“What I wish I’d known”: advice from seniors to firsties

Members of the class of 2020, who are finishing their last semester at Mount Holyoke, share their four years of experience with incoming first-year students.

Members of the class of 2020, who are finishing their last semester at Mount Holyoke, share their four years of experience with incoming first-years. They offer advice on classes, student orgs and the value of studying the broad expanse of liberal arts. They also offer their hard-earned wisdom on making mistakes and finding success after high school — and enjoying themselves.


Ashlee Jones ’20

Photo by Skylar Hou ’22
Ashlee Jones ’20 in Talcott Greenhouse

“Mount Holyoke is a place where you will find the best parts of you. As a first-year student, you’re kind of like wet clay. You’re young and the world is new and all these doors are open and it’s overwhelming. It’s up to you to mold that wet clay into the person you will be four years from now, to mold that clay into something that you’ll be proud of. You’re going to be tested at Mount Holyoke — and here’s no right answer, and when you come out, you’re going to be this great glorious statue. You have to trust the process. There are good days and they’re going to be bad days. And at the end, you come out a better person.”


Eleanor Harris ’20

Photo by Skylar Hou ’22
Eleanor Harris ’20 in Talcott Greenhouse

“Success in college, more than in high school, means something different for everyone. I’ve been able to reevaluate the point of my education — I want to be equipped to do things that make the world slightly better for some number of people. And one of the great things about Mount Holyoke is the variety of what people want to do. I have friends who are going to get doctorates and I know people who are going to be midwives and teachers. I know people who are going to be lawyers. These jobs all require different paths and there just isn’t a sense of competition here. So as soon as you move away from that and just focus on having the experiences you want and doing things as much as you can for the sake of them rather than the achievement, the more you will get out of this.”


Michelle Serrano ’20

Michelle Serrano - Photo by Skylar Hou ’22
Michelle Serrano ’20 in Talcott Greenhouse

“Take care of yourself. Physically, spiritually and mentally. Learn what works for you when things become hard, and know that you will prevail. Don’t expect everything to stay the same. Expect change in yourself and be open to that, whatever that may look like. Own that, own your experiences and feel all the feelings. Doubt and nerves will come but it’s all part of the process — and always ask questions, no matter how hard or simple. I had no idea what I was doing or how to get involved with things such as research as an undergraduate, but everyone at Mount Holyoke is here to help. Whether that’s a faculty member, an advisor or even your peers who are in similar situations, go and learn about it. If you’re truly passionate about it, don’t let anything stop you.”


Emma Taylor ’20

Photo by Skylar Hou ’22
Emma Taylor ’20 in Talcott Greenhouse

“Make mistakes. Do things that will take you to places you maybe didn’t think you wanted to be in. Mine were not quite mistakes because they led me to good places. If you do an internship and after a semester, you realize you’re not fit for that, well, it was only a semester, not your whole life. That’s the thing about liberal arts. Take classes for fun. It’s definitely important to take classes outside of your major, outside of your comfort zone — not just your first year, when you’re taking a course requirement. I took an opera class in the music department my senior spring. I’m definitely not a musical person, but I thought it would be interesting and something that will stay with me for a while.”



Erica Grenger ’20

Photo by Skylar Hou ’22
Erica Grenger ’20 in Talcott Greenhouse

“Try a lot of different things before you decide what you like. This applies to classes, as well as student orgs or other activities. One of the benefits of a liberal arts college is that you can try different things — and one of the benefits of Mount Holyoke is that there are so many student orgs that there is something for everyone. Don’t be afraid to run for leadership positions in orgs, committees, or student government. Some of my most fulfilling college experiences have been through those positions. Try different things and be active in what’s important to you, but don’t overcommit yourself. Leave time for self-care, having fun and especially sleeping.”


Kayla Taylor ’20

Photo by Skylar Hou ’22
Kayla Taylor ’20 in Talcott Greenhouse

“Plans always change and there’s space for error. So don’t be afraid to take that one class you might find interesting because you might fail it — there’s always the ungraded option. Don’t be afraid to explore. Take that one hiking trip at 6 a.m. with the Outing Club, go kayaking on Upper Lake during Friends and Family Weekend and definitely go apple-picking. New England has the best apples by far. Take them, hold on to them. Some of your greatest memories and experiences will be at Mount Holyoke.”


