Smithie of the Month: Bernadette Miller ’90

Smithie of The Month

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Name:  Bernadette Miller

Class Year: 1990 AC

How long have you lived in Philadelphia? I moved to Philadelphia in 1994. I rejoined The Hay Group, the company I had worked with in Pittsburgh as an Administrative Manager prior to enrolling at Smith.  Because Hay was headquartered here, I was already familiar with the city prior to moving here for the job. When my job in Marketing and Communications at Hay was eliminated in 1997, I decided to stay in Philly.

Why did you choose Smith?

In 1996, I saw a piece on CBS’s Sunday Morning television show with Charles Kurault about Smith’s Ada Comstock Program, and was swept away with the idea of getting my degree at Smith.  I was impressed with the women’s stories and the Smith environment.  In addition to working full time in a responsible job, I had been attending the University of Pittsburgh part time at night, and was almost halfway through, but I had run out of steam attending school part time while working, and lacked the motivation to keep going.

During this time, I was looking at condos in Shadyside, my Pittsburgh neighborhood. After viewing the Smith piece on television, goodbye condo!  I went to the Atlantic Bookstore on a lunch hour, looked up Smith’s telephone number, called the Ada Comstock Office, and scheduled an appointment for an in-person interview. After visiting the campus for my interview, I was even more convinced that Smith was the right place for me to experience life as a full-time student.

Who was your favorite professor/what was your best class? Two professors and classes come to mind: Joan Garrett-Goodyear’s Writing Autobiography class and Elizabeth Harries’ Romantic Period Comparative Literature seminar.  Joan and Betsey were smart, inclusive, open, empathetic, eloquent, and very aware of gender and class issues– truly the best of what Smith had to offer. Although their backgrounds did not represent mine, they understood and appreciated me. We were different, but as women we had much in common.  And they actually made working hard fun.

What’s your favorite restaurant in the city?  

My favorite restaurants include: McNally’s Tavern in Chestnut Hill (Meg McNally is a Smith graduate), Paris Grill in Chestnut Hill, and The London Grill.

What are you up to now?  Although I retired when my job was eliminated, I plan to return to work part time this summer. In a sense, I started my career over after graduating from Smith. I’ve held several interesting jobs, one at Hay as noted above, another at Lincoln Financial Services in HR, and a few clunkers in between that I did to pay the bills.

What house did you live in on campus and what was your favorite thing about it? I didn’t live in a campus house, but in a small apartment in Old School Commons at 35 South Street, close to campus.  I chose not to live in a house because I had a cat and, frankly, because I valued my privacy. However, I lived close enough to campus to immerse myself fully in campus activities, including Rally Day, the school Senate, and meeting with other students at Davis Hall and the Ada Center.

What makes a Smithie unique?

Smith women celebrate the life of the mind!  Smith women participate. Smith women are life-long learners, e.g., the woman I met at a Club meeting from Betty Friedan’s class who was still traveling.   Smith women understand that we don’t have to sit back and defer to men, that we don’t have to let others define who and what we are.  That we can change who we are at mid-life, as I did.  I have met many exceptional Smith women—young and old, professors, teachers, nurses, graduate students–through the Smith Club and Smith Club of Philadelphia Book Group.  Although our backgrounds, opinions, and professions may differ, we are open to a free exchange of ideas.

How did your Smith experience shape your life?  For me, Art in all of its forms—music (Beethoven to Bob Dylan), painting, dance—truly makes life worth living. Through my liberal arts education, I gained the “language skills” that I needed to help me express myself and, importantly, to help me navigate my life in the wider world as a single woman from a working-class background.  In the process, I learned something about myself too. My English degree and liberal arts education reinforced the idea that everything is connected—from the Bible, to Shakespeare, to Mary Shelley, and beyond.

Do you have a defining/favorite/most memorable/transformative Smith moment? Not so much one moment but appreciating the experience of–referencing Sylvia Plath–being in the company of women.  All the women who had been at Smith before me, and all the women who would be students after I graduated. We mattered!

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