Sara Moulton, ’81, just wrapped her eighth season as the host of public television’s “Sara’s Weeknight Meals,” but her cooking career spans decades (including work with her mentor, Julia Child). Here, she shares advice with a new generation of U-M students and reminisces about her own years at U-M.
Follow your interests. College is about growing up and discovering your career path. I grew up but did not really find my career at U-M, though I did work in restaurants in Ann Arbor while I was a student. I thought about being a doctor, a lawyer, and a biological medical illustrator, but I should have taken classes at the School of Education. I tutored kids in the Ann Arbor public school system who were behind in math and English and really enjoyed it. To this day, I think I am better at teaching cooking than cooking. I don’t know why I didn’t make it my major.
Don’t care what other people think about you. Focus on yourself and what you want. Unfortunately, this kind of self-doubt, especially for women, seems to be universal. As a student in the Residential College, I was lucky to take a class we lovingly dubbed “Boys and Girls in Books.” It really helped me to gain confidence in myself as a woman. We read literature that resonated with me. We looked at androgyny, how men have a feminine side and women have a masculine side. That class helped me find balance in my own life. I wrote my thesis senior year on Virginia Woolf’s book “To the Lighthouse.” Her female characters were not only smart and thoughtful, but nurturers.
Speak up. Even though my graduation year is technically ’81, I actually graduated in ’75 but did not apply for my diploma until six years later. My time at school coincided with the tail end of the Vietnam War and the growth of the women’s movement. Ann Arbor and U-M were supportive of young people expressing themselves and questioning everything. There was room for everyone’s voice. I realize now how much those two issues, along with saving the environment (yes, we recycled even back then!), impacted my life.
Focus more on your classes. I was too casual about my studies. I look back on all the classes I loved, like one comparing the revolutions of Russia and China, and now wish I could go back and take more classes and study harder.
Enjoy every moment of college. I actually think I did appreciate everything when I was at U-M. Having grown up in New York City in the ’60s—when it was quite gritty and you would not even make eye contact with people to stay safe—coming to the Midwest where everyone was so friendly was a big change for me. I loved living in a house on Sybil Street near the stadium (where we heard the marching band loud and clear most Saturdays) with three other women who were like family. We cooked and ate dinner together (only vegetarian!) almost every night. I enjoyed working the night shift on Saturdays at the Olympic restaurant (a 24-hour Greek diner located on North Main Street in the ’70s) and serving all those colorful characters who had been out clubbing until the bars closed. Try not to miss a moment. It goes so fast.