My Mount Holyoke: A personal reflection

BY MADELINE FITZGERALD ’21

I remember the first time I heard the words “Mount Holyoke College.” I was nine. Or maybe eight. I was in the living room — I remember this because that was against my mother’s usual rules.

But I was there. Small, with white blonde curls that darkened to brown with age. Fiery and talkative, speaking first and thinking later — much as I do now. Of course, I was also much different. I was an exceptionally carefree girl who grew up to be an overly anxious woman.

My mom told me that we were going to visit another college. My sister, then in her senior year of high school, had already toured several small, liberal arts schools with me tagging along. Mom elaborated that this school was different. It was “all girls.” My interest sank. I protested, “Who would want to go there? There are no hot guys to party with.”

I don’t remember what happened that changed my mind. Maybe it was the library that everyone falls in love with. Maybe it was the amphitheater that charmed my young and Ancient Greece-obsessed self. Maybe I knew, even then, that I was different or that I would grow up to be different, and that the people who wouldn’t hate me for that were here. Or maybe it was just the stable full of horses and the free cookies every night.

I fell in love with Mount Holyoke that day. My sister fell in love soon after and committed that spring. We came back to Mount Holyoke for preview weekend. My poor sister had to hear me raise my hand for every trivia question the tour guides asked (Mount Holyoke’s seal has palm trees because it is an oasis of learning; Mary Lyon is potentially buried at Mount Holyoke, but there’s a chance that she’s actually at Wheaton College).

Last week, I was visiting Ham Hall when I noticed that the old dining hall was unlocked. I entered the room, eerily preserved with chairs still turned over on tables, as if students were just about to rush down to breakfast the next morning. I had a sudden flash of memory. My sister’s first-year dorm was a quad on the fourth floor of Ham. I ate in that dining hall once, as a little girl. I slept in Ham. It was a fall weekend and I laid my sleeping bag on my sister’s floor. We watched “High School Musical 3” at the Tower Cinema and ran back to her dorm in the rain. The next morning I ate crepes for brunch in AbbeyBuck.

I’m a born skeptic, unable to look at the world without questioning. That’s why I’m a journalist. But in my more spiritual moments I think that everything I have been and everything that I will be is happening all at once. My sister graduated the year I started middle school. Visiting Mount Holyoke was a staple of my childhood, lost to adolescence. Now, when I walk here as an adult, I walk as two people.

I am a 10-year-old dropping my sister off at the Delles, to a room that seemed fit for a princess. I am 19, standing on a table at a Delles party, screaming the lyrics to “Dancing Queen” as loud as I can. I am nine, walking in front of the amphitheater on move-in day, seeing the rowing team recruiting new members. I am 12, sitting in those rows of seats, waiting for my sister to cross the stage. I am 18, kissing a pretty girl on that same grass. I’m sitting in on a class and hearing a student call herself a lesbian, wondering what that word could possibly mean. I’m walking up the steps to the New York room with my first-year roommate and telling her that I’m gay. I’m in the stacks, playing hide-and-go-seek with my brothers. I’m wandering the library procrastinating on my readings.

I am a girl. I am a woman. I am free-spirited. I have freedom. And I know that, for better or for worse, I belong here. I’ve always been here.

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