By Sharon Clifford Cresswell ’65 and Suzy Laufer Roth ’65
Sixty-two years later, we are still best friends.
Sixty-two years ago, we—the then-known-as Sharon Clifford and Suzy Laufer—may have first met because we had a good friend in common. During our first year at Mills, Ann-Louise Bintliff lived across the hall from Sharon in Orchard Meadow Hall. We all became friends then, and the two of us decided to be roommates as sophomores. We continued as roommates until we left Mills in 1965.
Over the years since then, we remained in forever if not constant touch, with Sharon in California and Suzy in Washington, DC; Maryland; and New York. West to east, east to west.
But since the pandemic and continuing even now, we have been connecting much more frequently. This is an irrevocably forever friendship. We feel like we’re family not only with each other, but also with each other’s families: from our parents and siblings to our husbands and children, and to our grandchildren, too.
And as ever, we are very different people.
We are the most unlikely BFFs. We have very different ways of looking at just about everything: perspectives, goals, family settings, personalities.
Sharon is social, outgoing, and friendly. Suzy isn’t exactly introverted, but she is shy and quiet. Sharon grew up with a great sense of independence, even embarking on a solo trip to Japan in high school, while Suzy was barely allowed to cross the street without parental permission. Sharon grew up in a sporty, all-American business-minded family, while Suzy’s musician (American) mother and artist/designer (European) father ensured that the family home was full of music and fine arts.
But at Mills, we found so much in common. We both studied and loved our art classes, including Asian art history with Catherine Caldwell and European art with Alfred Neumeyer. We both tried tennis and enjoyed dance classes. One incredible highlight for Sharon—and an idiotic moment for Suzy—was when Darius Milhaud led the choir in a performance. Good-girl Sharon was able to participate, but Suzy—the lazy rebel—could not, due to perpetual choir-practice cutting. It was a hard lesson learned!
Over the years, we shared many beautiful times together. Suzy was a bridesmaid in Sharon’s 1965 wedding. We visited with each other’s families and regularly spoke on the phone. In the last 20 years, we’ve been to Italy together twice: the first, to research a book Suzy was writing on Guido d’Arezzo; and the second, to celebrate the book’s publication at a special concert for the occasion with Suzy’s family (including her one-year-old grandson) and Sharon, as well as her daughter, in attendance.
Suzy’s career as an author and illustrator of children’s books didn’t change during lockdown—she’s still doing what she started at Mills when she printed her first books with her own hands on the Eucalyptus Press.
But with the onset of the pandemic, when traveling was no longer permitted, Sharon’s engaging work in coordinating foreign exchange students in California schools was halted. This prompted her to retire.
However, Sharon still is working as an essential pre-editor for Suzy as usual: She checks the early versions of Suzy’s texts and/or images, sharing her unedited responses.
So, when the pandemic hit, it brought into sharp focus what has really kept us together: We can say anything we want to say to each other, at any time of the day or night, without the fear of repercussion—just the knowledge that our comments will be met with attentive listening. That includes any subject, not just book editing. We are always safe from the other’s judgments, though it’s not that they are ever withheld—but they are never damning, always redeemable. We provide each other with encouragement, even if sometimes it’s encouragement to shut up about something. We speak on the phone nearly every day, and for both of us, it was this constant and deep alliance that helped us manage during that difficult time.
Even post-pandemic, we are continuing with our frequent conversations. And, amazingly, this is not the end of the story—despite us both pushing 80! We are looking forward to our own, long-planned, in-person 80th birthday reunion in New York this October—at the same time the rest of our class will hold a more official get-together at Mills. We’ve done a lot together, but one thing we can’t do is be in two places at once.