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Four Years at the Mount

Freshman year

This Is Home

Carolyn Shields

(Oct, 2010) It's my best friend, Olivia Sielaff’s, fault for making me think of a Switchfoot song every time I throw my book bag on and go to the Mount. Olivia introduced me to this song shortly after I graduated from Catoctin High School last spring. It’s been in my head every morning since I started my freshmen year: "I’ve got my memories. They’re always inside of me, but I can’t go back to how it was."

Of the 475 freshmen here at the Mount, I stand out just a little. Not only am I a commuter, but I practically grew up on its campus. My father, my uncles and my sister have or are attending this university. My ancestor from the American Revolution is buried on its mountain. There is no other college or university in this country that I would rather attend than the one in my backyard.

It still strikes me how people travel across the country to visit the Grotto and how kids have come hundreds of miles to attend this little university, cradled in the valley of the rolling Catoctin mountains. I've met freshmen from New Jersey, North Carolina and Vietnam. When they ask where I'm from I merely point down the road and say, "Literally, a half mile."

"Oh, so you could walk here?" they go.

And I reply, "I do."

I saw Mother Theresa in the Memorial Gym when I was a toddler (though I was more concerned about my coloring book than the small woman down there). I take College Lane as a short cut to my Grandma and Pappy's barn, where "college kids" used to and still run down their dirt road. In the spring there's no need to set my alarm clock—the Mount ROTC wake me up when they stand outside my house and do their exercises at 6 a.m. Summer mornings when the windows are open and I'm still lying in bed, I can hear the Grotto bells ring in the hour.

Many kids want to leave home for college but that was never for me. I love Emmitsburg. I love the little religious store where I work. I love my church that my great-great-grandparents helped to build before the Civil War. I love how the clouds conceal the rolling mountains on rainy days and how those mountains become God's tapestry in the fall. I love the town legends: of the widowed saint, of the exiled French priest, of the visionary Indian, and of the seminarians watching the Battle of Gettysburg on Indian Lookout.

My new friends have traveled far, but I grew up in this warm environment and plan to raise my family here and die here. There was never any question where I wanted to go. This is home.

But was I still scared about starting this new chapter in my life even though college is closer to home than my high school? You betcha. Roommates and shower shoes aside, I still had to say goodbye to my friends. Sometimes I felt they were leaving me behind but I know they have to rise and meet their own challenges.

But during the Mountward Bound retreat and the first week of classes I found myself laughing and acting stupid with people I never knew existed a month ago. My gut dropped along with the stomachs of all the other students when I saw the price on my books. The first day of classes I was worried that I would address a teacher as "professor" and not "doctor" and then be shamed for the next four years. But the friendliness of everyone on campus made everything go smoothly. At Accepted Students Day last April and during the June orientation, the speakers talked about the friendly community and I thought, "I wonder how many other colleges say that too?" A lot of colleges do, but the Mount sticks to its word.

Unlike other freshmen, I have a curfew (thanks, Dad), and so I worried about missing out on some of the typical college experiences, but my older sister who is a junior at the Mount showed me that I could be a commuter and still not miss much. For example, my first week as a true Mountie I was hypnotized, went "indoor skydiving," and went to the new club on campus, three things I couldn’t have seen myself doing in high school.

I can also embrace my faith openly. I was never afraid of showing the kids around me that I was Catholic (and proud of it), but the Mount encourages students to explore their relationship with God. Sunday Mass moves me incredibly and it’s encouraging to see my generation rising up to bow to God. The weekday masses motivate me equally. Campus Ministry sponsors most of the events that I've attended, and there's nothing like surrounding yourself with people who have a reverence for God.

So I'm looking forward to these next four years. I'll be sure to keep my readers informed of future mischief, adventures, perils and experiences that not only I but other freshmen will be getting into. I want to be your eyes into the Mount. Or at the very least, to entertain you.

So to end in the words of Switchfoot, "I got my heart set on what happens next; I got my eyes wide; it's not over yet. We are miracles and we're not alone. This is home."

Read other articles by Caroline Shields