Magazine

What’s in a Cookie?

In addressing the class of 2012 at this year’s baccalaureate, Amber Douglas, assistant professor of psychology and education, reflected on recent conversations with seniors anticipating graduation. In these conversations, the soon-to-be graduates almost always gave voice to anxiety about next steps—the possibility of graduate school or a new job, the possibility of no more school or no job. Most critically, she heard in every student’s voice the sense that these moments in this treasured place were fleeting. A scholar of memory, Amber delivered what students initially heard as “the bad news.”

“It will never be like this again. This particular moment—this night, this weekend surrounded by people whom you love and who love, care, and believe in you and are celebrating you—this is probably it.”

Amber did not intend to leave them in this place of disappointment, however. She invited the students to reach into the racks behind each pew to extract a well-hidden plastic bag filled with chocolate sandwich crème cookies for every student in the row. As the seniors excitedly reached in to pull out the unexpected snack, Amber implored them not to eat the cookie just yet, but to savor the moment of holding and noticing it. She said,

“To others, what you are holding may seem to be a cookie—when in fact, what you are holding is a memory. To you, class of 2012, you know that this is more than just a cookie. You know that when you eat a cookie, you can be transported back to this place and this time in your life. That for others a cookie is just a cookie, but for you a cookie could never be just a cookie.”

After inviting them to indulge their appetites at last, Amber described to them some of the places future cookies might transport them: M&Cs, field hockey games, Mountain Day, and more. Indeed, there are many traditions that live on in the lives of Mount Holyoke students, transporting them back to South Hadley long after graduation. And while it is possible to return to this place through the power of memory, it is an even richer joy to return in person to walk familiar paths and be with friends, old and new.

Surrounding these seniors were reuniting alumnae here for reunion—marching in the laurel parade, delivering messages of significance for women of their class, and wrapping their arms around one another as an expression of affection and gratitude. What these women have learned—and our graduates will now learn—is that the moment of being a student at Mount Holyoke does indeed pass. It is a temporary state, and as wonderful as it is, it ends. What then begins, however, is a lifelong deepening of appreciation for the Mount Holyoke education and all the relationships that attended it.

When I see alumnae together, I can see that the friendships they enjoyed at twenty-two are relationships they cherish at later ages and stages. They have remained attentive to one another, and as they have learned to thrive through great achievements and significant losses, their Mount Holyoke friends have become even dearer to them.

So, too, the liberal arts education that equipped them with a facile mind to respond to life’s inevitable changes. I find our alumnae staunchly defend the power of the requirements they sometimes railed against as students. They have come to see the value of learning outside one’s area of natural proclivity. Concepts that were once foreign often become useful in the course of new activities and responsibilities. The value of this education grows.

For one class of students, an era of relationship has concluded. But in truth, we know the experience of true community has only just begun. Welcome to the sisterhood, class of 2012. We will be here waiting for you, cookies in hand.

--President Pasquerella ’80

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