Own It

Feige Bates ’19 is building her career around boosting others’ confidence. That’s because she knows firsthand how it feels to be pushed down — and how to fight to get back up again.

“I really struggled with school as a little girl, and I was bullied a lot. I struggled with staying positive,” Bates recalls. “When I got to high school, my experience was even harder. But I realized that I needed to be strong. I needed to own my place and my worth, because I have a lot of it.”

Graduating from high school proved to Bates that she could move forward with her education and claim her place in the world. Alverno was an important stop on her journey. Here was a place where her confidence blossomed, where she challenged herself to learn and grow, and where she took big steps toward accomplishing her professional goals.

“I really struggled with public speaking, and Alverno is all about public speaking,” she says. “My professors definitely helped me to be able to do that at my pace while also pushing me to make sure that I was growing, which was important to me.”

Having experienced such growth, it’s fitting that Bates capped off her Alverno experience by giving the invocation at the December 2019 commencement ceremony.

“I could barely read in sixth grade. I could barely hold my own in front of a class and would feel faint because it was just so much pressure,” she recalls. “But I was able to speak at my college graduation. Sometimes I can’t even believe it’s my own story. It’s really life-changing.”

Before college, Bates, who is Orthodox Jewish, attended all-girls schools that combined Hebrew studies with secular subjects such as math and history. She grew up speaking a mixture of Hebrew, Yiddish and English, often unaware from which language specific words derived.

“When I first came to Alverno, a lot of times I would say something and not realize it wasn’t English. In my culture, everybody knows those words and you never have to translate them,” she explains.

While this created a culture shock for Bates, who transferred to Alverno in 2017, Alverno staff and faculty helped her adjust. For example, Bates was able to experience living in the residence halls while still observing her faith. Every step of the way, she experienced the community and sisterhood that drew her to Alverno in the first place.

“Alverno was at the top of my list because it felt closer to home,” she says. “It’s very women-focused and our Jewish community is also very women-focused. We are the mothers of our community.”

Even before she graduated, Bates, a psychology major, knew her Alverno education would prepare her for success. Just three weeks into her internship at Rogers Behavioral Health, she was hired as a patient access specialist. She is honored to play an important role in connecting people with health care, especially in a world that has been turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I have been privileged to be a part of an amazing team as we try to reassure and share kindness to people who are struggling and scared during this tragic pandemic,” she says. “This period of loss and pain is not a time to turn inward. It is a time for me to look outward to the rest of the world and ask, ‘how can I help?’ I am so honored to be part of the front-line mental health workers as we care for patients and continue the ongoing battle of healing the world.”

Bates wants to continue her education and become a clinical psychologist. She’s intrigued by the nascent field of fashion psychology, which studies everything from the impact that fashion can have on the mental health of individuals and the well-being of societies to human behavior in the context of fashion.

“I think it’s so important to have someone at a professional level who can understand the impact of a person’s appearance,” she says.

Bates is putting this philosophy into action by working to start a gemach, which, she explains, is a Yiddish word for a charity that rents or donates gowns to brides and members of the wedding party. Such organizations are common in the Orthodox faith to serve brides whose faith asks them to dress modestly, a tough proposition when shopping secular bridal stores. Bates, who has collected some 200 gowns to-date, knows that her psychology background will allow her to care for brides’ and others’ well-being at an emotional and vulnerable time.

It’s just one of many ways Bates is mindful of building up others, especially women. It was something that characterized her whole life, even while she herself was bullied.

“What was always something that I felt proud of myself for was when I saw someone else getting bullied or feeling sad about themselves, I would always reach out,” she recalls. “I would walk away feeling so happy that I made that person feel better, and I carried that all the way through high school.”

She also learned to value herself and to give herself credit for her achievements. And that’s the message she shared with her fellow graduates on commencement day: Amidst life’s challenges and celebrations, don’t forget to acknowledge how far you’ve gotten yourself. Honor and celebrate your hard work and your perseverance.

“We are always looking at other people and thanking them, which is so important, but I also want us to take that moment during graduation and say ‘thank you’ to ourselves for getting where we are,” she says. “We don’t often look in the mirror and say ‘thank you’ and appreciate ourselves, and we should.”

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