The Colgate Scene ON-LINE

  by John D. Hubbard

Michelle, Peter and Samantha
When they met on the second day of orientation in the late summer of 1993 Peter Cherukuri and Michelle Warren were immediately attracted to one another. A friendship began, eventually growing deeper and stronger.

Sophomore year Michelle learned she was pregnant, an unplanned but not altogether unhappy occurrence. Still, the couple, who were already engaged, faced the uncertainty of what it all meant. And what to do. There were those who told them finishing college with a child would be too difficult.

"The baby was something Peter and I both wanted," says Michelle, who let nature - and true love - take its course.

By April 19, 1995 Michelle was a week past her due date and growing impatient. Despite some twinges, she went to her econ class and when she returned home she told Peter the pains were coming faster and more intensely.

"You're going to the hospital," said Peter. Samantha was born that night at 8:32 at Community Memorial, adjacent to campus.

"I was worried Michelle was going to say a lot of mean things," says Peter, recalling the delivery. "I thought the pain would end," remembers Michelle. "It didn't."

The biggest surprise, however, was Samantha. "We all thought it was a boy," says Peter. "We didn't even have a girl's name picked."

Samantha it was, though, and she was perfect. Peter and Michelle brought their daughter home to the house they were renting and took her into every room, crying tears of joy. The young family stayed there for the next two weeks, then emerged for finals. "This won't be so difficult," Michelle thought then. She hasn't changed her mind.

Michelle took three courses the semester Samantha was born but now wishes, with five courses in both the fall and spring of her senior year, she had taken a full load. She is majoring in sociology and anthropology, Peter is a philosophy major - and both work. Michelle has a job at Case Library dealing with interlibrary loans and is a research assistant for two professors, while Peter runs the Colgate travel agency.

Even with the expanded responsibilities, both report their grades have improved and life has taken on a richness.

"Because of Samantha I can understand some issues more," says Peter, who read Aristotle to his daughter when she was in the womb. "I feel ready for graduate school," says Michelle. Both Cherukuris are interested in pursuing PhDs.

Samantha has caused her parents to make some alterations in lifestyle. Peter had to take his daughter to a Spanish class when he couldn't find a sitter and another time when he had Samantha he had to duck out of a Philosophy Club meeting. "We have professors who have children and understand the various aspects of raising children," says Peter. "They look at us as more mature, as dealing with real issues, and make us feel we aren't different." And in the end there is nothing unusual about conversations that skip from John Stuart Mill to babysitters and car seats.

"I feel I'm living the life of a 28-year-old," says Michelle, who is working to establish a campus day care. She feels the university has been supportive, helping the family explore options and opportunities.

"I feel as if we've been an example to our friends," says Peter, who was approached by a student he didn't know in the middle of the fall semester. "Hey, you're the guy with the baby. I respect you so much," the student told Peter.

"You can't do this halfheartedly," says Peter. "We have a real commitment to each other, a commitment to Samantha and a commitment to providing her a good life. We feel blessed."

[IMAGE] Kevin, Mary and Ian
When Kevin Vaughan and Mary Rodriguez learned they were going to have a baby the couple decided to take a break in their college careers.

At the time, Kevin had just finished his sophomore year and had joined Mary, a Dartmouth student, for the summer. They moved from New Hampshire to Houston, Mary's home, where Ian was born. Kevin worked first for a brokerage house and then in the billing and payroll department of a trucking company. "I found out the job search is trickier without a degree," says Kevin, who is now in his senior year.

The family lives in town. Ian, now three, goes to Chenango Nursery School, Mary works in a tax business next door and takes three classes, while Kevin completes his degree and works on campus. He is a peer counselor for Career Services, tutors in economics and even manages to play on the squash club team. It is a remarkably typical existence with a markedly fundamental difference.

"I knew one person sophomore year who was getting married and I was shocked by that," says Kevin. "Six months later I learned I was going to be a father."

Kevin and Mary have settled into their full schedules, carefully protecting the hours between 5 and 10 p.m., which they devote to Ian, "one of the happiest little people I've ever met," says his father. Once Ian is in bed, the parents return to their studies.

"I was never a real academic person," says Kevin. "I'm more of an on-the-job learner but I really appreciate the options I have now." Grades that were less than "stellar" have improved and last semester Kevin, a math/econ major, had a 3.7.

Having a baby taught Mary and Kevin a lot about their families. Both come from "very Catholic" backgrounds and both received loads of support. Even with the backing, Kevin and Mary realized parenthood had changed everything. "Normally you get your life together and then have a child. You realize you can't work 70 hours a week and you rearrange your priorities pretty quickly," says Kevin. Adds Mary, "I think Kevin and I have handled it about as well as we could have. And I see it in Ian."

"He's so pure and impressionable," says Kevin of his son. He is struck by how much he can teach but even more astonished by how much Ian does on his own.

"You learn about yourself and worry a lot more," says Mary.

Kevin didn't want his return to Colgate to be "a big issue" and while they had leaned on their parents neither Mary nor Kevin wanted to go back to depending on anyone.

