"I didn't come here because my mom went here. I came here for me. But by coming here, I found her. And when I found her, I found myself."
When she began the process of transferring from the College of Charleston to Randolph College, Marian van Noppen ’12 was more interested in Randolph College’s academics and affordability than the fact that her mother had attended the College.
“That wasn’t the reason I came here,” Marian said. “But once I was here, it was like a void was being filled in my life that had been empty for a long time,” she said. “I didn’t know I’d find a home. I didn’t know I’d find a part of my mother that I didn’t know existed.”
Marian’s mother, Kathy Davison ’77, died unexpectedly when Marian was just 6 years old. Marian had heard about the College from her mother, and later from her mother’s friends. When she wanted to transfer to another school, her family encouraged her to visit Randolph College. During their visit, Marian and her father Hays asked the Admissions Office if there might be someone around who knew Kathy. In the Casey Alumnae House, Lorraine Potter ’75, assistant alumnae director for programming, picked up the phone.
Fate stepped in.
“I couldn’t believe it when she said that my mother was her first year,” Marian said. “My mother lived across the hall from her and gave Lorraine her ring. It was just bizarre but also wonderful having that connection.”
Lorraine Potter '75 and Marian van Noppen '12 look at old copies of her mother's yearbooks.
Marian spent hours with Lorraine poring over old yearbooks and hearing new stories about her mother. Today, she works in the Alumnae House and treasures the moments when she feels her mother is with her.
Kathy Davison '77
In her room, Marian keeps a black and white picture of her mother as a senior.
“I didn’t come here because my mom went here,” Marian said. “I came here for me. But by coming here, I found her. And when I found her, I found myself.”
During the first weeks of school, Marian was overwhelmed with reminders of her mother. In old yearbooks, she saw photos of her mother walking in front of buildings she passed herself everyday. She even found a picture of her mother smiling while perched on the Odd Tree.
“After feeling disconnected all these years from someone who was supposed to be a major force in my life, it felt really good to come here and finally find that connection,” she said.
“My mom has always been a big part of my life through memories and through the memories other people have of her,” Marian added. “Now I feel as connected with her as I ever will. I feel like I’ve found another home. And it’s not just her place. It’s my place, too.”
Marian is already making her mark at Randolph College. She plans to pursue a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and study theatre.
“It’s amazing that I can get a degree like this from a small college instead of having to go to a conservatory.”
Marian dreams of going into film, whether that turns out to be acting or producing or both. She had one of the leads in the College’s fall musical, “Rocky Horror Show.”
Marian also plans to follow her mother’s footsteps to Reading, England, to study next year in the College’s “World in Britain” program. Her desire is to study theatre in England, and she cannot wait to share what she knows was a pivotal experience in her mother’s life. She has already had tea and scones with Paul Irwin, director of the Reading program, math professor, and yet another connection. Irwin taught Marian’s mother calculus.
“I heard so many stories about this school from my mom and her friends,” Marian remembered. “She went to Reading, and my granddad made her save up all her money for her travels. I can’t wait to be in the same house she lived in. I can’t wait to see what she saw.”
Potter sees glimpses of Kathy in Marian.
“Kathy was a fun, enthusiastic, caring person, and I see that in Marian,” she said.
“I see that same intensity. She seems to have found a home here very quickly—just like her mom. I think Kathy would have loved that she is here because Kathy loved being here.
“I think it’s good for Marian to make her own place and to connect with her mom,” Potter added. “The things she will treasure about this place will be the same things her mom treasured, and that will bring her closer to knowing her mom. When you lose someone at such a young age, you don’t know what is story and what is memory. She’ll have a better feeling of both now.”
Just a semester into her journey at Randolph College, Marian is learning why her mom was so proud of the College. But she is also intent on making her own memories of Randolph College.
“I’ve met some of the best friends I’ve ever had,” Marian said. “This school has really taught me so much already. You talk to everyone. You smile and wave. They told me when I first came here that you won’t be a number, and everyone is their own individual person. And they were right. Here, you accept people for who they are. It’s a family, and that’s one of the best things.”
Marian’s father and other family members have seen her change since arriving at Randolph College.
“I see her more settled into her life at this point than she has been in the past,” Hays van Noppen said.
“I think it’s good for her to get in touch with herself. From the time her mother died, Marian hasn’t really been truly at home in the world. Until recently. I think that gravitation to that home is all about her finding herself and accepting herself for who she is.
“Connecting with her mother, and being where her mother was, has to be significant and helpful to her,” he added. “I can’t imagine what that is like. I think the whole experience has been like going back in time for her. A mystique if you will. It’s something you only experience once or twice in your life.”
Potter is grateful to have her own connection to Kathy through Marian.
“I think of our campus as this unbroken circle,” Potter said. “Getting to know Marian is a reminder of that circle. We carry on, we move on, but there are so many things at this College that remain the same. Marian is walking the brick walkways just as her mom did, but she is finding her own path here.
“As my freshman, Kathy put me through the paces on Ring Night,” she added, remembering the longstanding tradition of scavenger hunts and other antics between first-year students and their juniors during Ring Week.
“But as I mopped Main Hall after proposing to all the Pinkerton guards, I was the happiest junior on campus. Thirty-five years ago, Kathy gave me my ring. Now I feel it is as if she has given me a daughter.”