My Alma Mater
Written by Molly Kate Andrews
My mother used to spend hours in the afternoon reading aloud to my siblings and me. With her feet propped up on a tower of story books that she had plundered from the local library, she would gather all six of us around her lap to see the pictures as she read story after story until one or all of us fell asleep. I was always lucky to win the spot right under her arm, close enough to the pages that I didn’t have to strain over a brother’s head to see the pictures or be in danger of slipping off the edge of the couch, and close enough to mom that I could snuggle into her and hear her heartbeat. She always smelled like Earl Grey and sweet spice.
When I was old enough to start learning to read, mom and I spent many cozy afternoons taking turns reading from picture books. Once she had read a page slowly and smoothly, I would tediously struggle my way through the next one, with her every so often reminding me to “sound it out.” Her nail followed every line as if she were drawing the words out of me like water from a well.
Many years later, my parents dropped me off at Hillsdale for my freshman year. My daddy cried, but mom was smiling. “You’re ready for this,” she told me. “Just see what you can do.”
Although it didn’t take more than a semester to acclimate to the new environment, leaving the familiarity of my mother’s schoolroom with the map of Washington pinned up next to the whiteboard was initially jarring. Suddenly my teachers were strangers. No one was reminding me to “sound it out,” and more importantly, no one was assuring me that I really could do this. I found myself completely responsible for my own mind. For the first time in my life, I had to prove myself to someone who didn’t already know if I could succeed. And I had to prove it to myself too.
Now a sophomore English major, it’s easy for me to lose sight of that quiet schoolroom where it all began. As I navigate a sea of ideas and intellectual conversations, I struggle to discern what I really think as I try to untangle myself from intangible ideas and rediscover my principles.
I remember calling Mom last semester and spilling the tangled-spaghetti mess of my mind out over the phone as she listened patiently on the other line. I’m a verbal processor, so I don’t know what I really think until I have said it at least five times. My mom knows this, and as she listened patiently on the other end, I could almost hear her saying, “Sound it out.”
When I had finished explaining whatever was on my mind, she said to me, “Remember where you started. I have been watching you from the beginning, and I know how you think. Follow the threads of ideas as far as they will take you. We’ll sort them out together when you come back home.” After searching for something tangible to hang on to, these words drew me back to the living room on a quiet afternoon.
I was already a somebody when I arrived on campus. I wasn’t a blank slate to be colored over by the “great ideas” of the past, present, and future. I didn’t materialize out of nothing on the campus quad in order to become a great contributor to Western thought. I came from my mother’s schoolroom. Her faith and inspiration brought me here. And I know that these experiences I have at school will take their place in my memory just like those long and lazy afternoons learning to read.
Education takes you places. Ideas are mobile, and it’s easy to get lost on the way and lose track of where you started. Having my mother as a guide, who knows my mind, who remembers where it all started and draws my eyes back to the cornerstone of my journey, has been an invaluable gift as I have taken my first steps out on my own.
When I graduate in 2019, Hillsdale will become my alma mater. It’s fitting that an institution dedicated to guiding minds to a deeper understanding of their own roots would be named for the person who started it all.
Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. Thanks for lighting the way.
Molly Kate Andrews grew up in Eastern Washington State with her parents, five siblings, and a gentle dog named Grendel. A class of ’19 English major, Molly Kate plans to return to her mountains and her family once she has finished her degree.