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Milestones: A Weekend of Firsts and Lasts

Mary Ann McQuillan, Visual Arts faculty

Was that in 2020 or 2021? 

Foregoing many activities and routines during this pandemic, from hearing live music at a concert venue to Mother’s Day brunch in a favorite neighborhood cafe, many of us are familiar with the feeling of being in a “pandemic time warp” over the last two years. Dr. Dean Buonomano, a professor of neurobiology and psychology at UCLA, studies how our brains make sense of time. “What's happened to a lot of people is we've lost our temporal landmarks, because throughout most of our lives we've had either vacations or trips or Thanksgiving or birthdays, and those serve as memory landmarks in our brains.” He says. “Memories are absolutely key for our ‘sense of time.’” 

Throughout 2020 and 2021, students around the world were deprived of many of their traditional “temporal landmarks,” like school dances, volunteering at a Women’s Lunch Place in Boston or even taking in-person exams. This is the reason we have the sensation that “one year has blurred into the next.” With the arrival of spring 2022, I say with equal doses of anticipation and relief that my temporal landscape seems to be coming into sharper focus.  

This past weekend was the busiest weekend on campus in two years, and I was happy to be a part of it. Collective and personal memories were shared and new memories were made with the convergence of Alumnae Reunion Weekend and the Dana Hall Prom, two very important temporal landmarks for those who participate. My first stop on Saturday was a reception for the Alumnae Art Show in the Dana Art Gallery, the very last reception in the current space before the renovation of the Classroom Building begins this summer. It was a joy to see so many former students and reminisce about their work and their lives. Several graduates told me that they saved the creative work that they made while at Dana Hall. They spoke about how their photographs and drawings and writing were memory joggers that could bring them back to Studio Art class or Photography class. One former student from a creative writing class, then called Found Voices, remembered vividly a project where students were given photographs taken by the photography students, which acted as the jumping off point of a fictional narrative. I too loved that assignment, and I was transported back to those images and those stories and especially to those student artists. 

three alums and one teacher in the art studio


Former Faculty member Gene Scattergood and Holly Ewald '72


My second stop for the evening was a tradition among traditions, the pre-prom reception that doubles as a giant photo opportunity for students and parents alike. This was the first prom that could take place since 2019. Parents looked on with pride, and remembered their own firsts, their own moments wearing high-heeled shoes that they couldn’t walk in. Both the Alumnae Art reception and the Prom send-off were animated with multi-generational Dana families, former faculty and alumnae taking pictures, telling stories and marking time with each other. We were all building our own temporal landmarks.

Students pose for a photo before Prom

Buildings can be landmarks. Photographs can freeze time. Both buildings and photographs can hold memories. Walking through a classroom building that you attended 10, 15, 25 or even 50 years ago can help you recall a debate you had in class, remember a friend you bonded with over a group project or reflect upon where you were when you read a college acceptance letter. But it remains the people you connect with who wake up those memories most vividly and who are the real temporal markers of our lives. There will be a new light-filled gallery in the renovated classroom building. And there will continue to be alumnae art that will fill the walls of that gallery; art not yet made by artists whose voices we can only imagine. 

Learn more about the work of Dr. Dean Buonomano.


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