The village lifestyle has suited Kevin and Mary, who met townspeople in their 30s with children Ian's age and have found them receptive. For Ian it is even easier, according to Kevin, who imagines his son's thought process: "I'm small, you're small. Let's hang out."

"It definitely makes you get your act together," says Mary.

[IMAGE] Kiddada and T.C.
"I'm happier than I've been," says Kiddada Grey '97. "I'm just tired."

The cause of both Kiddada's happiness and fatigue is her five-year-old son Teshan Christian, known as T.C. around campus and at Hamilton Central, where he is in kindergarten.

"He's a Colgate student, too," says Kiddada about her precocious son, who has attended classes and loves Bunche House. "T.C.'s done the party scene, too," says Kiddada, whose friends introduced the boy to various social alternatives while his mother was away at an investment banking seminar.

Kiddada just doesn't have the time for frivolity. "I don't do as many lectures as I used to, either." Days begin at 6:30 and end by 9 but the mother resists any suggestion the arrangement has cost her.

"One professor told the class, `Kiddada has lost so many possibilities.' I said, `No, I've done everything I've wanted to do.'

"I think a lot of people feel when you have a child it's the end of your life. The only thing I've given up is the India study group but I went on the Northern European study group so I didn't miss much."

T.C. was born on March 10, 1991 when Kiddada was a high school sophomore. She had been born in the West Indies, moved several times and considers herself a "suburbanite." She was offered a full scholarship from SUNY Oswego, which is prepared to handle students with children, but a guidance counselor told Kiddada she was going to Colgate.

That meant leaving T.C. behind to live with Kiddada's father. "I cried all the time," she says.

"I think it's so good for T.C. He'd been living in Newark and he's experiencing so much here."

At least some of what T.C. experiences is troubling. "You know, mommy, there's not a lot of black people here," says T.C., who feels singled out at times. "When you leave can we move someplace with black people?"

Still, Kiddada has peace of mind. "This has been such a better year. T.C. is working hard, he's being more creative and growing up in the manner I want."

The feeling of being an "oddity" has passed for Kiddada and when people can't believe she's a mother she "whips out the pictures." She is proud of her son, happy his introduction to Africa came in professor Harvey Sindima's class, delighted he's learning the Greek alphabet along with her.

A philosophy and religion major, Kiddada is looking for a job. She is interested in communications and publications but doesn't relish being "broke" so she is investigating the financial world.

"I want to put full-time mom on my resume. I can do two things at once."

Teshan Christian has given a new perspective to Kiddada's life. More than happy and tired, she is committed.

"Any issue that concerns T.C. - that's my priority - even though American philosophy is kicking my butt right now."

[IMAGE] Josette, Jared and Hannah
"The timing was perfect," says Josette Wood, a senior and captain of the field hockey team. "I played in my first term, when you should exercise anyway - though the contact was a little sketchy - and then Hannah was born last May, so I had plenty of time to study and take finals. The wedding was in the summer and I had time to get back in shape."

Hannah Wood won't remember much of her Colgate experience, but her mom and dad will. For Josette and Jared these have been remarkable times.

The couple had been together for a long time but Josette's pregnancy necessitated some quick decisions.

"Marriage was in our plans," says Jared, who is studying elementary education at Cortland. "Just a couple of years later," says Josette.

Despite the turn of events the new family has made it work. "Jared is really supportive. He's a mother, too."

Jared made it possible for Josette to continue playing field hockey by arranging his schedule and taking care of Hannah. After playing while pregnant her junior season - "It was so motivating. I told Cathy [head coach Foto] I was going to try to give her the best season ever."

Actually, that best season came this year. Josette returned for her senior year a new bride and mother. Hannah and Jared often came to practice and rarely missed a game.

"I wanted to be like every other player. I didn't want them to give me an ounce."

Josette was apprehensive about the team's 10-mile run in preseason, but she finished. Last. She continued to finish last in most drills for the first month and finally decided to stop breast feeding, an intimacy she loved and sorely misses.

The energy boost was dramatic, however. At the same time, the team was playing well. In the league tournament Colgate knocked off top seed and perennial power Lafayette and then beat Lehigh in the championship game. Josette was named the MVP. That's P for player, not parent.

The family has more time now that the season is over. Josette has given up softball, another love, but she is contentedly working on her senior art project for her major and completing her studies.

"I manage my time well so the overload wasn't a problem. I've struggled at Colgate with the social scene but I've always wanted to be with Jared and I'm happy to have him to go home to."

Josette wonders what students think sometimes but feels her teammates respect her. She knows they love Hannah. Colgate has been understanding, too, and the professors who know of her situation have been helpful. Professor of education emeritus Jim Clarke, in particular, was thrilled, hoping Hannah might be born during his final exam last year.

"We've had so much support," says Josette, thinking first of family.

Josette's senior project is a series of six diptychs, full of color and expression. The paintings tell a story about "how having a baby is both beautiful and scary. It's not all beautiful," says Josette. "And every month is different."