Mount Holyoke gives you the resources to think on your own
“The College doesn’t teach you how to think; [it] give[s] you the resources to think on your own.”
Jaxzia Perez’s time at Mount Holyoke has been about finding her voice — and find it she did. Four years after arriving on campus with a passion for politics, she is eagerly looking forward to taking her next steps in the world.
Academic and professional success were never a given for Perez. As the first person in her family to leave home for college, she was unsure of her path. Fortunately, she came to Mount Holyoke with a cohort of Posse scholars, which gave her a leg up and a group of fellow displaced Miamians to bond with in snowy Massachusetts.
Perez said that her Posse was what made the difference between her feeling overwhelmed by the newness and her feeling excited by its possibilities.
“I remember our first snow day. For some of us, it was the first time we saw snow ever, and it was such a big thing for us,” she said. “Of course, all the people from western Massachusetts obviously didn’t understand our excitement, but we went out [to play in it] together.”
While dancing in the snow was part of her journey, Perez did find time to engage in other pursuits as well.
During her four years at Mount Holyoke, she interned for the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office, served as a fellow for United States District Judge Patti B. Saris, was a congressional intern for Senators Elizabeth Warren and Jo Comerford, promoted public policies for low income and vulnerable populations as an intern at the Coalition on Human Needs and helped with investigations as an intern in the New Hampshire Public Defender’s office.
“My internships have given me the opportunity to explore all my interests in a short period of time so that I can enter law school better informed about my career,” she said. “My favorite part about interning for so many different government figures is that I was able to compare what it is like in local versus state politics, especially in relation to constituent services.”
Interested in a law career, she joined the Pre-Law Association and quickly became co-president. During her tenure with the organization, she helped organize alum panels and conversations with law school admissions officers. The group also served as a support system when studying for the LSAT — the law school entrance exam — and during the law school application process.
When not dancing in the snow or working in class or at her internships, Perez was on campus advocating for voting rights, encouraging the community to register to vote and helping the campus’s international population understand how U.S. laws might affect them.
In advance of the 2020 election, as COVID-19 chaos threw more confusion into the voting process, she co-founded MHC Votes!, an on-campus organization that encouraged students to vote and understand what and who they are voting for.
“Students were spread across the country due to the pandemic, and my co-founders and I didn’t want this to deter students from voting,” she explained. “We pushed professors to give students the day off to vote, we held virtual workshops to speak about the importance of voting in the upcoming election and we shared steps that students could take to make change in their communities beyond voting.”
Each of these experiences helped her determine how she wants to pursue her career, but her time in the classroom provided her something of equal importance: the courage to speak up for what she believes in.
“The environment [at Mount Holyoke] is all about empowerment. It’s about getting comfortable with vocalizing what you need and want,” she said. “I didn’t feel the need to stay quiet and reserved. I was given space to learn how to articulate my ideas and thoughts. The college doesn’t teach you how to think; they give you the resources to think on your own. It isn’t just about the facts. It’s about how students feel about what we’re learning and how it might shape our future.”
In the fall, Perez will start law school at American University Washington College of Law with a full tuition scholarship. There she will focus on criminal law and policy work. Even in light of her accomplishments, the thing she is proudest of is graduating with a clear sense of what’s next and the confidence to go after it.
“When I started college, I had a lot of imposter syndrome. I had to navigate how to get around that,” she said. “Mount Holyoke has taught me that I’m not the only person who has these feelings and that there’s a lot of growth that can happen in those moments of anxiety. I’ve learned to acknowledge it instead of being scared of it.”
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