To celebrate 50 years of coeducation at Kenyon, we’re profiling 50 Kenyon alumnae during the 2019-20 academic year. These 50 women, merely a small sample of the thousands of female graduates who have earned Kenyon degrees since 1969, will discuss their undergraduate experiences and how their education in Gambier prepared them for their lives and careers.
The 29th alumna in our series is Melody Travers ’12, who majored in sociology at Kenyon, won a Fulbright fellowship, earned a master’s degree in philosophy from the University of Potsdam in Germany and now lives in Austin, Texas. She works as a content marketer at Alegion, a tech company involved with artificial intelligence and machine learning, where she produces the podcast No BiᴀS. She is also a singer-songwriter under the name Melody Chebrellan.
How do you prioritize your life and get things done?
Honestly, prioritizing goals and progressing toward them is something I work on everyday. In broad strokes, I start by defining my immediate goals in ways that are measurable and attainable. From there, I try to chip away at them one at a time, day by day, week by week. So much of it isn’t sexy! Lists, for example, are such a helpful tool. Some days I may cross only one thing off the list, and that’s okay. Lists keep me on task and allow me to zoom out, take the long view, and remind me that most of my goals are not sprints but marathons. And honestly, that’s 90% of it. I wrote a song about just this topic with Caitlin Cook [’12], “The Procrastination Song.”
I also reassess my goals regularly to make sure they’re in alignment with my values. Kenyon taught me how to examine my underlying principles that have been my anchor points through the countless times I felt adrift throughout my 20s. Lately, I’ve been practicing saying no to things, trying to do fewer things better and declining obligations that I’m not as passionate about.
Where did you first discover your power?
When I think about what might qualify as my power, it doesn’t feel like any single thing. Nor does it feel like something I found in any one place. But something that comes to mind, which I’m always trying to work on, is being able to empathize with other people and show them compassion. I hate small talk and am always seeking out inroads and compelling questions to discover what makes other people tick; when I’m talking to someone, I want to know who they are, who they feel they are, what and who they care about. The best moment is hitting on something that produces that glint in someone’s eye, when I can tell they get excited to tell me about that topic. Or when I can remind them something about themselves they’re proud of. I think the world can always use more people making other people feel good about themselves.
Who at Kenyon inspired you?
I was lucky enough to have a few mentors who guided and supported me in my time at Kenyon. [Professor of Sociology George] “Mac” McCarthy would bring stacks of books to class and raise them up one by one in a sort of show-and-tell style, and was always scrawling German on the board. I loved that enough that I dragged myself out of bed regularly to attend his 7 a.m. office hours — no small feat for my college self. He inspired me to apply for a Fulbright and even wrote me recommendations to go to grad school in Germany. I can’t thank him enough for his patience and support.
Rick Yorde [’71 P’96] was another huge inspiration to me. I met Rick my first week of freshman year when I wandered into the Craft Center woodshop. Rick said we could build anything we wanted, and what I wanted to build was a 14-foot sailboat. Rick obliged. From then on, I spent every Saturday morning and eventually many Sundays in the woodshop with Rick. When my project got too big for the Craft Center, he invited me to work on it at his home deep in Amish country. For the next two years we would work in parallel, sometimes not speaking for hours. I worked through angst and frustration and found a reprieve from my darting thoughts as I sawed, sanded and planed my dream boat. When I needed a break I would wander upstairs to his wife Deb’s weaving workshop and wax philosophical with her. Deb and Rick offered me a place of safety and exploration where I felt totally accepted for who I was and supported in the person I was becoming.
Lastly, I have to give a shoutout to my amazing classmates. Since graduating I have found out how rare it is to be part of a community in which everyone has several passions they’re deeply committed to. Growing up I was pretty competitive, and before Kenyon, competition meant winning at another person’s expense. But at Kenyon I experienced a different kind of competition, one that was based on challenging one another to reach beyond what we thought we were capable of. I can’t tell you how many times a peer showed me how to do something amazing, and just like that it became a thing I knew how to do, too!
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
A piece of advice I think about frequently comes from my time at Kenyon. There was a day in the spring of my senior year when I was walking down Middle Path with one of my professors and directors, [former Assistant Professor of Drama] Kevin Rich. We were talking about all sorts of things, but mostly our conversation centered on life after Kenyon. And I’ll never forget when Kevin turned to me and said, “try to be as compassionate with yourself as you would be with a friend.” I’m always my toughest critic, and that advice really stuck with me. In the years since, I’ve been working on trying to forgive my imperfections, accept my limitations and to be open about them rather than defensive. It’s hard! But I’m working on it.
How has your worldview evolved since leaving Kenyon?
It’s hard to know how much my worldview has changed because it filters my perception of the world. It’s always evolving incrementally as I learn and grow. I think mainly my worldview has broadened since Kenyon, especially from living in Germany for five years. More than anything, I feel like I’m always learning the importance of hope and curiosity — things that Kenyon really emphasized. Living in Germany showed me that American culture is unusually brutal and competitive and offers little support for those who make mistakes or experience bad luck. Other countries prioritize things like family and community in a way we don’t. But I think that’s a big part of my worldview now, just trying my best to counteract those forces and maintain my optimism about how things could be. Cynicism is a natural response, and I understand that. It’s much harder to remain vulnerable and open to the world. But I think it’s vital.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Read about the previous woman in our series: Caitlin Horrocks ’02