As I sit here at a Starbucks in Georgia, I am loath to apply the term “alumna” to myself. I like living in a state of denial. I like to fool myself that everything will resume, and I’ll be moving back in to Holy Cross in August. I’ll pack up all of my stuff into my family’s SUV and we’ll make the drive up the East Coast. They’ll drop me off at the end of August, and I’ll be there for Kimball Week; I’ll help at the Mass of the Holy Spirit, and I’ll take four classes and even write a thesis again. I’ll be at the first ballroom dance lesson of the year, and I’ll help train the new liturgical ministers. I’ll go out to O’Connor’s with Jake, Jordie, Chris, and Bill, and Carrie, Margaret, and I will go out to Sweet. Culpepper’s will only be a short walk from my spacious single dorm room in Healy. But there’s this voice in my head that keeps on reminding me that I won’t be back there as a student. It’s difficult to really let that fact sink in. As if to hurry the realization process along, I received an e-mail from Oxford yesterday stating that all of my documents have been received (i.e., my final transcript from Holy Cross and proof of my graduation), and I am now officially an Oxford student. My time at Holy Cross might be finished, but my experience certainly isn’t.
This was the first photo ever taken of me at Holy Cross. The short hair, the disheveled room, and the tears. Okay, those tears were just for the camera, but the tears that night were real. Like I’ve said before, I didn’t know what to expect from Holy Cross. I knew it was a fantastic school, and I heard nothing but excellent reviews of the Jesuit education. I remember walking on campus for the first time and just feeling that it was the right place, but nothing could have prepared me for the growth that I would experience over the next four years. But that was just a feeling – I still didn’t know what my Holy Cross experience would be like. I had snippets through Summer Gateways and Freshmen Orientation, but I remember still being hesitant in my first few weeks of freshman year. I won’t lie – the transition from high school to college was, at times, difficult for me. I couldn’t just go home for the weekends if I wanted to hang out with my high school friends. I was adjusting to college life at a school where I didn’t know anyone, and there were times that I wished I would’ve gone to school with my high school friends or my sister. That isn’t to say that people weren’t welcoming – quite the contrary is true, really – but I still just didn’t know why a Jesuit, undergraduate, liberal arts institution was for me. The one class in that first semester that really cemented my understanding of the Jesuit, undergraduate, liberal arts experience was my FYP class – Freedom and Nature with Professor Kee (he shows up a lot in my life at Holy Cross). I remember walking out of our class one day and just realizing that this was the place for me – the combination of philosophy, literature, and theology that Professor Kee was teaching in our class was exactly what I wanted from my college experience. I remember actually calling my parents after that class and just telling them, “Holy Cross really is the place for me.”
Now, looking back, I couldn’t imagine myself being at any other school for four years. At our Freshman convocation, Dean Freeman encouraged all of us to enjoy and savor college like a meal – to appreciate the finest and sweetest parts as well as the unexpected hiccups and bitterness that might occur. All of it, he reminded us, was part of the experience. In my four years, I guess that I tried to take his advice as best as I could. When I entered Holy Cross, I had a “clear” vision of what I wanted from my education – I wanted to be an English major and then go off to law school. But the point of any education – Holy Cross or otherwise – is not what you want from it, but what it gives you. I left Holy Cross as a passionate ballroom dancer, a Medieval Studies scholar, and an Oxford-bound future academic, and my freshman year self had no intention of becoming any of those. To describe my experience at Holy Cross as “formative” would be quite an understatement. Over the course of my four years, I met professors who said single lines in class or in office hours that forever changed my path. Professors Kee, Mulrooney, Oser, Matlak, Morse, and Ireland displayed to me a depth of passion for literature that has inspired my own road. Professor DiCenso (an HC alum and Cambridge-Gates scholar) served as one of my greatest influences to accept Oxford’s offer. Professor Perry served as my role model (and still does, to this day). Professor Murphy encouraged me to apply what I learned in his Biblical Studies classes and apply them to my own faith, which only deepened and matured as a result. I took classes that challenged my previously held world views and challenged me to think substantially. Who knew that Professor Mulrooney’s Tolkien seminar in my sophomore year would change the way that I encounter literature? Of course, that experience was only aided by his course on Contemporary Literary Theory, which has affected how I will analyze and write about literature. I met Jesuits who wouldn’t accept a simple “God loves me” as an answer. Fr. Brooks challenged every notion that I held about Christ in his Contemporary Christology course, and my Catholic faith has only grown as a result. Fr. Harman helped me explore the tougher questions that I was facing at the beginning of my second semester of senior year during the Spiritual Exercises. The homilies that I encountered at Mass were more dense than a philosophy lecture. But the professors, deans, and Jesuits were never distant – they were always there with their office doors propped open. I mean, at what other college could you get photos like these?
At what other college would the President and the Class Dean know nearly every detail of almost every student’s life? The community at Holy Cross is just such an extraordinary experience in of itself. The friends that I made along the way were always there to help me with these questions or classes, or were just there to have a laugh with me on the weekends. And let’s not even forget all of the other opportunities that I encountered along the way – my Study Abroad experience was extraordinary (even those late nights I spent writing those tutorial papers), and encouraged me to apply to Oxford for graduate school. Back in freshman year, that seemed like such a far-fetched dream, but now I’m gathering all of my materials for my UK Visa application. Ballroom dance was another opportunity – I never thought that I’d spend my senior year Thanksgiving break in England competing for a national ballroom title, and actually winning second place. My time at Holy Cross has been instrumental, formative, and, most importantly, enjoyable.
So, looking back, I know that Holy Cross was the place for me for the past four years. But one of the most beautiful things about Holy Cross is that we can’t stick around – every year, we have to say good-bye. We can’t stay at Holy Cross Law School or Holy Cross Business School. We’ve all had four years, and we can’t linger around Hogan anymore. It’s time to go. My time at Holy Cross was incredible, but I know that I can’t be within the idyllic gates forever – how un-Jesuit would that be? The mission of the Jesuit education is to spread the talents that our professors, deans, faculty, and friends have helped us whittle for the past four years. It’s up to us to discover how we can be men and women for others using these talents, and the first step is to go beyond those gorgeous gates.
Holy Cross will always be my academic home, no matter where this journey takes me.