This weekend was the tenth anniversary of my graduation from Mount Holyoke College, an event marked by the celebration of our class reunion on campus. During the three days we relived some highlights and lowlights of our undergraduate experience. We wondered aloud at how much we had changed while we marveled at how much we are the same. We offered unofficial prayers of gratitude for having been accepted into this sisterhood of truly exceptional women.
Life at Mount Holyoke was filled with ritual that absorbed us as individuals and transformed us into something larger than ourselves. Every evening we gathered for M&C’s (Milk & Cookies), the nightly snack prepared by the kitchen staff. As first-years we were “disoriented” by the seniors, “elfed” by sophomores, and welcomed by our “big sisters” in the junior class. On Mountain Day the bells chimed to announce that classes were cancelled for the day, and we laced up our hiking boots– or rolled over for some needed sleep. We tried to break into the haunted room in Wilder, a dorm room inhabited by the ghost of former student. We gracefully placed our cloth napkins in our laps before indulging in the monthly “Gracious Dinner”, where the tables were set with candles and real silverware and dorm chefs served “real food” like Thanksgiving turkey dinner or chocolate truffle Valentine’s Day cake. We laughed our way through most of it, sometimes feeling silly for participating in these old-fashioned routines.
Then we gathered for the Laurel Parade on the morning before our graduation. Something happened to me on that day, which I experienced again as an alumna this weekend. Alumnae are organized by class from the oldest loyalty classes to the class celebrating their two-year reunion. This year’s loyalty alumnae graduated in 1933 and were driven in antique cars and the rest of followed behind as we processed through campus to line the final stretch of road that leads to the grave of our founder Mary Lyon. Dressed all in white, alumnae clap and cheer for the final class in the procession, the current graduates who bear a laurel vine on their shoulders.
In this community, women are valued and supported and strengthened through their connections with each other. We mentor each other, counsel each other, provide career and educational support, and even offer temporary housing for each other. It is not uncommon for MHC women to honk their car horns wildly after spotting the college bumper sticker on another car. We welcome each other wherever we find ourselves in the world, whether it’s a rural field in middle America or a crowded coffee shop in Bombay, India.
This weekend I marched and cheered and was welcomed home, just as I welcomed the new class of graduates. And once again I was transformed.