5:03 PM EDT, July 20, 2013
FAIRFIELD — Molly Graffam was doing a research project last summer at Fairfield University with one of her chemistry professors when she started doodling on the blackboard.
The professor, Amanda Harper-Leatherman, knew Graffam was a bright biochemistry major. She knew she was a member of the Fairfield women's rowing team. But she didn't know Graffam was artistic as well.
She suggested Graffam paint a mural in the hallway of the Bannow Science Center. There already was one there depicting the chemical makeup of a cup of coffee. Would Graffam be interested in brightening up the halls?
She was. But between her senior year — Graffam was honored as one of the top biochemistry students at Fairfield upon graduation — and rowing — her varsity eight boat won the MAAC championship — she was kind of busy.
The mural, which will feature the head of a stag (Fairfield's mascot), with its antlers representing the five branches of chemistry, had to wait until last week. Graffam, from Bristol, is working two jobs this summer. Her current position as first aid director at a two-week girls science camp at Fairfield allowed her to work on it while remaining on call.
"I've done a mural in the past, at Camp Chase in Burlington [where she also works]," Graffam said. "This mural is a way to give back to Fairfield for everything I've received from this school and to brighten up the hallway and to bring the arts and sciences together. I try to embody both of them with painting and drawing and I was a biochemistry major as well."
Graffam, 22, is a true renaissance woman. She ran track and cross-country at Bristol Eastern, but she discovered she missed sports when she went to college. A friend suggested she try out for the crew team.
Since she is 5 feet 2, everybody just assumed she would be a coxswain. But Graffam wanted to row. Coach David Patterson said that was fine, that the fastest people would make the boat.
"She worked really hard," Patterson said. "And she was good. She walked in the door at the end of the fall and I said, 'Do you want to row or cox?' She said, 'I want to row.' I said, 'OK, done deal.' "
By the end of her freshman year, two people were trying to make it into Fairfield's novice four boat for the Dad Vails, a prestigious regatta in Philadelphia. Graffam was one of them. There was a race between the two. Graffam won.
There were still reservations because of her size. But she won the race. She was in the boat.
"They won the first ever gold medal in Fairfield rowing history [at Dad Vails] in the freshman four with Molly in it," Patterson said. "We thought, 'We've just won our first gold medal in the freshman four with somebody who's smaller than any one of our coxswains.' That was a great start."
She did both, serving as coxswain and rower, for four years. And she bookended her career with a win as one of the rowers in Fairfield's varsity eight boat at the MAAC championships this spring.
"What was really important for the development of the team was that freshmen four winning four years ago — it suddenly led to a team self-belief they could actually do this," Patterson said. "Since then, in the freshman four, we've won gold, bronze, silver, gold, four years in a row at Dad Vails. Molly and the four, they were the catalyst."
Athlete. Scientist. Artist. There are some kids who make the most of their college experience. Graffam, who plans to work before going to graduate school, obviously is one of them.
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