My first heartbreak came the fall of my senior year of high school in the form of an email from the Northwestern University admissions office. I stopped reading at the word “regret,” then proceeded to cry in my basement bathroom. Five minutes and half a box of tissues later, I hopped on the treadmill to the opening chords of Maroon 5’s “Payphone.”
For a first heartbreak, I recovered after all of 10 minutes. In the shadow of graduation, I decided to enroll at Saint Mary’s College, my mother’s alma mater and site of the only summer camp I attended in my preteens. SMC became my closet, my coffee mug and the text beneath my name in the high school yearbook.
Part of the experience at college orientation involves stocking up on school merchandise so that every literate human being will know you’re the proud dad of a [insert mascot here]. I became an expert at selling the idea of an all-women’s college, correcting anyone who thought it was where Rudy went, and mentioning how awesome it felt to live a brisk walk away from the Fighting Irish. My presence practically sang “The Belles of Saint Mary’s.” I felt determined to make my time there the defining four years of my life.
This is where it gets awkward. If Northwestern was my first heartbreak, then Saint Mary’s was my first breakup. “It’s not you, it’s me,” took on an alternate translation when, during fall break of sophomore year, I concluded SMC wasn’t a proper fit for what I wanted to pursue.
The idea of transferring lingered when I went to dinner with my parents for my 20th birthday last fall. Somewhere in between the basket of bread and the house salad, I mused out loud, “Mom, Dad? Do you think I’m smart enough to get into Notre Dame?”
Before I could pick up my fork, they answered, “Oh no.” I anticipated this much of a response. Northwestern humbled me in my application ambitions, and my math grades mocked me.
I took a sip of water before posing another inquiry. “Do you think I’m as smart as the kids who go to Notre Dame?”
They answered as quickly as they responded to my first question, “Absolutely.” They were probably parentally biased, yet this exchange marked a pivotal change in my outlook on my academic career. If we’re sticking with the relationship motif, transferring from one school to another isn’t unlike going into a new relationship with a refined perspective based on what you learned from the previous one.
Aside from my own experience, I know several Smicks who, though they loved SMC, ultimately decided to transfer schools for various, well-intentioned reasons: academic, personal, social, etc. My answer based solely on academics.
The more pressing matter when transferring is what do you do with all that collegiate merchandise? The oversized sweaters? The bumper stickers? The yearbook? If you’re like me, you keep them, but every time you wear that SMC ballcap your sister reminds you, “You can’t wear that. You don’t go there anymore. You’re not a Smick Chick.” She’s not wrong, but I was there for two years. That should count for something, right? I still feel like I was a part of both the Saint Mary’s and Notre Dame communities through campus ministry, social events and especially the SMC/ND newspaper, The Observer.
Truthfully, the Saint Mary’s woman is whoever she aspires to be. In this sense, I identify as a Belle, but technically I won’t graduate one. If I was still enrolled at Saint Mary’s, I would graduate on time with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Writing. My mom and I would have the same reunion years. We would wear matching class rings. However, I wouldn’t have the same opportunities available to me at the Savannah College of Art and Design.
In the dorm rooms of McCandless, Le Mans and Holy Cross hall, I visited and befriended fun, adventurous and strong women who helped me at my worst to make me my best. In the basement of the SMC Student Center, I attended my first Observer meeting my inaugural week of freshman year, where I developed as a writer and a person. Saint Mary’s, though you were not my perfect academic match, thank you for the lessons, the opportunities and the friendships with which you blessed me. As sung in your alma mater, “Your chimes will forever/ Bring sweet memories of you.”