A first-year’s perspective on Mount Holyoke traditions


“You’re going where?” I remember answering this question in my small, rural town in Washington state at least two dozen times before I arrived to campus.

Each time, I smiled with pride. “Mount Holyoke College! It’s a historically women’s college in Massachusetts.”

“But I don’t understand,” my mother’s colleagues, my neighbors and my coworkers would say, “you got into the University of Washington, which is much closer to home. Why would you want to leave your mother and your whole family just to go to school?”

Although I spent most of my senior year anticipating my arrival, I would be lying if I said that this question did not give me pangs of worry. I grew up in a tight-knit and supportive family, and while my mother always emphasized the importance of education, I did wonder if moving 3000 miles from my closest support system would be a mistake. I stowed these thoughts in the same place I stowed the condescending questions behind, an enthused, exhilarated and gleaming persona that always touted her pure love for Mount Holyoke. And while my love and pride for Mount Holyoke is candid, I did not realize its full authenticity until I moved in and became integrated within our student body.

I called my mom crying from the North Rockies common room after being alone for only three hours. I asked myself why I thought I could make the decision to move across the country completely alone. My mother raised me to be the strong, cunning feminist that Mount Holyoke invests in, and I wondered how I could make such a big change without my mother by my side. 

Although it took a little bit of encouragement, I eventually made my way down to the amphitheater for the beloved tradition of “Dirty Dancing” under the stars. A group of upperclass and current students sat directly behind me, cheering and screaming along with us as Baby’s father announced that she would be attending Mount Holyoke in the fall, and booing and shouting whenever Robbie Gould did anything remotely sexist (which was basically all of his screen time). The current students sitting behind me made me feel welcome, and every time they yelled in jubilance for Baby, I knew they were doing the same thing for me and my other 575 classmates. After just a single evening, I knew that as homesick as I was, I hadn’t made a mistake.

Orientation activities continued during the following days, and while I still missed my family, I started to feel an increasing membership at Mount Holyoke, especially after convocation. Walking back into the amphitheater after “Dirty Dancing” in my favorite blue lion shirt, I felt a bit overwhelmed, especially by the green griffins. In high school, I remember avoiding pep rallies like the teenage, hormone-infested plague that they were (in fact, I developed a keen skill for skipping nearly every single one) and worried that convocation would only be a pathetic continuation of that. But after we were seated and the West African Five College Drum Circle began to play, I found myself chanting and dancing with my entire class and college. Convocation was a wild pep rally that did not celebrate the dangerously hyper-masculine and misogynistic jock culture that pollutes many American high schools, but rather, our victories, diversity and ruthlessness. It was here with President Stephens’ welcome that I realized that this school not only supported people like myself and the current students who sat behind me on Baby’s first night, but was made for people just like us.

My classes, much like Convocation and “Dirty Dancing” under the stars, have fallen nothing short of breathtaking and spectacular. Despite my genuine joy for learning and academics, in high school, it was a constant challenge to stay motivated and not be frustrated when my classmates continued to text or goof off in class as they completely disregarded the classroom material. 

At Mount Holyoke, my classes seem to lack anything but engaged students. My classmates’ comments about the world as it relates to their personal experience and the curriculum always leave me in pure awe; there’s always some common connection. Whether it’s with an international charity they volunteered with or a local government they interned for, their comments always add more fuel to the fire of productive, worldly conversation. 

Furthermore, while I sometimes feel overwhelmed by my workload, it has never been more rewarding. Already, I’ve started creating study groups and visiting professors during their office hours. There has been nothing more satisfying than the collective “aha!” moment with my study buddies or listening to my professors relate my open ended question back to their research. Only four weeks into the semester, I know this experience will enable me to challenge limits -—  --whether they be social, legal, political or societal — that I would not have been able to do without the classmates and support networks I have here.

Although I love my classes, there was nothing quite like waking up completely surprised to learn that your classes have been canceled, and that I could instead climb a beautiful mountain (while embracing my Pacific Northwestern roots). As a first year student, experiencing Mountain Day was a lot like experiencing Christmas as a little kid: there seems to be this unspoken sense that everyone is joyously removed from their small stressful lives, and, for a short moment, they can celebrate the community they love and cherish most by taking a break and climbing the mountain that so many climbed so we could be here today. 

And on the morning of Mountain Day, like Baby’s first night and Convocation, I knew this community would continue to love and celebrate me with pride just like it had during the weeks leading up to move-in day. I know that despite how much I love and miss my family, this community continues to make up for such a loss in surprising and comforting ways that remind me that it was not a mistake to enroll here.