Oh the places you will go… when you go to Mount Holyoke!

President Sonya Stephens awards Donari Yahzid her degree at Commencement 2019

by Donari Yahzid ’19

To all the high school students near and far, I invite you to meet Mount Holyoke. Especially those of you who are not aware that women’s colleges even exist — as was the case when I began my college search process. The schools I was initially interested in were mainly co-ed, on the west coast and definitely housed more than 2,200 students.

It was my mother who first found Mount Holyoke. She raved about how it would be the “uncommon but impeccable choice,” and how she was absolutely certain that she could see me here. As I began receiving college acceptances, there was only one that made my mother cry — the one from Mount Holyoke.

Donari Yahzid at Laurel Parade 2019
Donari Yahzid at Laurel Parade 2019

When I flew up to experience campus for myself during MHC Preview weekend, an event for admitted students, I was ecstatic. I had never been to the Northeast before, but I soon realized I had an opportunity to enjoy a life I had never imagined.

As new graduate, I am very excited to say that my mother’s intuition was right. During my time at Mount Holyoke, I took advantage of every opportunity available. Mount Holyoke helped me travel the world and experience the unexplainable.

Donari Yahzid and friend walk a path through campus
Donari Yahzid (right) and friend walk a path through campus

A preview

During MHC Preview Weekend, I was introduced to my host, Shante D. Henderson ’18, who remains one of my greatest friends today. Over that weekend I got to see what life was like on campus. I explored the greenery and buildings, and was introduced to students from diverse sexual, national, racial, religious, linguistic and socioeconomic backgrounds.

I clearly remember thinking that these students were powerful, persuasive and persistent. I knew that if I attended Mount Holyoke, I would be so proud of the person I would become. I rushed to the campus store to buy a yellow Mount Holyoke shirt to wear for Convocation, told Shante that I would see her next year, and paid my deposit at the airport while waiting for my flight back home.

Intense beginnings

When I began Mount Holyoke, my first-year classes were intensively rooted in reading, writing and speaking, and it took some major adjustments before I felt ready to take on what Mount Holyoke had to offer. With support from professors and classmates, I learned to ask for help, write persuasive essays, speak up in class and challenge what I had previously known to be fact. Outside of class, I participated in track and field, the International Relations Association, and affinity groups that celebrate the African diaspora, such as the Association of Pan-African Unity (APAU) and the Mount Holyoke African and Caribbean Student Association (MHACASA).

Donari Yahzid and her host family when she studied abroad in Samoa
Donari Yahzid (third from left) and her host family when she studied abroad in Samoa

During my sophomore year I began building some of the best friendships ever and explored more of the Five Colleges through classes, parties, lectures and events. The summer after my sophomore year, I used my Lynk funding to conduct an independent research project on education in Ghana, where I worked as a teacher for all grade levels and within different schools.

Learning in motion

When I returned for my junior year, I presented my research at Mount Holyoke’s Learning in Application (LEAP) Symposium, which is a forum that allows students to showcase their summer work. That semester was filled with nervous excitement as I got ready to travel to the other side of the world to the island of Samoa in the South Pacific. I spent the semester there studying abroad. From Samoa I went to New York to intern at the UNICEF headquarters, then to Japan to work as a teacher and mentor at an empowerment program for high school students.  

After I finished jumping around the globe, I landed back at Mount Holyoke as a graduating senior. This year was filled with visiting friends who had already graduated, making memories with my graduating class, finishing my senior year bucket list and acknowledging the growth we have all made. I also used this year to continue the research I started in Samoa by conducting a senior honors thesis on the prioritization of cultural values within development policy.

My research has compelled me to speak at conferences, such as the Five College Anthropology Conference at Amherst College, and motivated me to apply and receive a Fulbright Study/Research grant to return to Samoa after graduation. I will look at the Eurocentric understanding of international development to assess how diverse countries can employ their own values to define development for themselves.

Donari Yahzid attends her first Convocation and her final Convocation
Donari Yahzid attends her first Convocation (in photo at left, with Shante D. Henderson) and her final Convocation

Full circle

This past April, during the kickoff event for the 2019 MHC Preview weekend, I was honored to address the admitted members of the class of 2023. When I sat in the audience myself as an admitted student, I never dreamed that someday I’d be up on stage talking about my journey, my research and my future.

That’s the beauty of this place. You may not know exactly what will bring you to the front of this stage in four years. But there will definitely be something. Every senior at Mount Holyoke has an incredible story and I truly hope that you get to find yours here.

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