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Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024
The Observer

That awkward moment when you transfer

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” and 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 ten 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 yearbook. Part of the experience at college orientation is stocking up on school merchandise so that every literate human being will know you are 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 was I lived just a brisk walk away from the Fighting Irish. I practically sang “The Belles of Saint Mary’s.” I was determined to make my time there the defining four years of my life.

This is where it gets awkward.

Northwestern was my first heartbreak. 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 was not 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 between the basket of bread and the house salad, I asked/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 had 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 being 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 is not 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. My answer is solely academic. However, the more pressing matter when transferring is what do you do with all that old collegiate merchandise? The oversized sweaters? The bumper stickers? The yearbook? If you are 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 is 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 this newspaper.

The Saint Mary’s woman is whoever she aspires to be. In this sense, I identify as a Belle, but technically I will not 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. That said, I would not have the same opportunities I now have at the Savannah College of Art and Design.

However, this is not a letter of comparison or justification. This letter is a tribute, a thank you, to the beautiful campus that did not simply observe my beginning steps of adulthood, but helped me grow.

In the dorm rooms of McCandless, Le Mans and Holy Cross Hall, I befriended fun, adventurous, 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. I owe much of my development as both a writer and a person to the group of intelligent, gifted and supportive young women I came to know through my time with The Observer. Every one of you was and continues to be my reason for writing, though I am no longer able to attend those weekly meetings. You were my team, and whether you knew it or not, you gave me a purpose. For that, I am forever grateful.

In the Noble Family dining hall, the hallways of Spes Unica, LaFun (and Starbucks), The Observer office; wherever I went and whoever I met: Thank you for making my time in South Bend so memorable.

Saint Mary’s, though you were not my perfect academic match, thank you for the lessons, opportunities and friendships with which you blessed me. As sung in your alma mater, “Your chimes will forever/ Bring sweet memories of you.”

Editor's Note: During her time at Saint Mary's, Emilie Kefalas was a News writer and Scene writer for The Observer.

Emilie Kefalas Former Belle Nov. 23

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.