of Lexington. Remember the drives to Goshen, floating down the river, the hiking trips. Remember the fraternities and sororities- what they meant to each of us if you were a part of them. Remember the people’s faces who made up those four (or occasionally five) years. Remember the parties. The bands and jump dancing. Remember those wild nights far out of town. Now try to remember how you got home. How did your friends get home? 

I know it’s uncomfortable, but I need you to remember how drinking and driving touched your life back then. I would love to learn of the friends you lost and how that loss or losses impacted your life then and now.

After the tragic loss of Kelsey Durkin last fall, I wrote a letter to the students. It was supposed to serve as a small call to action for the student body.. if anyone read it. I was shocked at the reception it had and so happy that it helped so many who were grieving. Recently, a student reached out and asked if I would participate in the Inaugural Generals Weekend, hosted by the Kelsey Committee, this spring during alumni weekend. To kick off the weekend, there will be a talk in Lee Chapel where I have been asked to give a speech.  I only have my story to tell, you see, so this is where you come in. I would much prefer to also share the insights you have gained from senselessly losing our friends at far too young an age.

So if you will, please email me your thoughts and memories of your friends at southarddiaries@gmail.com. I hope you’ll help me make this upcoming weekend a celebration of their lives and give current students perspective on this troubling topic.

Much love,

Eloise

A Good Year

A good year. The title of one of our all-time favorite movies. And a sentiment that’s not close to befitting the kind of year we’ve had.  

More like overwhelmingly emotional. Excruciating. Beautiful. Soul searching. Full of extreme highs… and lows. 

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When the year started, the term “basket case” doesn’t even do me justice. I was a shell of a person, yet I had to leave my seemingly fragile first born child and return to work. We had just started therapy and added feeding therapy. How could I leave her and focus on anything else other than her needs. How could I sit at a desk and not sob daily? Only with the intense love of my colleagues did I find my way back again. Find out how to use my brain for other things other than research. I learned how to exist in two worlds- work Eloise and new special needs mom Eloise. I felt bipolar. Emotional wreck and stable, productive worker bee. 

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I had already started blogging about her on here. I had put our story out into the ethos and the bubble of love had begun to form around my heart. Protecting me from those awful appointments in cold doctors’ offices. 

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The frozen tundra of Central Park began to unfreeze just as I started to come out of my shell. As winter subsided and welcomed a New York City spring- our new life started to feel more comfortable. This is who we are. This is our life. Those words felt less terrifying.

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Until… we started planning her first surgery. Not the most major she would ever have. Not the scariest. But… signing some of those documents, watching her being taken for anesthesia. Cuddling her post-op with marker on her face and almost purple complexion. I came so close to the brink emotionally. With my family and friends’ love… I didn’t go over that edge. It was the second biggest hurdle I’ve faced in my life. The first being  her birth. Watching her thrive afterwards though was the first time I truly understood how much I was going to learn from my daughter the rest of my life. She would teach me strength. She would show me how not to dwell on the terrifying… just find the resolve to move on. Start a new day with a huge smile like nothing happened the day before. 

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By summer we truly had a routine. A life that felt natural… telling our story was second nature. I could tell anyone anything they wanted to know with full confidence. No shaking voice. No hesitation. I was certainly forever changed, but I’d returned to myself. I could focus on other things in my life. And.. upon a trip south with the family… we made a plan. We had the conversation seriously this time about leaving our city. Venturing to imagine a different life than we’d known for a decade. We chose Charleston and started madly making plans. 

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Amidst the rolling hills and winding roads, we celebrated bug’s BIG birthday in September. We gathered at my alma mater to celebrate so much. Our survival for one. Lacrosse another. And family. How our tapestries as individual families have begun to really weave together. New traditions and old going hand in hand. And I got to share a significant piece of my heart with my daughter. I dreamed of what it would be like for her to go to W&L. For her to follow in her momma’s footsteps. That weekend was the most special I had this year. It’s made me dream of Lexington ever since and reaffirmed that a smaller town was the best choice for us. It was clearly our destiny. 

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With the promise of a new life for our new family, we focused on Charleston. We told our friends. We told our jobs. We picked a date and it rapidly approached. All too soon, boxes littered our small Columbus Circle apartment and a future house was closer to a reality. Then came the goodbyes. Within both of my worlds- the mother and the worker… I had found such nurturing homes. At Clarke and at work- I had friends who helped piece me back together. I hadn’t a clue how to extract myself from such nurturing places. How to leave these people… for essentially one or two friends in my new life. I was leaving a city I loved and a decade of memories to stay for a year in a town of retirees and off season beach goers.  I didn’t want the city life anymore but was I crazy? My closest set of friends were over an hour away. But… this was a choice for Landon. For my family. For future dreams.  I didn’t come first anymore. And off we went.

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Our life here has been transformative, frustrating, love-filled, memory making, challenging and full of growth. Our marriage has been stitched back together. Our family has learned how to coexist in this sleepy town, during winter of all seasons. I feel more hopeful for our future than I ever have. Our dreams are closer to a reality. Our hearts brimming with pride over how much Landon has grown here. With freedom to roam… literally.. she’s taken off. 

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As this year comes to a close… I am in awe at where we started and all that’s happened. As we all should, I have reflected on my own personal growth. I learned how to be a warrior. I learned how to run towards the challenges. Embrace the would-be pain and turn it into love. I’ve learned to believe in myself. Trust my instincts as a mother and a wife. 

