Believing in a Freedom to Fail

Maria Patterson

When Maria Patterson '79 moved onto her freshman hall at Davidson, it wasn't the start of the best four years of her life. In fact, she spent the first two years telling all her friends and classmates how she planned to transfer. Thankfully, she found her stride and wound up with only fond memories of alma mater.

"What sets Davidson apart in liberal arts education is that there is a freedom to fail," she said. "Others who have gone to liberal arts colleges were often identified early on and tracked into a particular major or field, which isn't good. It's important to be able to make new choices."

For Patterson, Davidson's emphasis on independent research was the key to her future, but not in the way one might imagine.

"My research through the history department was a wonderful experience," she said. "And though I did enjoy it, it mostly convinced me that I didn't want to go to graduate school in history. It's sometimes just as useful to learn what you don't want to do as much as what you do want to do. And I felt comfortable changing direction because of Davidson's culture."

When it came to charitable giving decisions, Patterson says Davidson was always going to be at the top of the list along with a few other groups she cares about. She sees it as an obligation because she benefited from scholarship support. She has chosen to give to Davidson now and has also included a provision for Davidson in her will. Some of her philanthropy is directed to her class scholarship.

"I love the idea of having my class remembered by a scholarship," she said. "It just keeps giving. None of us do what we do in our lives is completely on our own, and it's important that we, as alumni, think about the people who made Davidson such a great place when we were students. If everyone thinks about what they got out of Davidson, it feels right to give back."

Patterson's career in law has led her to teaching at NYU-Stern, a place that makes her think more about her own undergraduate education than she had prior to joining the higher education field.

"I'm reminded through my daily work how special Davidson is in many, many ways," she said. "And it's exciting to watch where we're heading next."

In addition to financial gifts, Patterson has served as a member of Davidson's Board of Visitors and as an ex-officio member of the Board of Trustees. She also has held several volunteer positions in support of 1979 class reunions.