My Slice of Pie
As many people know, I recently traveled to Vermont and Boston to visit friends – it was an amazing trip. And even though it was just to the East Coast and a place very familiar to me, it was one of the best “vacations” I’ve had in long while. I’m so glad I went.
Along my travels, I had dinner with Patty (well, Alden and Andy were there as well – but this is a story about my friend “Pie”, aka Patty). She’s retired from working at the University of Vermont. It’s where we first met. She shared with me all the gifts she received at her retirement party. They presented her with a book that included letters from students talking about why Patty Corcoran was special to them. I had no idea and hadn’t been contacted to write anything – in all fairness to UVM, I took my name off their mailing and calling lists years ago… but still. I should have written something for her book. I was one of her students.
In her usual understanding and lovingly-filled way, as she flipped through the book casually, she asked me to write a little something and send it to her so she could “include it in the book” after-all.
Well, following is that little something — a note of thanks for Pie:
Why is Patty Corcoran special to me? Well, that could easily fill an entire book.
I was never supposed to go to college. It wasn’t that no one mentioned the word “college” growing up, it just wasn’t tangible or realistic for most in my neighborhood. So, imagine my surprise when I found myself signing in for orientation at the University of Vermont.
Now, I can’t find the right words to describe the amount of fear I had in going to college in the first place, but once I was there it was palpable. Everything and anything was a reason for me to quit. From my point of view, I wasn’t supposed to be there anyways. Patty clearly had a different vision about my college career and from day one her support and commitment to me as a student was…remarkable.
My first experience in dorm life was a horrible one. I was an older “non-traditional” student who had been assigned to live in Davis Hall with a roommate who was fresh out of high school and ready to explore her new-found freedom in college life. We clashed. We clashed on so many levels. After many attempts to resolve the problem myself, I was ready to pack my bags and make my way back to Boston. I was intimidated by my surroundings and not being able to get along with my roommate seemed to be my cue. But Patty Corcoran intervened with the Director of Residential Life and got me moved immediately. That was the first time we met – officially anyways. She made it clear then and she would reiterate over the next four years, that any problem, any issue I needed help with, I was to contact her first before boarding a bus back to Boston. That was my saving Grace.
The ability to comprehend someone’s fear and dissolve its power instantaneously is one of Patty’s notable qualities. There was never an issue too difficult that she wouldn’t tackle and find some way to walk you through. If there was a problem, she’d fix it. Period.
A better example of Patty’s importance to me came in another moment at UVM that was devastating for me personally. I struggled with my grades. I couldn’t understand why exactly – I studied and studied and studied and I still failed tests or barely got a passing grade. I was generally a “B” student in high school, most days without even trying – so again, I reasoned that college just wasn’t for the likes of me. True to form, Patty didn’t buy into that at all. She was convinced that I had what it took to get my bachelor’s degree and proposed that I get tested to see if I had a learning disability that we could work around.
Well, I wasn’t diagnosed with a learning disability, but it was determined that I didn’t have the necessary basic skills that most college students have when entering their first year. I had been a stutterer as a kid, so this was yet another hurdle I didn’t think I could bare. The tests revealed other information: that I was a visual learner and did best verbally explaining things instead of writing them out on timed exams or taking lengthy multiple choice kind of tests. Clearly, again, in my mind, this was more evidence that I wasn’t fit to be in this place. That’s what I understood from the “diagnosis”. Combined with being Black, Latina, older, growing up poor…I was sure THIS was it, I’d be heading home soon enough.
But that’s not what Patty heard.
What Patty heard was I needed to be able to take tests that were un-timed. That I needed to be able to verbally prove I knew the material. That I needed to be able to write out answers to any questions without the pressure of a clock. Patty made all that happen. We sat and looked at my class schedule, she spoke to the professors who would allow for this adjustment and we changed my classes for those who would not. Patty empowered me and taught me to work around any “disability” – and she reminded me, never to let anything deter me from my goals. But here’s the true brilliance of these moment if you haven’t figured it out yet: Patty believing in me, having faith in me, is what made all of my studies and test taking after that so much easier. Professors accommodating my needs was helpful, but Patty having the certainty that I was worthy…that was everything. When someone believes in you? That’s a game-changer.
I could go on and on. As I’ve mentioned, I could write a book about Patty Corcoran’s importance to me during my days at UVM. Her ability to nonchalantly take any problem you have and turn it into a learning moment is priceless. Her casual skill of reminding you how important you are to the world and how much you matter to her is remarkable. And Patty does it all with a sense of joy and positivity — and it’s always personal. You are the most important person in the room when Patty is talking to you. You are all that matters. For the longest time I thought I was the only student she cared this much about – I was special. When I realized Patty did this for many students at UVM, I can’t lie, I was a little jealous. Okay, maybe a lot jealous!
But I understood in my senior year that Patty Corcoran was not just a gift to me, but a gift to UVM. A gift to anyone who had the privilege of knowing this wonderful woman. She was a light, an inspiration, even during the tumultuous times of my four years at UVM. She was always positive and uplifting. And like so many people I admire and aspire to be like, Patty makes you feel like a better person just by being her authentically cool self. She makes it all seem so easy.
When you’re with Pie, you will smile. You will feel joy. And you will feel loved. There’s a power in that and a strength in who Patty Corcoran is, that makes her the kind of woman I aspire to be every single day.
So yes, Patty Corcoran, is still very special to me. My Pie. I would have never made it through college without her. Of this I have no doubt. I am a better person for knowing her and grateful to still be able to call her my friend.
Thank you, Patty…for everything and congratulations on your retirement!
With love and gratitude always,
Carmen Suarez, Class of 1994