With a Grateful Heart

July 03, 2020
laura hinnenkamp

When I look back at my time with the Women’s Center, I feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude. After three years, the time seems to blur slightly. The things I do recall are fewer specific moments and more themes of constancy—unvarying inspiration, exploration, and vulnerability. 

I remember, after months of feeling lost and insecure as a first year, a phone call with Mary about my application to Iris. It was supposed to be an interview, and while I can’t pinpoint exactly what we talked about, I do know I left feeling excited and hopeful. (And I hadn’t felt that way in a while.) 

I remember finding a sense of purpose. Writing pieces I felt truly proud of, crafting a sense of my personal voice, making connections between my passions and the classroom. I learned about being on the frontlines as an agent of social change, and about the power of the written word. Not only did the program help me on that path, it also provided me a platform to express myself in a way I have never experienced elsewhere. 

I remember laughing at meetings. The Women’s Center provides the most beautiful gift of community. It has been a place where being exactly who I am is not only accepted, but encouraged. Iris has always felt like a space of reprieve from the rest of my world at UVA, as we spend meetings brainstorming new ideas and collaborating intellectually and emotionally. 

I remember adapting—hosting Iris meetings over Zoom from my bed, feeling inspired at the resiliency of my fellow team members and the call to write and create even despite the circumstances. Community, purpose, hope: it all has never felt so evident as within the past few months. Despite obstacles, we continue. 

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The truth is, behind all my work at the Women’s Center is a journey of personal growth. What exists on a page or a screen is only part of the innumerable ways that being an Iris intern and editor has irreversibly changed my outlook. I found a space that allowed me to forge a new path for my identity. Applying for Iris was a step in a direction that I previously held at bay, a direction that would come to be an integral experience to my formative years at UVA. After that catalyst, I started turning into a person that felt more like myself. 

Most importantly, I want to thank everyone who made my time at the Women’s Center the experience it has been. To the past and present editors and writers of Iris whom I have worked with—thank you for your ingenuity and openness. There are few things more rewarding than witnessing the evolution of truly moving work. Thank you to the Women’s Center interns and staff who make Iris possible, from art to social media and everything in between. Lastly, the most resounding gratitude possible to Mary Esselman. We would be nothing without the people in our lives, and my time at Iris would be nothing without Mary. It has been the utmost privilege to work with someone who exhibits so much genuine passion and interest, all while steadfastly leading us all to authentic greatness. 

So, I say goodbye with a grateful heart filled with appreciation. I move forward with confidence in the bright future of who we are, what we do, and what we have committed ourselves to. 

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