I was fascinated by my first encounter with Elizabeth Velez, an Austin College graduate. She arrived on campus during homecoming weekend in awe, she expressed how “being here made me feel so old, so young, and so recognizable.” As I opened up the discussion with my first question-“Can you describe your journey from Austin College to where you are now?”- the crowd including her former classmates and herself, giggled noting in the crowd, “How much time do we have again?” Elizabeth described herself as a “bad girl” during her college years. Coming in as a freshman in 1963, she emphasized the significance and differences among that time and the many opportunities she was restricted to. She began to explain she was required to go to chapel every Wednesday and women were not allowed to wear pants. Despite the renowned period of time she went through, Velez is thankful for the many moments and opportunities she wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else.
Elizabeth graduated from Austin College with the class of ’67 and majored in Philosophy. She became a junior high school teacher in West Texas and also taught in New York City where she attended grad school. When the Roe vs. Wade act came into transition, Elizabeth was an abortion counselor at the Fairmont Clinic in which she found herself “very immersed in.” Elizabeth is now a Women and Gender Studies professor at Georgetown University.
As an advocate for women and a passion for literature, she and her former colleague introduced the idea to create a novel with a collection of poems recognizing and highlighting the beauty and growth of women. In 2001, Elizabeth and her colleague shared favorable and collective poems that underline the significant stages of women’s lives that fit the novel. “How about poetry as mental health?” Elizabeth says. As the novel progressed, the poems were divided into sections identifying the stages in which women feel as they grow older. Her novel, “How did this happen?” embodies the identity and configuration of a woman’s mental and emotional state and flourishing of age. As I ask a final question-“What is the overall message of your novel?”- she smirks and asks herself, “what does poetry have to do with all of this?” She began describing the order of the way women may feel in life among sections of the poems. From feeling unrecognizable to defiant, Elizabeth and her colleague implement the truths behind an aging woman and the beauty among women’s transitions in life. Answering her own question and smiling toward her audience, “Poetry offers comfort and consolation. Poems demonstrate that you are not alone.”
With this, she encourages poetry to be a part of everyone’s life and to “live with grace and dignity.”