By Simone Wilker
Ten Jewish women joined me the weekend of May 8 at Emory University to participate in the 2016 Emory graduation. We were among 60 alumni who had come to Atlanta to celebrate the 50th anniversary of our Emory graduation.
On Sunday afternoon we were inducted into Corpus Cordis Aureum (the Golden Corps of the Heart), the distinguished group of alumni from 50 years ago and earlier. To symbolize our acceptance, we each received a golden medallion.
On Monday, May 9, at 6:30 a.m. we met at the Candler Library and were given black caps and gold gowns. We were led down to the quadrangle and marched at the head of the other Emory graduates.
How exciting it was to think that 50 years had gone by. We have become doctors, lawyers, university professors, teachers, and business owners in ballet, printing and party goods. And we are alive and well — a celebration in itself.
The 11 of us were part of a group of 22 young Jewish women who entered Emory in 1962. We were bound by our Jewish heritage. We were told clearly that we could join only the one Jewish sorority on campus at the time, AEPhi.
Many people have asked me if I resented this situation. I personally welcomed being with all the Jewish women. We were a bright, highly motivated group. We won the Greek award for the highest academic grade point average for every quarter during my four years at Emory.
We spent the Jewish holidays together, along with the two Jewish fraternities on campus, AEPi and TEP. The Jewish men were held to the same restrictions.
This was heaven for a Jewish girl whose parents preferred that she would meet a nice Jewish boy (preferably a doctor), get married and raise a family. You knew exactly where the fertile fields were to find the perfect match.
In addition, Georgia Tech had two Jewish fraternities, AEPi and PhiEp. Because there were no women at Tech (maybe one or two), that meant even more Jewish boys to look over. It was a dream come true for me.
Special bonds of friendship formed among us, the Jewish women on campus, thrust together in a time of turbulence. (I remember watching President Kennedy on the only TV in the dorm during the Cuban Missile Crisis and many months later hearing that he was shot.) We were deeply connected because we were Jewish. We were different and special.
We remain good friends 54 years after arriving at Emory. Some have lost spouses. Some live far away. Some have highly regarded careers. Some are mothers and grandmothers.
But no matter what we are to the outside world, inside we cling to those friendships that mean the most. Let us salute our friendships as we enjoy a life that was nurtured through our experiences together at Emory.
And I am thankful every day that I am Jewish. When I look back at my four years as a Jew at Emory, I would say I took pride in being different. Having 21 friends who were just like me that freshman year, I felt empowered and proud rather than diminished.
I remember the song Kermit sings on “Sesame Street”: “It’s Not Easy Being Green.” No, being Jewish is not always easy, but it makes life interesting.