I seem to be one of the few women at Ring Dance who voluntarily walked alone during the ceremonial procession.
I was early enough in the alphabet that my father could have easily slipped past the security barricade to take my arm and guide me down the stairs. But I wanted it to be my journey, my moment. So, I didn't call him over. Instead, I pulled my shoulders back, locked my chin up and began the steep descent.
As I walked down the stairs, I kept my eyes locked on my dad and the rest of my family in the mezzanine, smiling and never once looking down. That was my tribute to them: walking down as my own person. It was my choice, and I do think everyone should have had the opportunity to make that choice. But there was one other reason I didn't ask my father to walk with me: the other women.
As I stood at the bottom of the stairs, I heard rousing applause for...dads. Women who walked in solidarity, like myself, got the prerequisite smattering from friends and family, but the women with their dads? They received cheers worthy of a football game. Everyone was waiting on baited breath for the "rebels" and dismissing the others as irrelevant. Until escorts were allowed, the focus was firmly on those who broke through security and escaped the grasp of the deans. This seemed rather unfair, given the event is a celebration for junior women. Everyone was merely waiting for the next rebellious father to walk down, treating women who walked alone as precursors to the real performance.
As more women accompanied by their fathers flouted the rule, Ring Dance was nearly shut down only six letters into the alphabet. The audience was asked to clear the mezzanine, and everyone was informed that if behavior did not immediately change the procession would not continue. More than half of the women remained at the top, their moment on the stairs slipping away in a panic.
It was only because of a sudden change of mind that Ring Dance was allowed to continue with escorts, perhaps out of a desire to regain control.
Sure, the administration could have handled the situation differently, but they were doing their job. They didn’t have much choice in how to approach the situation. We did.
The decision to finally allow escorts was the right choice; Ring Dance is about the women celebrating their achievements and they should be able to decide how they would like to do that. And as soon as escorts were allowed, the attention rightly shifted back to the women. But before the rule was changed, those who walked with an escort failed to remember those behind them.
The women who broke the rules to walk down with their fathers risked everyone else's ability to walk down at all.
There is a time and a place to air grievances and it is not where others can be hurt, especially when we have known about the changes since 2012. I got the chance to have my moment on the stairs, looking across to my father as I celebrated my achievements as a Westhampton woman. And I would never do anything to risk taking that moment from someone else.
Contact reporter Heather Courtenay at firstname.lastname@example.org