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Four Years at the Mount

Reflection on the fall semester

January 2018

Finding balance

Kaitlyn Marks
MSMU Class of 2021

Bursting out into the crisp, cold air and bright sunlight after I finished my last final exam of my first semester of college, I felt a whirlwind of emotions; the most prevalent feeling was excitement, blossoming up in a flurry of joy, and second to that was the realization that I had done it. Half of my freshman year gone in an instant, earned through months of hard work and change. As I entered my dorm room, the place I had made into a second home, I looked in the mirror. The person I saw? Someone new; someone who had grown and stretched and changed; someone who had learned more and said yes to opportunities to become more spontaneous. I felt so happy, especially at the realization that even through the challenges, the tears, the homesickness, the fear, and the doubt, I had finished strong and accomplished big things.

Stepping onto the Mountís campus on move-in day this past August, Iíll admit I was terrified. I have always been reluctant to accept change, and fear always accompanies the word "new" for me. I tried to keep myself calm, acknowledging that this was going to be a great year, and reflecting on how quickly I tended to adapt to change once I was in the situation. However, once boxes were unpacked, things were in place, and the dust settled, my family headed home, and I felt more alone than I had ever thought possible.

While that night was difficult, and anxieties worried my mind, the next day brought sunshine and possibility, especially when I had to attend my Honors Freshman Symposium course. Still on uneasy, shaky ground, I began to find my footing surrounded by smart, kind individuals in that class. Moreover, I had the honor of learning, through the semester and day after day from a professor who challenged me, who embraced me for who I was, and who pushed me to become the best version of myself possible. As the semester became more intense, it simultaneously became more enjoyable, and somehow, I felt like I found my balance: I felt like I belonged.

I learned more than just chemistry, psychology, Italian, and how to write about literature in this first semester. Perhaps even more valuable were the lessons I gathered about myself, my place in the world, and my potential. I had the privilege of becoming a writer for this newspaper, which has allowed my confidence to grow and my writing to blossom into new realms. Through supportive professors who provided encouragement after assignments and papers came to fruition, I found myself believing in the unlimited possibility of the future. College provides stepping stones, a path to finding where your dreams lie, and then helps you reach them.

This semester, my goals for the next chapter of college, and the next chapter of my life, shifted. I aim to work hard, and to learn as much as possible. But the most important thing I learned is to say yes. When opportunities arise, no matter how scary they may seem, I want to say yes. In the past semester, I said yes to a leadership program. I applied to volunteer at a summer camp for kids and teenagers with Down Syndrome. I embraced my place here at this newspaper. I tried new things and went beyond the limits of my comfort zone.

I discovered that every challenge, victory, conversation, or event happens for a reason. There is a greater good and purpose over rare, quiet moments at school, and I yearn to fall into an opportunity that unlocks that purpose. Whether I end up a writer, or a therapist, a non-profit worker, I want to embrace all that life has to offer. I have never experienced such freedom or such balance as I developed this semester. With seemingly never-ending to-do lists; strict deadlines; mountains of assignments; attempts to stay healthy, physically and mentally, while also being involved; adjustments to an entire new life; and time spent doing things I enjoy with friends, life is busy.

Coming out of finals week, even that feels like an understatement. However, Iíve found that balance has come easier to me now that I have made it through a semester and come out of it with good grades, good friends, and a more rich, thorough understanding of who I am. Reflecting on my first semester now, I feel immense joy. While there were many challenges this semesterósocially, academically, emotionally, and even morallyóI feel grateful for each one. These challenges have shaped me into a stronger, more confident person. Although I am still shy, I am much more confident and outgoing than I was before. This semester showed me that itís okay to be myself. I do not have to hide, or be someone that I am not. I can be the girl who loves writing, sometimes prefers watching a movie to going out, and misses her family deeply; simultaneously, I am the girl who loves spontaneous trips, loves her school, and celebrates small victories and big accomplishments. Many of my favorite memories are with people who are unabashedly themselves all the time, and I aspire to be like that.

