Learning and Labor Create Soul Mates

By Eugenia Gratto

Sharon Davis Gratto '66 and Miyako Matsuki '59 came to Oberlin from different cultures and at different times. But when they met in 1993 they found they shared more than Oberlin. Both had embarked on new career directions later in life, both are junior faculty members at Gettysburg College, and both emphasize service as well as learning in and out of the classroom.

New World Views

Both women credit Oberlin for opening new worlds of experience for them. Sharon arrived from segregated Baltimore just as the civil-rights movement was gaining national attention. During her years at the College she heard Martin Luther King Jr. speak twice, and she traveled to Montgomery, Alabama. She says the Oberlin experience absolutely changed her life, allowing her to find new ways of thinking about racism, politics, and social service.

"I think the Oberlin experience paved the way for me to meet real difficulty in my life," says Miyako. "I remember thinking while taking my preliminary exams for my Ph.D. program: 'This isn't as tough as Oberlin.'"

Miyako, who grew up in Japan during World War II, remembers wanting to come to the United States to "see the enemy country." But by the end of her first year at Oberlin, having discovered many supportive friends, she changed that view completely.

Family Before School

Both women went to graduate school after Oberlin, but they put their educations on the back burner when they married and started families. Miyako and Sharon worked to help support their children--for Miyako a daughter and two sons, and for Sharon a daughter--and followed their husbands as they moved from job to job. Miyako moved from New Haven to Baltimore while her husband was in graduate school at Johns Hopkins University, then followed him when he got a job in Illinois. Sharon's husband was in the Foreign Service, so she moved to Germany, Spain, and Nigeria with him before his career took him back to the Washington, D.C., area.

Sharon, who had earned a master's degree in broadcasting from American University, went into teaching because the schedule allowed her to spend more time with her child. During summer visits to the United States she attended Catholic University as a part-time student, eventually earning a master's in music education and continuing in the doctoral program.

Being offered the faculty position at Gettysburg, where she's assistant professor of music and chapel choir director, gave Sharon the push she needed to finish the degree--her contract stipulated that she needed a doctorate to move through the tenure process. She graduated from Catholic University at age 50.

Miyako married during her second year at Yale Divinity School. Her father disapproved of the marriage and disowned her; it was 20 years before she was accepted by her family and could go home again. After her marriage ended and her children had grown she entered the University of Wisconsin's doctoral program in theology. Supporting herself by working as a translator and interpreter, she was often enrolled on a part-time basis. Now an instructor of religion at Gettysburg, she is in the process of writing her dissertation.

"This is probably the most difficult piece of writing I've had to do. I have to admire [Sharon] for finishing--it gives me encouragement," says Miyako. "It's crazy at this age, but my children are very proud of me so I guess I'd better finish."

Instant Soulmates

Miyako and Sharon, the only Oberlinians at Gettysburg, seem happy to have found one another. Every time a controversial issue erupts on campus, Miyako says she finds Sharon right beside her, protesting injustice in true Oberlin style.

They came to know each other when they were invited to help examine potential service-learning programs for Gettysburg students by taking a January 1994 faculty study trip, sponsored by the Global Education Program at Augsburg College, to Jamaica and the Dominican Republic. They've stayed in touch with the people they met--raising funds and sending materials and supplies to assist with the projects they worked on--and are interested in leading service-learning projects in other places.

"When you run into an Oberlin person, no matter what their field, you find an instant soul mate," says Sharon. "We were glad to discover each other."

Eugenia Gratto is a freelance writer from Falls Church, Virginia.

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