Last week, I went to the one place on earth that I can honestly say I found my people. Most of my biographies mention my degree from Cornell which I am exceptionally proud of but what most of them fail to mention is that I would have never been at Cornell if it weren’t for my time in the Horticulture Department at Morrisville. In 2002, I transferred to SUNY Morrisville, now known as Morrisville State College (That’s State University of New York for the outside of New Yorkers). There are moments in one’s life that set the course for the rest of it. My decision to leave South Carolina when all of my friends were staying and travel to a place pretty much alone (my now husband was 45 minutes away) was daunting but it was one of the best decisions of my life.
In the amazing greenhouses, I learned to care for so many plants. I learned that in each tiny cell, there is the ability to create a whole new plant under the right conditions. I learned that I could make a hibiscus bloom three different colors. Most of all, I learned that there were people that were as passionate and excited about plants as I was and accepted me completely for the quirky, anxious, awful dresser, older than my years person that I was at 19. I had a one track mind, completely focused on roses. I wanted to grow pretty things. Flowers that would make people smile and bring color to a house or even a room. I had worked in a floral shop for my first year of college and the fun of floral design is something I have kept my toes in throughout my career. The teachers in the Horticulture Department encouraged me to look beyond that single species. What I found was grapevines, and that love affair has driven my entire career. They encouraged me to go to Cornell. They showed me that I could be more than I had imagined. They became my family and support structure. They cared.
Walking back into Spader Hall last week after being gone for 12 years I was struck at how little it had changed. The smell of soilless potting mix hit me as soon as I opened the door. The greenhouses still has the moist but sweet scent of humidity, damp earth, water on tile floors and the slightly metallic smell that makes up a greenhouse. My professors welcomed me back with open arms and we talked about what had transpired in the past years. I met a student which could have easily been me over a decade ago and I couldn’t help but wonder where life would take her after she was launched out into the world by the catapult of graduation.
I graduated top of my class in 2003 with a 3.99 GPA only kept from being perfect by a 1 credit hour microbiology lab in which I received an A-. No one has ever asked me about my grades and after working my tail off to achieve it I learned sometimes it is better to relax and enjoy life rather than strive for perfection.
Even now, whenever I walk through a vineyard, there are times when my mind is not on the fruit, but it is on my first love, the vines. Bright green leaves facing up to the sun. Tiny tendrils reaching for something to grasp. Shoots unfurling with miniature cloths covered in a fine coat of silken hairs. To me, they are incredible. The vines are the reason I do what I do and I would never have found that love if I hadn’t taken a chance so many years ago to find a place where people understood my passion.