As 2017 comes to a rapid close, I hope I can embrace every lesson I learned this semester and make the rest of this first year as amazing. Iíve learned to be grateful, to give to others; I have felt passions nurtured and I have been encouraged to find and follow my dreams. I am constantly inspired by those around me, and I am grateful to have a family who is so supportive, involved and encouraging, especially in the dark moments when I worry that I am not enough, or that I cannot possibly be successful. Most of all, I am grateful to have found my balance at school; I didnít know, that first day, that I would be so in love with this college, with the people around me, and with the things I am learning. I canít wait for whatís to come.

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Path to independence

Morgan Rooney
MSMU Class of 2020

Now three semesters into my college career, I can say that my first sophomore semester brought about all sorts of new challenges and responsibilities that I had managed to pass by during my first year at this university. The most notable change that really made this semester different from the others was the tradition from dorm life to attending college as a commuter student. Of course, I am happy I spent a year living on the beautiful campus, meals included. It was an experience that left me with no worry but to simply enjoy the ambiance of a small rural university, and the company of friends and classmates of close proximity to me. For the rest of my life I will be able to tell people about my college experience in a dorm, and the close friendship I developed from living with my roommate, someone I had not known previously to move-in day.

Although dorm life was not a negative experience, I determined that it wasnít the life for me. After careful consideration towards the end of my freshman year, I decided to continue my education while living away from the university. For the first time in my life, I felt like I was actually living almost completely independently. After taking a year off work to settle in to college life, I even acquired a parttime job. Before I went to college, I was never completely dependent on others. I knew how to do most things on my own. Something I often heard when I first left for my first year of college was that I would need to learn to do my own laundry.

When I first heard this, I was actually kind of surprised and amused that some people, at the age of eighteen, had never done their own laundry and relied solely on their parents for something as simple as working a washing machine. Of course, I was reliant on my parents for food and shelter previously, but for most things, I was fairly independent. After this semester began, however, I began to realize all the things I had never done on my own before, or even had a second thought about. Things like changing the air-conditioning filter, replacing smoke alarm batteries, and cooking up homemade beef stew for the week for more people than myself were things I had to learn to do and remember to do along with my daily assignments and projects.

One of the drawbacks of living off-campus was that I no longer lived a short three-minute walk away from my earliest morning class; I now had a daily morning commute. Yes, it certainly does take a bit of time away from the morning, which I preferably could have spent drinking a hot cup of tea or having a more nutritional or well-prepared breakfast. However, I find my thirty-five-minute drive quite relaxing, even therapeutic to a certain extent. It brings me time to think and to contemplate the day ahead and all it might bring. Everyone finds peace and solitude through some sort of solo activity, whether it be hiking, meditating, or even an extra five minutes in the shower in the morning.

Driving is my way to take a meditative break from the rest of the world. On my way to school, I can think about pretty much anything. I can run the presentation I am about to conduct to one of my classes through my head; I can consider my life aspirations and how I tend to get there; I can even contemplate the meaning of life and the importance of each individual being I have ever encountered in my two decades of life. In this fast-paced world filled with newly-developing technology and constant motion, it is important to take a step back, slow down, and simply enjoy the ride of life. I believe that the passing scenery of the farmlands, soft music through the radio, and the light rumble of my car engine is the perfect place to take a step back and take life just one moment at a time. It's my favorite way to relieve stress.

Even if my daily journey only takes me thirty minutes down the road, the independence of expanding my boundaries is quite rewarding in the sense that I feel as if I have expanded my freedom. Through this independence, I have increased my individuality. Even if my day only consists of taking a trip down to the local grocery store to purchase ingredients to prepare a homemade mealórather than something out of a box or the freezerómy day feels fulfilled. Any spontaneous or impulsive decision that I make can be executed now because I have given myself the freedom to do so, without being reliant on other kind-hearted people doing me favors. I feel now as if I made the best decision for me.

Although living away from the university brings about an increase in responsibility, I donít necessarily think this extra responsibility is a negative thing. It is important to take on new responsibilities if you wish to be independent, which is something I very much strive to achieve on many levels. I believe that independence comes along with success and is an important part of it: I now know that I can achieve things on my own, as an individual.

Although this semester has brought many new challenges, both academically and personally on a day-to-day basis, the overall experience of this semester was certainly greater than the previous ones. As a result of my new-found independence, I am confident that I can accomplish whatever I set my mind to. I can take care of myself, manage a morning commute, and meet the academic demands of college life; I will meet the rising challenges next semester, and I expect the semesters ahead of me at the Mount to be even better and to bring more adventures and experiences to my life. I look forward to the years to come.

