Thank you, Saint Mary’s
Gina Twardosz | Tuesday, April 21, 2020
During freshman orientation at Saint Mary’s, we close the circle. It sounds rather cultish, doesn’t it? At least, that’s how I saw it, almost four years ago, in the midst of my pitiful “I don’t want to be here” malaise.
At age 18, I was a misguided Ed Sheeran fan. Sheeran didn’t have a back-up plan if he didn’t become a singer/songwriter because he felt that a back-up plan gave him an excuse to fail. Spurred by this belief, I too decided not to have a back-up plan when it came to getting into my dream university: Northwestern.
My father, rightfully anxious, pleaded with me to apply to just one other school. He had attended an all-boys Catholic high school, and thought an all women’s institution like Saint Mary’s could benefit me. I begrudgingly complied, but secretly, I knew it was a waste of time. I would be going to Northwestern — I was so sure of it.
Suffice to say, I didn’t get into Northwestern, and after months of sobbing into many pillows, I packed my bags and headed down the Avenue. I was so sure I wouldn’t last a year. I was a first generation student with not a friend on campus. I felt so alone.
It wasn’t until a few weeks in when I walked into my first Observer meeting that I felt like I could belong here. Nicole Caratas and Martha Reilly were the Saint Mary’s News editor and associate editor at the time, and they made me feel like I could do anything. I eagerly accepted any assignment they gave me and they would become some of my closest friends.
Thus began my four-year-long love affair with The Observer. I covered lectures for a year and worked Page 2 production in the office for longer — but it was worth it in the end. I got to meet amazing students, professors and visiting artists. I made friends, and yes, I even stepped on some toes.
Saint Mary’s Observer writers covered the resignation of former College president Jan Cervelli. During spring break, I found her lawsuit. While the work we did at The Observer was so pivotal that year, our reporting received mixed reception. There was much confusion and even anger at the lack of information being circulated by the College. I grew disenchanted with my long held belief that the media can make a difference so I opted to step back — but then I was offered a position at The Observer to do something different.
The Investigative Unit wasn’t an official department, but Natalie Weber and I tried to run it like one. We covered long form, series issues and in the process, I encountered some roadblocks.
By this time, I had grown to love Saint Mary’s, but many would question why I seemed to produce negative content about the administration or life on campus if I truly loved being a Belle.
During our time at Saint Mary’s, we are required to take a critical thinking seminar as part of our Sophia Program in Liberal Learning. Critical thinking necessitates objective analysis and thoughtfulness. You can’t require students to take a critical thinking seminar and not expect them to critically consider the spaces in which they’re supposed to thrive.
Many of the students I interviewed for investigative pieces spoke to me, not to damage the College’s reputation, but to voice concerns about a College they loved. They wanted Saint Mary’s to be a better place for all students. They spoke to The Observer because they cared about the continuation of Saint Mary’s as an institution that valued community, spirituality, learning and justice.
And this, I think, is what I am most thankful to have encountered in my four years at Saint Mary’s. Belles are truly some of the most caring, intelligent, hilarious and hard-working people I have ever met and the education I received at Saint Mary’s has encouraged me to empower myself through the empowerment of others.
Thank you to my best friend Becca Strom, who would become my roommate and therapist over the years. She would introduce me to my other best friends, first to Liz Ferry and Stephanie Johnson, then Sophie McDevitt and Abigail Pinnow a few years down the road. I would meet the Marys — Mary Stechschulte and Mary Trainor — towards the end of my college career, but I would feel as if I had known them my whole life. I remain inordinately proud of my friends who are all movers and shakers on campus and soon, in life.
Thank you to Maria, Maeve, Sara, Julianna, Mia and Hannah who were once small-time writers and are now running our tri-campus community newspaper — I love you guys and wish you the best of luck. Thank you to Jordan Cockrum for being a great SMC editor and leader. And special thanks to the Starbucks at the Inn for fueling our investigations.
Thank you to all my professors for encouraging me to do what’s right and speak up for myself. A big thank you to Haleigh Ehmsen and Donna Fischman who appreciated my drive and passion for writing.
And thank you to everyone who has ever trusted me with their story. Thank you for believing that good journalism can make a difference — and thank you for having the courage to make a difference on campus and in the world.
When you’re alone during your first week of college, the days seem endless. So it’s a shame that when you finally feel as though you belong, the years fast forward until it’s the end of April 2020 and you’re looking back on what is now the past.
In what would have been our senior week, if not for a global pandemic, we would have opened the circle we closed all those years ago. Opening the circle encourages us to take what we learned on campus and share it with the world. I have learned to trust myself and to work to make the things I love better.
Thank you, Saint Mary’s, for everything.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.