Christina M. Barbieri '12 Gives Student Baccalaureate Address
The bulk of the class of 2012 arrived at Mount Holyoke in the fall of 2008. Eager to start new beginnings and reestablish ourselves, we rapidly friended each other on Facebook and told ourselves that when we got to South Hadley, we’d own the place. We were told that blue was our class color, and for the first convocation, we put on a simple blue t-shirt and hiked over to the glorious amphitheater. We were spectators, gasping at the girls wrapped in yellow caution tape, laughing at the firefighter juniors in red, giggling and pointing out the one girl wearing a black robe and a giant green T. rex head, and making lots of Harry Potter jokes. As a whole, 2012, we were severely underdressed. As a whole, 2012, we were severely overdressed. The SGA president rolled up her pants to reveal rainbow socks in a pledge to unite all classes and suddenly we knew we were in the right place. As the picnic unfurled itself onto the green, we began planning our cool blue outfits for next year.
Classes started and we transformed into nocturnal beasts. Mom and Dad could no longer tell us to go to bed. We learned the hard way that 8:35 classes meant that you needed to go to bed before 4. Some of us may be still learning that. Regardless of how our academic semester turned out, our freshman fall proved to be important in another large way. For some of us, this was the first presidential election that we could vote in. The 2008 election stirred some serious buzz on this campus on both sides. When Obama was elected, I remember several students streaking on the Skinner Green. Regardless of our political affiliation, we waited and watched and wondered what would happen next.
Obama ran on a platform inspired by Gandhi of “change that we could believe in.” I had no idea then that his platform would ring so true.
In a blink of an eye, our first year was behind us. We had established ourselves as athletes, journalists, student org board members, hall senators, dancers, singers, actors, artists, computer programmers, and scientists. We cut our hair, got tattoos, got new piercings, got Chef Jeff cookies as a self-motivational reward, got awesome emails that informed us we had packages, got to take classes with amazing and inspirational professors. We locked ourselves in the library slaving away on papers that should have been started long before the night before their due date. We took the PVTA from Blanchard to the Rockies to avoid walking. Oh wait, that was only me? Never mind, then.
We added new members to our class. Spring admits came and joined our midst, along with FPs and transfer students, two groups of phenomenal students who are often overlooked. We completed our language requirements, avoided our science requirements, and happily waitlisted for yoga or walking for fitness. We survived our first housing lottery complete with one of the scariest cartoon fish I’ve ever seen in my life. We moved from Buckland to the Rockies, from Ham to Abbey, from Wilder to Porter. We waited in line for garlic bread like it was our top priority, because it was our top priority. We set an alarm for M&Cs on cupcake night and arrived promptly to snatch a chocolate cupcake before they all vanished.
We blinked again and it was senior year. This year, as I pulled out my Dorothy costume complete with blue-sequined Chuck Taylors, I was ready for convocation. There’s no place like MoHome was the mantra of the day. Policewomen, Smurfs, the ocean, and even a narwhal marched into the amphitheater. The misty rain could not dampen this celebration. We were finally sitting in our gowns, in the center of it all. Now, we screamed the loudest. The class of 2012 thundered in comparison to our younger sisters, still learning our ways. The class of 2015 in their yellow made us miss the class of 2011, no longer in the amphitheater with us. Professor Christopher Benfey mentioned Wendy Wasserstein and her famous quote, “If I ever make it to 30, I think I'm going to be pretty f***ing awesome.” In my mind, I substituted 30 for graduation. In September, graduation was still some inevitable haze that I refused to think about.
As the first semester began, the pressure was on. We had to make this year count academically and socially. We took the classes that we drooled over as prospective students. We saved our graduation requirements for senior year and loathed ourselves for it. A couple of us took all six gym credits senior year. Everyone works differently.
We became tour guides and Admission Fellows, urging students from around to the world to come check out our little paradise. We became SAs and HPs, ruling the dorms with a fair yet stern hand. We filled our single rooms with free bin clothes and stacks and stacks of books. We had mastered the elusive $7.24 Blanchard swipe. We created our own drinks at Rao’s. We figured out how to find books in the library.
Senior year, we started doing big things. As the chairs of student orgs, we planned campuswide events with ease. We sang a cappella solos, and starred in, directed, and wrote plays produced on campus. We created art exhibitions, worked with professors doing research, wrote a ton of theses. We applied to grad school, internships, jobs, the Peace Corps, Teach for America. The class of 2012 was everywhere, constantly multitasking, constantly pulling our hair out, constantly overcomitting. As our final semester crept in, we seemed nervous but perhaps ready. We had finally eaten enough chipotle-mashed potatoes. The real world held the promise of new jobs, new people, new places. We were torn between the loyalty we felt and the excitement for the unknown.
I don’t think that when President Obama promised change he was specifically referring to the Mount Holyoke College class of 2012. Change is something we usually fear. And yet, class of 2012, we have embraced change with open arms.
We have changed from a bunch of awkward teenagers to professional, educated people ready for the future. We have changed our political beliefs, our ways of communication, our ways of life. We have changed from a group of unacquainted students to a unified class, making friends that will last a lifetime. We have changed lives, changed homes, changed everything. And more change lies ahead.
One week ago, I stood in Harvard Square with five friends, gallivanting around Massachusetts for one final hurrah. As we marched two by two in our bright blue Mountain Day hats, we faced curious stares of all kinds. By the time the day was through, we had perfected our description of Mountain Day and had assured approximately eight people that yes, this was a real college, not a fairy tale. Just as we were leaving the city, we heard an excited shout. “Mountain Day? Are you from Mount Holyoke?”
It was a 2006 alum who had spotted our hats and had immediately embraced us. She was interested in our majors, our futures, and assured us that as Mount Holyoke students, we would never be alone. We took a picture with her. And although my hair is a mess, my eyeliner smudged from the misty rain, it is my favorite picture of the trip.
Mount Holyoke College is in South Hadley, Massachusetts. But it is also in Boston and Sacramento. It is in Miami and Pittsburgh. It is in Berlin, London, Shanghai, Tokyo, and Paris. We’re taking over. And you better be ready.
The 2006 alum had changed. She had successfully undergone this graduation weekend, and she triumphed. It is for her, and all others, that we must do the same. Change is terrifying. But as evidenced on the streets of Harvard Square, and in all corners of the globe, the transition from student to alum is necessary in order to improve this planet in every way possible.
And so, I tip my cap to the president (and probably the president’s speechwriter) for coining a phrase that seems so appropriate now. As I stand here, in front of everything that has been my life for the past four years, the feeling of awe is overwhelming. I can only say this.
Mount Holyoke College class of 2012, congratulations and thank you for everything.
Regardless of what our futures may hold, you are the change that I believe in.