Q&A: Meet Mollie McDermott '06

By Irina Liberman '06

Posted: April 10, 2006

Student reporter Irina Liberman '06 caught up with senior Mollie McDermott, who will be this year's student speaker at commencement, to discuss her MHC experience. McDermott, who garnered this year's Maurice L. Rabbino Award for spearheading the College's Katrina relief efforts, hopes to attend medical school next year.

What led you to Mount Holyoke?
I am from Louisiana, where many people haven't heard of Mount Holyoke. When I was doing my college search, I over-researched schools, which means I usually found something I didn't like about each of them. Except Mount Holyoke--I didn't dislike anything about it! I enrolled before seeing it so I was nervous about coming. But within the first week of my first year I knew that this was the spot for me. Coming to Mount Holyoke has been one of the best decisions I have ever made.

What do you like best about MHC?
One of the most important things for me is the small community and knowing so many people: I can't walk from Blanchard to the library without seeing someone I know and having a conversation. I love the way I can have a vague idea about a project I want to work on, and then be able to make it really happen. Using campus resources--student programs, clubs, and mentors--you can really see what has been just an idea materialize and become reality. It's been a valuable lesson to me.

When you came here, did you know what you wanted to major in?
I had no idea what I wanted to do whatsoever. A lot of it happened by chance. I wanted to do pre-med, but I was terrified to take chemistry so I gave up that idea my first year. But then I volunteered at a hospital, and it was such an experience--getting to know patients and observe doctors--that I got up the nerve to take chemistry and things started looking up. So I am back on pre-med track now.

Was it hard to switch into the pre-med program?
I took an unusual track. I am a senior and I am taking physics, I am a year behind the traditional pre-med track because I switched courses around a lot. But the science classes I took were fabulous and are definitely among my favorites. I know I am getting to do much more in labs than my friends in other schools who are doing the same programs.

In what way?
Our chemistry department, for instance, is remarkably well equipped for such a small department. Undergraduate students do not usually have access to an NMR spectrometer, for example.

What cocurricular activities are you involved in?
I am involved with the Feminist Collective and with CAUSE, a community service organization. We are an umbrella group that oversees about 12 project sites around the community, such as tutoring, Habitat for Humanity, and a Girl Scout troop; we also help organize volunteers to work at a soup kitchen. We were in charge of the earthquake relief and hurricane relief fundraising. CAUSE helped to spearhead the relief efforts by organizing competition among student orgs to raise the most money for the hurricane relief: a Southern film festival and a Gulf Coast clothing drive that Karen Engel, director of the Health Services, was instrumental in helping organize. In my spare time I write a humor column for the Mount Holyoke News, and it is one of my favorite things to do. I can prioritize it before my schoolwork and not feel guilty because I have a deadline.

What do you see yourself doing next?
Well, it's a loaded question! My plan is to move to Vermont and go to the University of Vermont, and somehow involve myself with rural health. I like to describe rural health as being the only doctor for maybe 30 square miles. Instead of seeing 100 patients a day, like doctors in city hospitals, you get to know your patients and form personal relationships with them. That really appeals to me.

What has changed about you since you've been at Mount Holyoke?
I am a completely different person. I am more goal-oriented, and much more self-confident. I feel like I can take something I want to do, and just do it without worrying or analyzing quite as much, which I never felt before. Also, I've become more socially aware. A lot of things I learned in my humanities classes had never even crossed my mind before coming here.

What has been your lowest and the highest point at Mount Holyoke?
Well, the lowest must have been one extremely cold J-Term, which I stayed for--and not many of my friends were on campus. Everything just felt dark. I was reading a lot of philosophy and trying to convince myself I was deep.

And the highest point--there were many. I just found out that I am going to be the commencement speaker for our class. So I am feeling pretty good right now! Also, I've taken some terrific weekend trips with my friends. Another great experience was the Junior Show--I was one of the writers.

As you're graduating, what thoughts come to your mind?
One thing that has been on my mind lately is the way we think about Mount Holyoke. We complain about it kind of like you complain about your child if you're a parent--with love, and I don't think we really mean most of it. Come mid-June, we're going to realize how great we've had it here and wish we'd complained a little less and appreciated it more. These are some of the best years of my life, and I am so happy I went here. I am glad I got to enjoy being young and stupid here.

Related Links:

Feminist Collective