A love letter to Mount Holyokeelizabeth mcmanus ’14
It began with a trip visiting my aunties in some place called Amherst, Massachusetts, and my father speaking sternly to me over the Formica kitchen counter.
“While we’re up North visiting them,” he said, “I want you to look at Mount Holyoke College.”
“Mount Holyoke? What is that?”
“It’s a women’s college,” my father replied. I think he even braced himself for my reply.
“A women’s college?” I spat. “Over my dead body!”
Famous last words.
A week later I stood ankle-deep in Massachusetts rain looking out at a campus that I had arrived at, determined to dislike. And yet, something about that iron-wrought gate, something about the clock tower lit even in the downpour, something about it began to change my mind. I’m not sure what sealed the deal for me: if it was the cultural, racial and religious diversity I saw in the student body, or the kindness with which people helped my father and me navigate what then felt like the impossibility of ordering food in Blanchard, or the lecture I attended entitled “Harry Potter and the Power of Critical Social Thought.”
All I knew was that when I called my mother that night, I had to convince her that no, I really wasn’t kidding when I said Mount Holyoke was now my first choice school.
Every one of us who chose this school has our own story of why we chose this quirky, Hogwartsian oasis nestled in the Pioneer Valley. We came, some of us from just down the road and others, like myself, from thousands of miles away. We all came with suitcases full of wonder and trepidation. We brought with us the multitude of stories that were our childhoods. We came by way of planes and cars and trains, four years ago, to grow into our adulthood.
We were promised a place that would challenge us as much as it would comfort. For comfort, we were given M&Cs — milk and cookies — at 9:30 p.m. as small comforts for the insurmountable work each night promised. For challenge our peers and our professors pushed us to rethink and unpack and deconstruct our assumptions about gender, race, religion, sexuality, ethnicity, politics and science. And as much as our professors have given us, I think I have learned more from dinners and student-led campaigns than I ever could have in the classroom.
I have often thought the greatest thing about Mount Holyoke — however much it may bite us in the butt during finals — is how seriously we take ourselves. The stories we unpacked as we tucked our clothes into our bureaus for the first time, the thoughts we wrote out with those first papers became the verses and lines of the people we were becoming. Those dinners that changed my life were the dinners when we all sat down, alight by something that had been brought up in class or clamoring for news headlines.
We took each other, and the world around us, with a gravity that said we are, we matter, and you do too.
Mount Holyoke has given us permission to be fiercely, unapologetically passionate. We have been taught, over and over again, that our voices matter simply because they are our voices. Whether it was by slathering red paint on our faces for a scream-your-trachea-out Convocation or by learning to radically listen to each other in the classroom, life at MHC demands you live with a full-bodied love of living. This passion is not the passive admiring of silent appreciation.
This passion has broken us open, it has driven us through these four years of menial jobs and incredible internships and more papers than I ever thought possible to write in a lifetime.
Passion, though, is not always perfect.
But when we honor our authentic selves, passion is always real.
As beautiful as these four years have been, they too, have not been perfect. Some of us have come to know loss for the first time, others of us have come to know loss again as an old, unwanted friend. We have endured painful ends to relationships, we have grappled with maintaining a sense of mental and physical well-being, we have learned that seemingly endless lesson that we can be very, very wrong. Living with such passion means we have the ability to feel all things — the good and the bad — deep in our bones.
But, hopefully, we have also learned that we are capable of continuing to live fiercely, regardless.
You see, this passion that swims in Mount Holyoke water is infectious. But as much as this passion, this valuing of who we are and what we have to say has cocooned us, we know this Hogwartsian place is not all that lies beyond those iron-wrought gates.
Mount Holyoke has prepared us for a world unprepared for us.
Mount Holyoke is not a community that invites the meek to stay meek. Mount Holyoke is not a community that invites those of us afraid to speak out in the classroom to stay silent. Mount Holyoke is not a community that gives a pass on prejudice without pushing back. Mount Holyoke is not a community that says you cannot have love and reason. Mount Holyoke is not a community that placidly accepts the status quo as gospel.
Mount Holyoke has given us permission to be riotous in the face of injustice.
Mount Holyoke has taught us to sing boldly when we are taught to be silent.
Mount Holyoke has taught us that saying we cannot is really just a dare for us to prove you wrong.
And the world out there is not ready for the hell we can raise.
All of us are going to challenge the world beyond those iron gates with the same richly diverse fabric with which our stories were woven. Some of us will continue to shout loudly while others may seem to be working quietly, under the radar. But if we can all remember the passion Mount Holyoke has taught us we will, all of us, disrupt the status quo.
We will combat the idea that a woman or non-binary gender-identifying person is secondary to a cisgendered man. We will challenge assumptions about womyn in the sciences, in ministry, in theatre, in social work, in education, in politics, in nonprofits, in international law, in journalism, in business and in the home.
We will not apologize for being assertive. Nor will we apologize when we are vulnerable, when we allow that passionate core to move us to tears. We will not apologize for containing multitudes. We will continue to be broken open, by challenges we face and the comfort we receive.
We will be surprised by what this unprepared world can teach us, too, if we retain that Mount Holyoke spirit of being open to daunting change.
I may have spluttered and spat at my father’s suggestion to attend a womyn’s college all those years ago. But I can say now it was one of the greatest decisions I could have ever made. Because as unprepared as that outside world may be, we have been readied to face every day authentically, bravely, vulnerably and passionately.
Pictured above: elizabeth mcmanus ’14
We are readying to leave now, by planes and cars and trains, having entered into our adulthood, prepared to face a world unprepared. Remember the sisterhood we have found here. Remember the value of using your voice and remember the value in listening to voices that challenge you.