Linda Zhang ’20

Photo by Skylar Hou ’22
Linda Zhang ’20 in Talcott Greenhouse

“Take your time with everything, whether it’s classes and academics or social life. It took me awhile to get close and be comfortable with the people who are my friends now. But I’ve learned to enjoy the process of meeting new people, of being with different kinds of people even if I didn’t end up being close friends with them. Don’t be afraid to be honest with how you’re feeling. For the longest time I would blame myself or feel bad for not feeling excited or happy about how everything was going. 

It’s OK to realize that you might have had different expectations for what your college experience was going to be like, but that doesn’t mean that things can’t or won’t change. And if things aren’t working out, then listen to yourself and what you’re trying to tell yourself about what you need. Don’t second-guess yourself too much. Your gut instinct will usually tell you whether something feels right and about what you need. Find a way to ground yourself while you’re at Mount Holyoke. Find a way to recenter yourself.”


Cassie Platt FP’20

Cassie Platt FP’20
Cassie Platt FP’20 in Talcott Greenhouse

“Be brave. Try. Try anything and everything. We limit ourselves. There are no limits at Mount Holyoke, so all you have to do is try. Step out of your comfort zone and go for things. I found my voice here. It’s astonishing. We have the idea that to be a woman leader you have to be a powerhouse, stand in front of a crowd. But I’ve learned I can be effective as a leader in my own way, using my own voice.”



Marisol Fernandez ’20

Photo by Skylar Hou ’22
Marisol Fernandez ’20 in Talcott Greenhouse

“Don’t be afraid of change. Change is how we grow and are able to experience the many things our campus offers. So if change is knocking on your door, open it. You never know when you’ll get the chance to do so again.”




Miel Marwah ’20

Photo by Skylar Hou ’22
Miel Marwah ’20 in Talcott Greenhouse

“Join clubs. Don’t isolate. Try everything. That way you have options to choose what you’re passionate about. If you’re going through a difficult time, it’s always nice to have that space you’re passionate about to go to. And the people in the clubs are supportive. Find your passion. I was dealing with a lot of homesickness my first year. Pushing myself to be social would have helped me deal with what I was feeling. I met some great people through SHRI, but I would suggest broadening one’s circle by experimenting and joining several of the clubs that Mount Holyoke offers.”


Neorgia Grant ’20

Photo by Skylar Hou ’22
Neorgia Grant ’20 in Talcott Greenhouse

“Go to the fellowships office. A lot of people don’t know about it. There are many fellowships offered through Mount Holyoke. There’s so much money just sitting there waiting for you to build a project around it. Start as early as your first year looking into these things, figuring out what is it that you’re passionate about. 

Don’t be afraid of starting your own path. Yes, there’s a lot of boxes and categories and concentrations and distributional requirements for you to do. But once you get into a groove, you’ll say to yourself, I don’t want to do that, I want to do this. And then you can find ways to do that. Don’t be discouraged by, ‘oh, they don’t offer that.’ Find a way to make it happen. I think a lot of people are doing that at Mount Holyoke. That’s something that you learn as you go along in these four years. If it’s not there, you find a way to make it happen. You can find a way to create it.”


Olivia Vejcik ’20

Photo by Skylar Hou ’22
Olivia Vejcik ’20 in Talcott Greenhouse

“Don’t be so scared, trying to be perfect, trying to conform. Trying to be this perfect student and, thinking that you have to do all of these things that you’ve been told in high school. College is really a time to find out who you are and who that person is that you’re becoming. So let go. Try new classes. Try new activities. Challenge yourself to be more open.”



Sal Cosmedy ’20

Photo by Skylar Hou ’22
Sal Cosmedy ’20 outside Talcott Greenhouse

“Get involved. I joined the V8s a capella group in my first semester of my first year. There were just eight of us and it was like having upperclassmen mentors who, like, right from the start said, ‘we’re going to take care of you.’ It was a very tight-knit group. We got to know each other really quickly. I took anthropology that first semester and one of the V8s was an anthropology major. I’d text them after class and be like, we learned about this thing today and I can’t stop thinking about it. It’s really easy to get overwhelmed in that first semester but it’s going to work out. You’ll find your footing.”