College students explore origins through Literary 99s

Winter Study at the College is famous for outlandish stories of treehouse-building and juggling. Students can explore interests out of their comfort zones across the world, but sometimes the best and most fulfilling endeavors can be found much closer to home. Inspired by their own family histories, various groups of students dedicated their 2015 Winter Study to exploring their own backgrounds and those of the student body.

What started off as a mere conversation about mothers amongst close friends Meghana Vunnamadala ’16 and Niharika Pendurthi ’15 snowballed into a project to which they dedicated over a month. “We came up with the idea of The Mom Project one day in the fall, when we were just sitting around talking about our moms,” said Vunnamadala. Inspired by her own mother’s stories, Vunnamadala had always wanted to write her mother’s biography herself, but had never imagined completing such a feat over a course of a month.

“Niha said, ‘What if we did something now, over Winter Study?’ That’s how we came up with the idea of paying homage to motherhood by interviewing people about their mothers,” said Vunnamadala. The pair formulated The Mom Project as their own Winter Study 99 and sought to share the incredible stories of family members of this campus community. Hoping to express the “complexity of motherhood,” Vunnamadala and Pendurthi wanted to bring insight to the importance of motherly and maternal figures presents in our lives. “A lot of mothers who don’t work outside of the household say ‘oh, I’m just a mom.’ Yet, whether you’re a working mother or not, being a mom is one of the toughest jobs a person can have. We wanted to honor the work that mothers do and illuminate some of the reasons why being a mother is important,” said Vunnamadala.

After documenting their own mothers’ stories, the pair began the second part of The Mom Project, entreating fellow students across graduating classes to share stories as well. One of Vunnamadala’s favorite moments was “when one of the people we interviewed talked about how he pushed his mom, who had been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis when she was 13, to hike up a mountain in Scotland. He said that she cried when she made it to the top because she didn’t believe that she could actually do it and she was so happy that she did. It was a really beautiful story.”

As Vunnamadala and Pendurthi finalize their final copy of the book, to be displayed to the public in Stetson-Sawyer Library within the next week, they cannot feel more accomplished of their work. “Being the children of immigrants, it was important to showcase the stories of immigrant mothers and the commonalities many of them share. I haven’t told my mom about the book yet, I’m going to mail her a copy later this month with a little note attached. I hope she’ll like it,” said Vunnamadala.

Similarly inspired by his own relative’s story, Matija Budisin ’15 formulated a 99 project in consisting of translating his great-grandfather’s autobiography from German into English. In the autobiography, Budisin’s great-grandfather recounts, in a lively narrative interspersed with brief historical expositions, his experiences during the Nazi and Communist eras in former Yugoslavia. During this time, he was falsely denounced and all of his property was expropriated. “It’s a book that has been lying on my shelf for years, and I finally began the work in earnest last summer. I took the opportunity to continue this Winter Study,” said Budisin.

“In the early 20th century, my grandfather’s father had started a food-exporting business in the Austro-Hungarian province of Backa. My great-grandfather inherited the thriving business and during WWII, the Nazi regime accused him of being a Jew – arresting, interrogating and torturing him,” said Budsin. The text delves into his great-grandfather’s exploits in the resistance and into the further interrogations and arrestments he endured in Communist Yugoslavia. “By 1961 he was finally able to leave Yugoslavia and return to Germany, where he eventually began working on his autobiography and published it in 1979,” said Budisin.

Enveloped in the exciting story of his grandfather’s life, Budisin was inspired to pursue the daunting task if only to share it with the rest of the world. “My great-grandfather appended a subtitle, ‘a contribution to modern history,’ prompting me to note that this book is a primary source document whose potential to serve as a case study for 20th century European history should be explored,” said Budisin.

Through the inspiration of their origins and family history, these students were able to create stories to share across campus, and continue to share with the rest of the world.L1001775