Sarah Lindemann-Komarova

Year of Graduation: 
Sarah Lindemann-Komarova

"I am an example of how neither time nor distance has dimmed the influence of Exeter."

Fifty years ago, Exeter’s first year of boarding girls, my parents dropped me off for my senior year with signed permission to smoke. Thereafter, amid the wonders of the Harkness table, my kingdom was the butt room in Bancroft, Marlboro Lights my brand. What a difference half a century has made for Exeter, the world and me. Exeter thankfully no longer allows smoking, my aspirations to become an actress morphed into becoming a community development activist in Siberia, and the world was united this year by a pandemic. 

With all that change, I am an example of how neither time nor distance has dimmed the influence of Exeter in my life. A year ago, I got a text from my classmate Chloe Gavin. She asked if I would join a group to develop her idea to let the pioneer women tell their stories about the beginning of coeducation. Seven of us signed on for what we assumed would be a three-month process. One year later, the FEW (First Exeter Women) Project launched with a survey asking female graduates from 1971-1976 to reflect on the girls they were, the women they became, and how Exeter influenced that process. 

Numerous other Exeter graduates, archives and administrative staff, and alumni-affiliated institutions provided invaluable feedback, technical support and information. In addition to the survey, the project results include a FEW website ( and a series of Zooms inviting the FEW to ask questions and share experiences. The final FEW “product” will be a summary of and reflection on what we learned from the information and stories we received. The surveys will then be donated to the Exeter archives. 

A month into the launch, the response has been exciting. More than one-third of the FEW have participated in the survey and 20% in the Zoom calls. The discussions on the Zooms were a revelation as the honest, more complex reality of our lives at Exeter was shared within the context of our lives as women today. I am relieved the FEW Project is a success, but that isn’t the most important thing I got out of it. 

The best part of this experience is the same thing it was the first time I shared a year with Exeter girls — their friendship and support. During this challenging COVID year, one hour a week I was back in the butt room, minus the nicotine. Emilykaye revealed she is a genius at naming things, Alison taught me about the ongoing crisis in Lebanon, and law professor Beth dazzled applying her ever improving distance-teaching skills. I glimpsed life after empty nest through Zoe as her adult children came and went during the pandemic. Renee livestreamed the empty streets of New York and I treated the gang to live coverage of a hotel burning in my Siberian village. Two of us lost older sisters. 

My life of COVID dread and isolation transformed into a life shared with friends on a meaningful mission thanks to Chloe’s perfect project management and, still, Exeter. 

Editor's note: This article first appeared in the summer 2021 issue of The Exeter Bulletin.