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Peggy Walbridge
When she first came to Cornell, she helped shape the future of the women's fencing program. Now Peggy Walbridge works to shape the future of the University in the school's Office of Admissions.

Tell Cornell's Peggy Walbridge that she is Cornell's greatest woman fencer and she's quick to disagree. "No I'm not. Grace Acel was. She was phenomenal." Indeed, Acel's accomplishments are impressive, with two national fencing championships in 1942-43. Cornell had an even earlier repeat women's national fencing champion, Elizabeth Ross, in 1930-31. Karen Denton also reigned as national champion in 1968.

"In the 1960s Cornell had a very good team," explains Walbridge. "[Michel] Sebastiani (the recently-retired Princeton coach, then Cornell's coach) was responsible for making Cornell's teams so strong."

Walbridge benefited from the growing strength of Cornell's program, for she did not fence competitively in high school. "I went to an all-girls school," she remembers, "and played on any and every team I could get on." But there was no fencing team, and Walbridge chose Cornell "because it would be the biggest challenge for me personally, and it had a very strong liberal arts college." Fencing wasm not a factor.

Her initiation to Cornell fencing was inauspicious. "I was horrible, laughable freshman year, won very few bouts," she says. But by sophomore year Walbridge, and her team, hit its stride. "Our team flattened just about everyone we fenced," she says. "We won every team match our sophomore to senior seasons, by scores of 15-1, 16-0. The least we won was by 12-4." The Cornell women's fencing team won the 1972-73 national championships, and barely lost the 1974 title.

Why was the team so good? "We didn't want to lose," says Walbridge. "and I had very good teammates, [fellow first Ivy All-American] Kathy Stevenson, Mary Sebring and Laura Budofsky. We trained very hard together, never missed practice and supported each other there and at competitions."

Walbridge played a key role in the team's success. She won the 1974 NIWFA national championship (the NCAA did not sponsor women's championships until 1990), and in 1972 became one of the first Ivy women's All-Americans, as well as one of Cornell's first fencing All-Americans (the first of three for her). In recognition of her contributions Walbridge was named to the Ivy League's Silver Anniversary fencing team in 1999.

After graduating with a degree in history in 1974, Walbridge trained in fencing until an injury in 1976, then pursued graduate study, getting an M.Phil. in history from the University of Exeter. Since 1984 she has been Assistant Dean for Admissions at Cornell. Ten years ago, her duties expanded to including advising.

An important area of responsibility for Walbridge is reviewing transfer applications and transcripts from all over the world and assuring a smooth transition to Cornell. Type Walbridge's name into an internet search engine and one will get a sense of the reach of her work. "Any acceptees get that letter from Peggy Walbridge yet?" asks someone on an international college admissions chat room. One reader has, and reports, "the letter is actually signed by Peggy Walbridge. How nice :)."

Seeing changes in students' application patterns is "an eye-opener about the country and world," says Walbridge. For example, "Twenty years ago we would get applications from Sri Lanka. Now, with the unrest, we get hardly any." Her work spans two distinct but related worlds: "It's about having one foot in high school and one in college," says Walbridge.

Thirty-six years ago Peggy Walbridge came to Cornell and helped shape its future through women's fencing. She's doing the same thing now, but from the Office of Admissions.

Ed. Note Michel Sebastiani coached at Cornell University in the 1960s. In 1982, he returned to the Ivy League when he was hired at Princeton University, where he produced three NCAA national champions and two Olympians: Dan Nowosielski '90 (1992, Canada) and Soren Thompson '05 (2004, USA). Sebastiani retired after the 2006 season.

— Stephen Eschenbach

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