MHC: the antidote to stagnant.Clementine Amidon FP’16
I was 25 when I came to Mount Holyoke College as a Frances Perkins scholar. My son, Dominic, was two. I was filled with self-doubt and insecurity. I didn’t know what, exactly, I was doing at Mount Holyoke. All I knew was that I wanted to earn a bachelor’s degree. I believed it would somehow transform a life that was, at the time, fairly stagnant.
A question of belonging
Mount Holyoke students are formidable. By age 19 or 20, many have accomplished feats I wouldn’t dream of achieving in a lifetime. They double-major in terrifying fields ending with “-ology” that require grueling lab hours. They code. They helm nonprofits. They speak three languages and intern in the far reaches of the globe. Forget five-year plans—Mount Holyoke students have 15-year plans.
I constantly questioned myself, feeling like an imposter as I strolled through the red brick, Hogwarts-esque buildings. In class, I was petrified of saying the wrong thing. I framed my comments with a “sorry” or “... but that’s probably stupid!” I developed a strange complex about being older than other students. I didn’t mention my son, for fear of setting myself apart.
Kindness inspires confidence
It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment that it happened, but somewhere along the way, I found my voice. A journalism professor informed me that I have a talent for writing. She even gave me an A+ on an assignment (my first since middle school). I saw that my professors are more than grade-wielding authority figures. They care deeply about their students, sharing their time and wisdom about life beyond theses and comma placement.
As my confidence rose, I started speaking up in class. Once my defenses came down, I realized that Mount Holyoke is filled with some of the kindest and most respectful people imaginable.
My global Mount Holyoke experience has also taught me that the world is so much bigger than I am. A close friend from my creative writing course lives in a Middle Eastern country, where a refugee crisis is unfolding practically in her backyard. She wants to create functional, humane architecture for refugees and plans to spend her senior thesis studying the topic.
One of the final courses of my Mount Holyoke career was Professor Kate Singer’s seminar about Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley, the boundary-pushing mother/daughter duo who wrote and thought in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. I can’t think of a course more representative of the Mount Holyoke experience. Professor Singer inspired us by showing that people have been thinking beyond the constraints of their predetermined roles in society for centuries.
Professor Singer is patient and kind. But if we prefaced our class discussion comments with any variation of “sorry,” she’d set us straight in no uncertain terms. I felt as if I had come full circle. The need to apologize for my ideas was gone, replaced by the urge to join the conversation.
Rewriting the future
Mary Wollstonecraft wrote about traveling through Europe as a single mother in 1796’s Letters Written in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. The book is more than a travelogue. It’s an act of re-creation: Wollstonecraft, thinking light-years ahead of her era, defies stereotypes and refuses to be slotted into society’s role of the passive, possessed wife. In penning Letters, she redefines what a woman “should” be.
As I read Wollstonecraft in 2016 in the weeks preceding Commencement, I couldn’t help feeling that anything is possible for me: as a person, a writer, and a mother. This readiness and willingness to engage with life’s possibilities? It’s the gift of a Mount Holyoke education.
When I started at Mount Holyoke, I viewed it as a first step toward financial security. How I underestimated the gifts the College would give me! I leave with self-confidence and self-knowledge. I discovered my talent and passion for writing, and have no fear about pursuing a writing career after Commencement.
I still don’t have a 15-year plan, but I have relationships that will last a lifetime. I have friends and mentors, both students and faculty, who I know will be there for me in years to come. And I have myself.