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2014 feels daunting- building our first house, building a business and a nonprofit. Building a new life in a new city. If this past year has taught me anything though it’s that we’re capable of hard things. We can succeed at anything if it’s done together. 

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So.. dear readers… our little family wishes y’all a very happy new year. I hope your time of reflection gives you peace and resolve for this next chapter in your own lives. Thank you for the love. Thank you for the support. We can’t wait to start this new journey with you.

xoxo,

Eloise

Go Generals

Since writing my post about drunk driving at W&L, my little blog has welcomed most of the student body, a good number of the faculty and countless alumni. I have received many emails all with the same heartfelt thanks and solidarity around a student body pledge. 

Welcome my new friends. Your notes, anonymous or not,  have given me resolve that in the Generals’ community – we do in fact belong to each other. There was a resounding “yes!!!” heard all across the country in response to the call to action. The administration has commented they’ve read it and understand its significance. For that I’m also grateful.

What we must do now as a community is to keep the conversation alive. After the memorials or funerals I attended as a student, we grieved and then we tried to move on. One foot in front of the other, and one day at a time. On campus, things progressed forward. Classes and exams were taken.  We all, one by one and as a group moved on. We stopped mentioning the students’ names because it was too painful. Or we felt guilt because it was so easy for the injured or worse to have been us. Some wouldn’t go see our friend in UVA’s ICU because it was too painful and they were too scared. We didn’t continue to have the sober ride conversation.  And life… happened. 

The response I’ve had from you current students indicates that you want things to change. That you want to learn from our mistakes and lack of real action before this moment. I’ve heard from many kids who were at that party or hosted it. I’ve heard from some mothers of girls in the car. All of you were grateful there was someone who said what you were feeling. Everyone has been in agreement that this must happen and you will do something to make sure it does.

So here is my reminder to do so.  Keep talking about Kelsey. Keep talking about those in the hospital and go see them.  And please, please keep talking about this pledge. Keep mentioning it to the administration.  

MAKE. IT. HAPPEN.  

Only you can. You are there and I am here. I only have a computer- you have their ears. You can see them in person. You can do this.  I know you can do this because W&L students can do great things. Hard things.  It’s in our DNA. 

And to those of you who have emailed wonderful things about my daughter- thank you dearly. She has been the focus of our story on here as you could all tell from reading. It’s wonderful to continue to have such a positive response to her story.

With so much love and gratitude,

Eloise

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Dear W&L Students…

You don’t know me. We have never met. I’m a former General, former lacrosse player, former Kappa. Although you don’t know me, I’ve always felt that the W&L community really belongs to one another. We’re connected to each other through a deep love for our school, our traditions, our community. That’s why I’m writing to you. I know your hearts are breaking today. I know there’s nothing your family or friends can say, let alone a stranger, to make you feel better. You will just need to grieve for a while. 

Whether Kelsey was one of your best friends, a classmate, a sorority sister or you just knew her name…I know it hurts.  I know your sadness and the vigils you’re holding for the other students still in the hospital. I know the anger, frustration and shell shocked grief that is gripping you.  Sadly… almost every W&L student knows these emotions as well… all too well. 

Every single alumni that I know knows what it’s like to lose someone we care about or to come close to losing someone or both.  We remember their faces, we remember their names, we remember the funerals and memorials, we remember the visits to the ICU and the flowers we brought to their bedsides. It still hurts to remember those days after the accidents… when we didn’t know what to do with ourselves. We didn’t know where to turn or what to say. I remember the wave of relief upon moving out of Lexington because the statistics of being in a drunk driving accident would go down. And yet…. year after year, the emails come. The alumni network emails of accident after accident. My kappa girls all shouting over email “again!!” and “why?!” 

Drinking and driving happens at all schools, I know that. But…it truly feels like it happens MORE often at our school. It’s probably the size of the school. The student body is one of the smallest out there. It’s probably due to the fact that by our sophomore years, we know almost every student’s name on campus. Yet even with Traveler (the sober ride system) being founded by two of my dear friends, it still happens. We still relive this pain annually.

We can blame the school for not sanctioning Traveler to all parties (which is seemingly impossible), we can blame the houses for being too far out of town, we can blame the party throwers for not offering sober rides home.  We can blame lots of people and some of them do require blame.  But… it’s time for you students to act. It’s time for each incoming class to sign a sober driving pledge.  It’s time for all of you to realize you are not invincible. That if you drive or allow your friend to drive drunk… someone WILL get hurt. They do every damn year.

Promise each other that this will stop. Promise your parents that you’ll think twice, call a friend who is in the library, call your sorority or fraternity brother, call a classmate, call anyone… that was not drinking to come get you.  They will. That’s the thing about W&L… more than any other school I’ve witnessed… we Generals belong to each other. We serve one another in the community and we show up for one another when someone is in need. If we belong to one another like we say we do, let’s make each class take this pledge and hold each other to it. 

Our school is notorious for scaring freshman with the EC lecture in Lee Chapel, and therefore cheating rarely happens. Students are more than honest with what they perceive to be cheating. Honesty and forthrightness are two of the most common traits. So PLEASE fold into that same lecture in Lee Chapel one about drunk driving. Talk about it. Make it known that this happens almost every single year and we are all sick and tired of being heartbroken. Show the students’ faces who have passed away. Show photos of the accidents. Show students that they DO have a choice. They do not have to get behind the wheel or in the car when someone does.

So… I’m asking you today, do something with your grief. Do something for Kelsey. Take a stand. Say a pledge. Stop drinking and driving… PLEASE.

I’m thinking of and praying for you now and always.

xoxo,

Eloise

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