Disabled by multiple sclerosis and using a wheelchair, I knew it was far too difficult for me to travel to New York City from my home in Washington, D.C., for the milestone reunion for the Class of 1973. Instead, I took a virtual trip to my 40th reunion, aided by 21st century technology and the forward thinking of a dear friend and classmate, Sherry Katz-Bearnot.
I was always known as a klutz, falling on smooth surfaces and not being able to get up. But, in 2007, a doctor realized I had classic multiple sclerosis (MS) symptoms, ordered an MRI, and put me on the path to managing a disease that has no cure and only gets worse. In the last six years, my physical condition has steadily worsened despite physical therapy and a drug to slow the progress of the disease. Once able to use a walker and to drive, I now use a wheelchair and have a full time health-care aide. I just bought a handicap-accessible van for my husband to drive.
Many difficulties prevented my “in person” attendance at Reunion. Simply driving to New York would have been exhausting. Also, I must sleep in a hospital bed, which no hotel has. My husband would have had to push my wheelchair around campus.
But it was very important for me to be at our 40th reunion in some way because it’s such a landmark year: Careers are winding down; many of us are already retired or starting new chapters in our lives; some already are grandparents. I still have wonderful memories about Barnard and how it gave me the tools to forge my way in the world.
Three months before Reunion, Sherry visited me in McLean, Va. When I expressed my regret that I couldn’t go, she replied, “Yes, you can. You can Skype.” I use Skype all the time in my work as a freelance writer with my own company, Words by Judi Hasson, for which I write about many different issues, including technology and disability. Why not use Skype for Reunion?
I think Sherry and I may have made Barnard history as the first classmates to attend Reunion together in such a manner. With Sherry walking around campus with her iPad, I got a virtual tour of Barnard; I saw new parts of the campus and the old brick of the 20th century one. I talked to Barnard pals, old friends I’m in touch with all the time, others whom I hadn’t seen in years. I was overwhelmed to actually see my classmates and “feel” like I was really there, all thanks to the benefits of early-21st century technology.
I went to the Friday-night reunion dinner where I heard the clinking glasses and Barnard President Debora Spar speak about Barnard today and where the College wants to go in the future. I “met” President Spar as Sherry Skyped me through the dining room. I even appeared in the class picture as Jessica Raimi held the iPad with my “live” picture clearly visible. Pretty amazing for someone who was not physically there, and a real thrill for me.
Although I am still in touch with many Barnard friends through calls, visits, and Facebook, the last time I was at a reunion was in 2003; physically, then, I was far from who I am today. But this year, my classmates were really excited to see me as much as I was to see and talk to them.
—Illustration by Alex Eben Meyer