Read other articles by Morgan Rooney

Halfway done and counting

Shea Rowell
MSMU Class of 2019

From the middle of my winter break in my Virginia home, book and mug of tea within reach, I am ready to kiss last semester goodbye. Final papers and final exams have been taken, turned in and graded and been posted, for better or for worse. The semester is over and I, along with most of my classmates, am very grateful for the reprieve. Iím enjoying some overdue family time, running errands, and catching up on much-needed sleep and relaxation. It is, however, important to pause for a moment and reflect on the past semester to see where it fits in the ever-lengthening narrative of my career at Mount St. Maryís.

The Fall 2018 semester was the most difficult yet. This is my report after every semester, true, but it is always the truth. This was the first semester in which I was able to really focus on classes in my majors, English and music, and each of my classes challenged me to grow in some way: sometimes in ways I did not expect. Each of themóthrough music, literature, and faithóhas taught me that I am participating in an ever-changing culture that is much bigger than myself. My only core class, theology, was the most challenging course I took this semester. You might think, as I did, "Iíve been Catholic my whole life. What could a core theology class really teach me?" The answer, as it usually is to such questions, is that I knew much less than I thought I did.

Every catechism answer I learned in my long years of religious education has a history of religious exegesis and debate behind it. Nothing is ever as simple as it seems, and in this particular theology class, I found this out the hard way. My professor assigned readings from a variety of theologians and opened each class with a group discussion. My classmates challenged each other to think deeply, proposing possible solutions to difficult problems. As difficult as it was, this class gave me a new perspective into the history and origins of my faith, and as all great classes do, left me with more questions than answers and a genuine desire to learn more.

This semester also challenged me to increase my skill in my fields of study. Literature and music study are both built on history, theory, and performance. In previous classes, Iíve studied the music and literature of the past and present, and their constructions. The most difficult aspect of literary and musical study, however, is the increasing demand to improve performance ability. Each day, my professors raise the bar. I am expected to play a little better, read a little more, and write a little more skillfully each time. There is no room for regression or laziness. Each week during my trumpet lesson, I leave with a new stack of music to work through. Each literature class sends me off with a new text to read and a new assignment to write. My professors constantly guide me in the right direction, helping me to improve every time. And with their help, I have improved. While there is much yet to learn, I have left this semester playing and writing better than I ever have before.

This semester, however, has challenged me in more ways than academics. I have, finally it seems, learned a lesson in the fine and delicate art of time management. As I progress in my Mount career, I find more and more ways to get involved in the community. Between my work study position in the Mount Career Center, leadership in the Mount Music society, membership in music ensembles, and involvement in Campus Ministry, my schedule has become increasingly daunting. I have learned this semester that quality is truly more important than quantity, and that, occasionally, it is ok to say "no". To ensure that the things I commit to are well-executed, I must limit my commitments. Additionally, over-extension has a high personal cost, and there are many thingsófaith, family, health, friends, etc.óthat are equally, if not more, important to nourish in life. Balance is everything.

Self-care, as it turns out, has become much more important this semester than it has ever been in the past. This is the first semester I have been off the Mountís meal plan, as I am currently living in an apartment with a kitchen. This means, I add cooking, cleaning, and shopping to the daily or weekly schedule. This experience has been empowering, as I feel I have taken one more step toward independence, small as it may be, and I am surprised at how much I have enjoyed it. Cooking has become my way of taking some time off. When I am stirring a pot of soup, I am not thinking about the paper thatís due next week. Instead I am wondering whether I should add another pinch of salt. When I am making a grocery list, I am not worried about that English test tomorrow, I am planning creative and healthy meals to get me through the week. Food shopping is a way to step off campus for a while with my friends and roommates; we blast music in the car and forget about the weekís worries. Overall, the experience is time-consuming but funó Iíve even made some recipes of my own!

Overall, this semester gave me many opportunities to grow. The new challenges my professors and supervisors gave me each inspired me to raise the bar, and looking back, I can see the improvement all that hard work has incurred. This semester, my passion for literature and music has only grown, and my desire to learn and improve myself has increased accordingly. As I start new classes next semester and the end of my junior year approaches, I will aim to keep grinding and keep growing. I know the challenges will only increase, but with a little bit of hard work and dedication, I know I will come out of it a better version of myself.

