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Four Years at the Mount

Junior year

The World in my Backyard

Shea Rowell
Class of 2019

(11/2017) As a college student at the Mount, education surrounds me. My weekly schedule consists of many hours spent in classes, co-curriculars, and work study. The rest are spent doing homework at various locations on campus, reading, studying, or writing essays (and newspaper articles!) and praying in one of the many campus chapels that the end of the semester will bring decent grades and preferably cancelled final exams! Education saturates my life so much that I fear it dulls my own sense of how valuable it truly is, and how fortunate I am to have such an opportunity. Amid the whirlwind of due dates, late nights and other academic anxieties, it rarely crosses my mind at all.

I’ve always had a passion for learning. I owe this passion largely to my parents, who instilled in me the true importance of education. Learning, they always told me, would open doors in my future that were closed to them. If I worked hard enough, education could give me the gift of choosing my own path in life. I have always taken this advice very seriously. However, it never occurred to me before my arrival at the Mount that the most valuable experience of education may not be the book learning at all.

Recently, I had the privilege of attending the Emmitsburg High School alumni Reunion. This event is highly anticipated and well-attended. For many, this event is a solemn and sentimental one, as the school closed in 1969, when it merged with Cacoctin High School. The closing had a particularly sad impact on the students, as what they universally valued the most about their Emmitsburg High School years was their sense of community identity. Most of the graduating classes had between twelve and twenty students. Each class was small and intimate, and their relationships made their community strong. Wanda Meadows Valentine, C’68, said that her favorite part about EHS was its small size. She said, "I liked being part of a small school… You knew everybody and who they were related to." The family mentality at EHS is one that very few schools today can replicate, but it gave the EHS graduates a sense of belonging and community obligation which influenced their post-graduation careers.

However, EHS also gave its students the education they needed to spread their wings and leave the community after graduation. When asked why he was thankful for his EHS education, Gene Toms, C’50, jokingly replied, "Well, it got me off the farm for a few years." He then reflected on one of the most influential figures at EHS, principal Jones. He said that Mr. Jones was very strict but had a good heart. Mr. Toms knew he was a good man when Shirley Jones, Mr. Jones’ daughter, was hosting a dance. Mr. Toms was the only person in the class without the transportation to attend the dance after school. However, Mr. Jones would not allow Gene to be left out. Mr. Toms said that Mr. Jones "came clear up the mountain and said, ‘you’re going to the dance!’" Mr. Jones’ combination of integrity and discipline would become a powerful example for Mr. Toms, as he went on to serve four years in the navy immediately after graduation.

For both alumni, it was the community that truly inspired them to excel. This community identity is an element that they fear is missing from schools today. Of course, there are positive elements to expanding the community of education. Today’s public schools strive to offer people from different areas, ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds access to the same opportunities. This is an achievement of the public education system that should be celebrated. However, as 100-student lecture halls replace 20-student classrooms, what is lost is interpersonal education. There is little class discussion, if any, and the professor does not know the names of his or her students. Misunderstandings between teacher and student are rarely addressed. The communication is one-sided. The professor speaks and the class listens, hopefully memorizing his or her words. This is an efficient way to absorb the maximum amount of knowledge in the least amount of time. But is this all education is about?

As a Mount student, I am spoiled with the best of both words. Our undergraduate class of 1,500 students is large enough to be inclusive, but small enough to maintain a family-like atmosphere. My classes rarely exceed 20 students, and lecture and discussion are used in tandem. My professors are always available to answer questions after class, or to provide helpful feedback and advice specific to my work. Seniors attend "Ott’s nights" with professors in their department. The campus chaplain, Fr. Brian, will stop you on your way to class to ask how you’re doing, always meeting you with a smile. Students maintain a supportive community of their own, and due to the core curriculum, can discuss this morning’s philosophy class, or yesterday’s theology paper with solidarity.

There are a lot of reasons to be grateful for education. It is a springboard toward a successful career. It has given me a different and constantly widening view of the world around me. It has introduced me to people who inspire me to work passionately toward my goals. It is an opportunity that I cannot take for granted, for the generosity and kindness of others has made it possible. Most importantly, it has given me the community experience and values that Ms. Valentine and Mr. Toms valued so much in their own education. I am grateful for the professors who take time out of their lives to get to know their students. I am grateful for the administrators who ensure the welfare of all students and faculty, and allow everyone a chance to be heard. I am thankful for the students who have made themselves part of the Mount family, and who have welcomed me into it with open arms. Like the EHS alumni, I am thankful for the book learning and for the opportunities education provides, but in the end, I owe it all to the support of the Mount community.

Read other articles by Shea Rowell