Sonali Gulati’s ’96 Letter to Jean Grossholtz

Photo courtesy Sonali Gulati ’96

I will never forget the day you and Eileen drove to Boston from South Hadley, to take me to Logan International Airport, which was only 20 minutes away. It was the day I learned — on my answering machine — the news of my mother’s murder in India.

Thank you, Jean, for creating a Sonali Room, first in your heart and then in your home in South Hadley. Both beckoned and welcomed me back home for more than two decades. I cannot tell you how special I felt to be listed under “Family” on your kitchen cork board.

During these last 26 years of knowing you, I always felt your knack of knowing what I needed. Like a child, I would manage to hold it together until I’d hear your voice at the other end of the phone, and then I would break down. You knew how to hold me even from afar. Thank you, Jean, for being my rock, my go-to person and for simply just being there.

Thank you for singing “Happy Birthday” on the phone each year and for all of your false promises of singing in tune the following year. Thank you for being such an incredible role model, for inspiring me to follow in your footsteps and become a professor. Thank you for the countless letters of recommendations you wrote over two decades for my applications to grad schools, fellowships and jobs.

Thank you for helping me recognize feminism and all the ways in which it intersects and influences our lives. I now consciously bring it to my own parenting, in raising a feminist son, who recently told his classmates that the first order of business, when it comes to holding hands, needs to be the issue of consent.

Thank you, Jean, for igniting the fire within me to be an activist, to continue fighting for justice in every shape and form. Thank you for showing me that it’s OK to be a lesbian, and even better to be an out and proud one.

Thank you for nourishing me and for introducing me to fine wine and Manchego cheese. Tomatoes will forever remind me of you, as will green beans. Thank you for teaching me how little we need to survive, of being conscious and mindful in our consumption.

Thank you, Jean, for being the parent who drove me to get my driver’s license and for showing me dynamite dyke U-turns. Thanks to you, my son Rohan announced to his teacher during a field trip that his mother does not “Go straight” but instead only goes “gayly forward!”

You often said goodbye with “I’m glad you got to see me,” and I am glad I got to see you. I’m also glad that I knew enough when I came upon you to link arms and to not let go. Thank you, Jean, for all the love, for all the years. Thank you for everything.

Sonali Gulati ’96 is an independent filmmaker, a queer rights activist and a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of the Arts, where she teaches film production. She is a Guggenheim fellow whose films have been broadcast on public and cable television globally and have screened at film festivals worldwide.  

Jean Grossholtz is remembered in the spring 2021 Alumnae Quarterly, which can be read online

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