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For the love of literatureÖ

Sarah Muir
MSMU Class of 2018

Iíve talked before about why I became an English major and I believe (if memory serves me) that it was a lengthy description of my epiphany centered around my life-long love of reading. This was a couple years ago, and, while a few years older, I do not particularly consider myself to be any wiser; however, with the benefit of a continued education, my perspective has changed and my understanding of what it means to be an "English Major" has deepened.

This semester, the Mount offered an English-based senior seminar. The goal of this course was to dare students to recognize the place of importance literature holds for both the individual and the community. The course drew on a wide variety of texts and criticisms, all of which invited me to look at the works in reference to the rich tapestry of literary history. I hope you are not surprised when I tell you that my final for this course focused on the question: Why is literature and the study of literature valuable? For the longest time the answer to this seemed to be both obvious and entirely indescribable.

The question also holds a certain irritant for me because out of the scope of disciplines that exist in the world, the arts are the ones that need to defend themselves. People seldom question the value of studying mathematics or science, and why should they? Within those spheres, the world can be dissected, discovered and quantified. Literature, however, has value because it contains the world, perhaps not how it is, but how humanity experiences it. It is the ability to communicate and share the world that exists in our minds. The most realistic, factual, maybe even scientific piece of literature is colored by the experiences of the person that writes it, and is written in the light of every word that was written before it. It connects all of humanity to the literary tradition which, in turn, connects all humans to each other.

For those of you who need a little more cause to value literature, please permit me to reuse an example that was applied to my exam. The fact is, literature is valuable because there is an extreme danger to believing that it isnít. To explain further, I propose we visit a thriving city. This civilization has a long history with centuries of science and art to show off, yet, for the sake of this argument, let us say it is about to undergo a coup. After the violence and destruction that follows, the dust settles on the new leaders, and the new government begins to craft the city into an image and likeness that better suits them. In such situations, literature suffers a blow.

Technology and scientific discoveries of the old regime can stay, of course, but any pamphlets, books or newspapers that contain possible incendiary speech is gathered and burned. Every word thereafter is written, produced and censured. This is not because literature isnít valuable; how could literature be seen as anything other than something of enormous power and potential when, if used properly, it could sway hearts and minds according to its agenda. Besides, sooner or later in this upturned city there will no doubt be flyers and pamphlets and books to replace those destroyed. The value of literature is realized as both a defense and weapon to be utilized by anyone, for good or ill.

Now on to the study of literature, which is equally significant and (as this seems important nowadays) marketable. Since deciding on my major, the question that almost always follows is "what in the world are you going to do with that?" I think this is because people assume English majors are individuals who get a book club degree. However, if you are under this assumption, allow me to say that while, yes, English majors enjoy reading and yes, we are usually adept at discussing what we have read, the skills of the English major surpass this.

People who study literature develop critical and analytical thought processes and possess knowledge about how to communicate effectively. English majors know language well enough to use the written word to convey understanding. With the study of literary criticism, one trains in the ability to recognize patterns, to trace a thread through a multitude of texts to see how they build on and borrow from each other. Above all, the literary critic is required to engage with humanity on a larger scale. In participating in literary study and criticism, you take part of a network of literary critics and works that connect you to a global conversation.

As I have grown into my English major, I have come to recognize it for not only containing within it what I love to do, but also teaching me how everything I know, experience or read has a value. It permits me to be a part of something that creates a world around me, while at the same time changes what I know of the world and my perception of it. Literature is sense and magic and everything rolled into one. As an English major, I am aware of the power that words have to wriggle their way into a personís mind and stay there, so that we can never again see what was once mundane in the same way. To the English major, literature is a growing, immortal tapestry that connects humanity and its inner worlds throughout millennia. In the study of literature, we develop for ourselves a deeper understanding and connection with the world around us.

For me, this year has been full of wonderful things and all of them have changed me for the better. As I enter the last semester of my senior year, I see how much I have been altered by my education here at the Mount. I see the wide world made smaller and more attainable, I recognize challenges as opportunities, and know that for the rest of my life I will be relying on what I have learned here.

Read other articles by Sarah Muir

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