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Wake Forest Fellows: a family reunion

'Mentoring and friendships … have laid the groundwork for a lifetime of the same.'

By Caitlin Brooks Edwards ('11) Wake Forest Magazine Guest Contributor
Caitlin Edwards Brooks (back row, fourth from right) and other Wake Forest Fellows alumni at the Nov. 23 reunion.
Caitlin Edwards Brooks (back row, fourth from right) and other Wake Forest Fellows alumni at the Nov. 23 reunion.

Caitlin Brooks Edwards (’11) was among past and present participants in the Wake Forest Fellows program who reunited at President and Mrs. Nathan Hatch’s home on Nov. 23 to celebrate the program’s fifth year. The Wake Forest Fellows program offers a unique opportunity for graduating seniors to stay on at the University for an additional academic year during which they serve as full-time staff members of departments and offices across campus. Caitlin, who graduated with a degree in anthropology and was the inaugural Fellow in the Office of Sustainability, reflected on the reunion in this piece for Wake Forest Magazine.

As we pulled up into the winding drive in front of the President’s House, I felt my heart flutter. It had been almost a year and a half since I left my class of Fellows with tears and smiles in equal measure. In that time, I’d moved with my husband, Adam Edwards (’11) over the Appalachian mountains and across the plains to the University of Illinois so that we could start our next great adventure — graduate school in philosophy for him and a career in academic publishing for me. Leaving the warm safety of Wake Forest for unknown places had been exciting, intimidating and just a little bit terrifying.

But now, as I pushed the car door closed behind me and straightened my blazer, I was finally back where I belonged. Just inside the doors, too excited to move farther into the house, the Fellows from my class — returned from New York, Charlotte, and Wake Law — were ready with open arms and stories of successes and lessons learned. Each face gave a renewed flush of recognition and joy. Mentoring Resource Center Director Allison McWilliams (’95) caught my eye and gave me a knowing smile that only a true mentor could give. And there, at the center of it all, Marybeth Sutton Wallace (’86) stood decked in gold and black, waiting to welcome us all home (with individually packaged Deacon Crunch Cookies, no less).

As the night wound down and the talk became slower, lower, and more familiar, President Hatch appeared at the top of the stairs, cell phone in hand. James O’Connell (’13) had just been awarded a Rhodes Scholarship. The room erupted in cheers and people began to spontaneously toast. Whether you knew James personally or not was of no consequence. He is a member of the Wake Forest family, and we celebrated his success as we would our own.

In later discussions with my class of Fellows, I came to recognize that that is perhaps the greatest of many good things about the Fellows program. Belonging to this family encourages and enables me to become the best version of myself. The mentoring and friendships gained during my Fellows year have laid the groundwork for a lifetime of the same. I can only try to give back to the University even a small portion of all that it has given me.