When Virginia Lee Wulsin Roberts ‘69 graduated from Chatham Hall, she embarked on a life of possibilities.
“I went to the University of California, Santa Cruz, a very avant-garde university campus in its day,” Lee said. “I took classes in creative writing and religious studies, which fueled a desire to simultaneously seek spiritual enlightenment and prove my ability to survive in the woods. After building a log cabin by hand in the wilderness of British Columbia, and learning to live off the land, I returned to Santa Cruz and finished my B.A. degree in creative communications in 1976. A few years later, I married, had two children, and settled into a more or less traditional lifestyle.”
Lee became an associate editor and feature writer at the Yoga Journal and, after much research, published Roots of Rastafari in 1985.
“Even though I had written a book that embraced 3,000 years of Ethiopian history, I had never been there. My relationship with Ethiopia had developed vicariously through the McHenry Library at UCSC,” she said. “The more I delved into the history of Ethiopia, the more enchanting it became. Legends about King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, the relocation of the Ark of the Covenant to Axum, and the conversion of Emperor Ezana from Judaism to Orthodox Christianity in 333 AD fascinated me. Not to mention the existence of Lalibela, a complex of 11 churches built in the thirteenth century out of solid rock, without a single nail or wooden beam. And then there was the amazing story of how Ras Tafari became Emperor Haile Selassie in 1930, and his courageous address to the League of Nations in 1936 warning the world about the ascent of fascism — which resulted in World War II.”
As a result, Lee had an intense desire to see Ethiopia, and responded to an intuition she felt during fall of 2019 that it was time to travel. In March 2020 she was able to spend 18 days there, just before the world shut down due to the COVID pandemic.
“Every day of our trip was magical, seeing the sites and places I had written about in my book,” she said. “I was delighted to discover through our various guides that everything I had written was true. Highlights were visiting Axum where the Ark of the Covenant allegedly resides, Lake Tana (which is the source of the Blue Nile), and Lalibela, home to the awe-inspiring rock-hewn churches. It truly was the trip of a lifetime.”
In the COVID-19 quarantines that followed, Lee revised Roots of Rastafari and republished it through Amazon in December 2020.
For Lee, her years at Chatham Hall were a foundation on which both her writing and her curiosity developed.
“At Chatham, I learned how to learn. Free from the distractions of a coed high school, I embraced a love for history and languages, and developed the literary skills that have served me throughout my life as a writer and editor for numerous publications,” she said.
“My advice is to travel while you're young, before the obligations of family and career make it more challenging. Let the world be your teacher, and have the courage to take the path less followed. I have to say that serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer after college is an excellent way to discover the world and become a global citizen, and you'll pick up a few languages along the way. Also, a life oriented to service is its own liberation and unlocks so many doors. I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ukraine from 2007-2008, which was another life-changing experience. I find it ironic that I cannot travel to either Ethiopia or Ukraine today. So my final piece of advice is: When opportunity knocks, answer the door!”