Each October, students at my alma mater wait expectantly for the president to call Mountain Day. An annual tradition, the bells ring out to announce the cancelation of the day’s classes. Students spend the day enjoying the glorious autumn countryside. Tradition encourages students to climb a nearby peak where ice cream is served at the top (Hoodsie Cups all around). The view is spectacular, the company is friendly, and the tradition is an important part of the fall semester.
It’s been over ten years since the ringing bells meant classes were cancelled for me. If I’m honest, as a commuter student, the notification meant that I didn’t have to drive to campus. Instead, I stayed closer to home. Not to miss out on the fun, I often headed out for a walk in the brisk October sunshine. Now, the annual tradition has faded into a virtual celebration as Facebook friends near and far wish each other “Happy Mountain Day.” Each year, I remember again the beauty of this simple tradition and long to somehow to join in.
Recently, after a meeting with at work, a colleague exclaimed, “Are you a Mount Holyoke graduate?” Yes, in fact I am. She noticed the ring I wear bearing the symbol of our shared experience. We quickly learned, that although a couple decades separate us in age, we graduated just a year apart (she graduated first). As we walked back from a meeting recently, she wondered aloud, “When do you think Mountain Day will be?” “It’s getting late!” I chuckled. “Whenever it does, we must celebrate!”
So, today was Mountain Day. She and I coordinated our calendars and came up with a plan. We met for a walk around campus, through a nearby park, and then back to a cozy spot for tea and scones. We walked through the blustery day, as colorful leaves swirled around. The wind tugged at our hair as we watched the swans on the pond nearby. Our boots navigated around the muddy parts of the path as we circled the wet lands. The grass is rich green and lush now, for a bit longer. Fall is coming into her glory around here, today, we spent some time noticing.
As we walked, we talked about work projects and upcoming events. Once we were settled over warm cups, our conversation shifted to our shared experience at Mount Holyoke. She was a traditional student, I was very much not. And yet, we both remember the place and people as such a beautiful time in our lives. We shared our experiences, and the sense of perspective we’ve gained over time and distance. We sipped our tea and broke off bits of raspberry scones, as we remembered.
Our memories don’t overlap. We didn’t know each other there, but the ways the place touched our lives, and the golden glow it retains even now, connect us to that time and each other. She was nineteen and stepping out into the world for the first time. I was thirty-nine and had a bit more experience under my belt. And yet that place nurtured us. It challenged us to think deeply about a vast array of things, it pushed us to learn who we were, and what mattered most. Our faculty introduced us to new ideas, new ways of seeing the world, and helped us make connections to who we were becoming.
Today, we covered subjects as varied as the psychology of architecture, mothering, and social media. We talked about the challenges and opportunities of an education in an exclusively women’s college. Our conversation skimmed along the surface in parts and dove deeply into others. It reminded me of days spent hunkered over textbooks, or glasses of wine and plates of cheese. For me, Mount Holyoke was a heady mix of intellectual stimulation, self-reflection, and overwhelming wonder to be sharing the experience at all. Today, I remembered, we laughed and shared, and at the end we hugged goodbye.
It was a very good Mountain Day around here…