On the banks of the Connecticut River

About this time 13 years ago, my mailbox was flooded with wave after wave of college brochures. From near and far, everyone was sending beautiful campus scenes and course options my way. 

Among the massive piles of mail was a three page spread from a liberal arts college in Western Mass. It showed women rowing – a team of strong individuals out on the water with the mist rising around them. I kept it while I recycled most of the rest.

Many college visits and applications later, I visited that place. I met those nerds, sat in their classrooms, debated whether Hillary Clinton would run for president and if Harry would defeat Voldemort. And I chose that school for my college education.

This weekend, I went back to Mount Holyoke with one of the best treasures of my time there – my friend Kate (she of Mount Washington hiking fame, loyal readers) – to celebrate the thing that brought us together: 40 years of rowing on the Connecticut River.


Kate coxed our 8 (the O’Malley) and we rowed up and down the river. A flood of memories washed over me. How carrying the boat seemed easier now but stretching my legs right seemed harder. How to lock the oar for the catch and keep good swing in your slide. The commands I know from muscle memory – just like I remembered that one place where your thumb rubs on your outer hand and will DEFINITELY turn into a blister. And how amazing it feels when the boat glides across the choppy water of a New England river. 

Fun fact: our coach thought we were the same person for 3 seasons. Wearing matching clothes by accident still doesn’t help.

At night, we celebrated the christening of a new boat – blessed with champagne and river water – in honor of fellow alum and Olympian Mary Mazzio. At the dinner that followed, she told us about how getting through excuses and focusing on herself rather than her competitors made the difference in her success. And she reminded us that pull ups are “money in the bank” and was appalled at how few of us could do them. Sorry Mary!

I feel like I was blessed with river water myself this weekend. It was a beautiful reminder of the best decision I ever made – and all I gained from that charming, powerhouse of a college. And to think… it all started with this poster.

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Climb every mountain

IT’S MOUNTAIN DAY! (and I totally called it!)

The best of all holidays – that one random, crisp fall day where obligations are canceled, tests are delayed, picnics are packed, and ice cream is consumed at the top of Mount Holyoke.  And to make it extra special this year, the government is joining in the shutdown as well!  How friendly of them.

I will be enjoying this day by sending love to all my MoHos, eating ice cream in Cambridge at 6:30 (text me if you want to join!), and trying to get outside for some fresh air later.  How will YOU spend this Mountain Day?

For more on why I love Mountain Day – I even gave my commencement address about it! – click here.  And add your own memories in the comments!

Happy Mountain Day!

Today is the cheeriest of fall days, the most unexpected gift from the MHC gods (aka Lynn Pasquerella and the weather forecasters) – it’s Mountain Day!

Facebook alerts substituted for pealing chapel bells this morning to let me and my fellow Mount Holyoke College ladies know that this informal holiday is upon us – and it’s about time.  This holiday usually takes place in late September or early October, and we were all growing a bit desperate to hear that it was here.  In celebration, all classes at MHC will be canceled so people can hike our mini mountain, enjoy ice cream at the top, and generally relax in the splendor of fall in the Pioneer Valley.

The grown up version, however, goes a little like this:

“HAPPY MOUNTAIN DAAAAY! Do you want to go get ice cream and lunch later?”
“No, sorry… I’m too busy changing the world.”

Whomp whomp.  I’m bringing her ice cream later anyway.

For more on Mountain Day and why it means so much to me that I made it the topic of my commencement address, check out my previous blog posts here and here.

Happy Mountain Day, MoHos everywhere!  May your hike be sunny and awesome.

If you give a MoHo a cookie

I was reading through a collection of writing from my awesome alma mater, Mount Holyoke College, and I came across this gem by Lynn Morgan.

One of my beefs with graduation speeches and other celebratory speeches in general is that they tend to be way too specific.  At the end of the day, do I really care what that one person in your class said?  Will it make a difference what you ate that made you realize that MHC was the place for you?  No.  Sorry, but no.  I want to know about how it felt to be a student – not you, not this specific student – at a moment when you heard that Hilary wasn’t going to be the Democratic nominee.  How your classmates – not just your friends – rallied around a cause as a symbol of a movement, not just an insider’s game.  When I submitted my speech for graduation, my goal was to hit this general sentiment – a tone that touches you, but brings as many people into the circle as possible.  That includes rather than limits the range of people who say “I know exactly what you’re talking about.”  Graduation gifts are for inside jokes.  Graduation and baccalaureate speeches – not so much.

That’s exactly why this speech blew me away with its universality.  I graduated almost five years ago, and it still made me pause and say “Hey, that’s me.  That’s us.”  What do you think, fellow MoHos and feminist friends everywhere?  Do you see a bit of you – or us – in this?

You can read the whole speech here – my favorite bit is below.

“If we give a MoHo a cookie, she’s going to ask for a glass of milk.” As we head toward the refrigerator, she’ll ask us whether we realize that humans are the only animals that routinely drink the milk of another species. She’ll wonder aloud whether the famous Mount Holyoke tradition of “milk and cookies” was predicated on the ethnocentric assumption that everyone should have the biological capacity to digest milk. She’ll point out that most of the world’s population stops producing lactase, the milk-digesting enzyme, after weaning, and she’ll explain that these days “M & Cs” might just as easily refer to carrots and hummus or chips and salsa. She’ll note that some people prefer to abstain from eating animal products in the interests of environmental sustainability. She’ll ask whether we’ve noticed that this year’s graduating class is made up of MoHos from 44 different countries and that many of them didn’t grow up drinking milk or eating cookies! Then she’ll ask, politely, whether we have any nondairy beverage options available.

“When we give her a tall glass of ice-cold soy milk, she’ll want to look in a mirror to make sure she doesn’t have a soy-milk moustache. When she looks into the mirror, she might notice that her hair needs a trim. So she’ll probably ask for a pair of scissors.” When she’s finished giving herself a trim, we might notice that she’s shaved only the right side of her head. She’ll explain that the asymmetrical hairstyle was inspired by Judith Butler’s theory of gender performativity. Gender is not a stable biological category, she’ll explain, contrary to what she believed before she took Gender Studies 101. She will ask what we think about gender dimorphism, and she’ll suggest that gender might be the effect of treating it as a stable category. This is heavy stuff, and three hours later we’re still deep in conversation about the intersecting oppressions of race, class, gender, religion, and sexual orientation. She reminds us that this historic class started college the year that Obama was elected, and graduates in the very month that the President of the United States announced his support for marriage equality. She’ll conclude, politely but pointedly, that her haircut is a statement calculated to destabilize the gender binary.

“When the conversation is over, she’ll probably want to take a rest.” She’ll wander into Abbey Chapel. As the darkness closes around her, she’ll realize that she is surrounded by other MoHos – some excited and fidgeting, others sitting in quiet contemplation. Thinking back over what she has learned, she realizes that they have cultivated similar traits in one another: boundless curiosity, a passion for justice, respect for diverse ways of knowing, and a penchant for raising their voices – in affirmation, in protest, and in song. She loves knowing so much about biological variation and gender theory, of course, but more than anything else she appreciates her deep thirst for knowledge.

And, knowing a metaphor when she sees one, she realizes that she is thirsty, so she’ll ask for a glass of milk. And chances are if she asks for a glass of milk, she’s going to want a cookie to go with it.”

… I could really go for a cookie right about now.