May 6, 2019

My Mount “Holy Oak” ride

Stella Elwood ’19

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I spent most of my first car ride to Mount Holyoke kicking the back of my stepdad’s seat. No, really, I was that terrible.

By the end of my junior year of high school, desperate to find the perfect fit, I had become a pro at touring colleges. Nearly every weekend, our itineraries filled with different schools to visit, my family hopped in the car and drove all around New England. After I showed interest in gender-minority institutions and absolutely fell in love with Bryn Mawr, Wellesley and Smith colleges, my parents suggested that we go check out Mount Holyoke.

“No,” I insisted, picturing the words “Holy Oak” in my head. “I won’t go to a religiously affiliated school.”

Pathways through campus, under a canopy of pin oaks
Pathways through campus, under a canopy of pin oaks

My parents burst out laughing and told me to get my butt in the car. Since they didn’t offer me an explanation during the entire 30-minute trip from Smith College, where we had just completed a campus tour, I had somehow convinced myself that my fairly secular parents were trying to send me off to some Catholic seminary for girls. Hence the seat kicking. However, once we arrived, a student tour guide assured me that “Mount Holyoke” refers to a literal mountain, not a biblical tree. I then discovered that this place was where I belonged.

What initially drew me to Mount Holyoke was the Hogwarts architecture, the campuswide practice of intersectional feminism, the class colors and creatures, and, of course, the library reading room. But over the course of four years, I have found so many additional aspects of the College that I am thankful for.

Stella Elwood (third from right) and members of her 2019 Senior Symposium panelStella Elwood (third from right) and members of her 2019 Senior Symposium panel

First and foremost, the amazing faculty members have empowered me beyond any level I ever thought possible. In high school, for whatever reason, my enthusiasm for learning was repeatedly discouraged by STEM teachers as well as the administration. Feeling ignored and silenced, I gave up on the idea of pursuing a science major in college. However, as soon as I arrived at MHC, I was surrounded by professors who encouraged me to follow my passions. I am incredibly grateful that they inspired me to major in biology, write my senior thesis on 3D-printed veterinary devices, and eventually apply (and get accepted!) to my dream vet school.

Stella Elwood (right) and Associate Professor of Chemistry Donald Cotter
Stella Elwood (right) and Associate Professor of Chemistry Donald Cotter

The College also offered me unique opportunities to become involved on campus outside my studies. I have served as the president of the Animal Welfare Association, the VP of the Pre-Health Association’s veterinary division, and the treasurer for our chapter of Amnesty International. Under these titles, I have organized trips to various farm sanctuaries and in pursuit of pet CPR certification. I have also hosted instructional vegan cooking nights, managed weekend excursions to national conferences, presented prolific speakers here on campus, directed goods drives for housing insecure women, and much more. These experiences have been integral to who I have become as a person, and I am so happy that Mount Holyoke has provided me with an environment where I could live compassionately.

Jorge the goose, watchful guardian of lower lake
Jorge the goose, watchful guardian of lower lake

And of course, I have met forever friends here at MHC. I have wonderful memories of taking walks around upper lake and baking Yule logs in the Creighton Hall “golden pear,” its kitchen space. And of going to trivia night at The Quarters in Hadley and making late night trips to Dobra Tea in Northampton. These emotional souvenirs are one of the most valuable components of my time at Mount Holyoke.

Stella Elwood, bound for Tufts School of Veterinary Medicine
Stella Elwood, bound for Tufts School of Veterinary Medicine

As I prepare to walk across the graduation stage, I sit in bittersweet contemplation of all the gifts that MHC has given to me. Although I am sad to leave, I will not be kicking the driver’s seat on the way out. This is not just because I have matured as a person at Mount Holyoke (and am now respectful enough to not be that terrible). But also because my experiences here have empowered me to sit in that very seat — see what I did there? — and chart my own course toward an even brighter tomorrow.

Is Mount Holyoke right for you? Learn More 

Photo at top is courtesy of Anja Schütz.

Stella Elwood ’19 is a biology major and gender studies minor from Stoughton, Massachusetts. She is heading to the Tufts School of Veterinary Medicine, where she plans to prepare for a career in shelter medicine. On campus, Elwood acts as the co-chair of the Animal Welfare Association, the veterinary vice president of the Pre-Health Association, and the treasurer of Amnesty International: Mount Holyoke College. She is passionate about the intersections of human and animal rights. In her free time, Elwood likes to play video games, cook delicious vegan food and hang out with her beautiful pit bull son, Rollo.
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