Reflections from My Favorite Study Spot

By Kim McCray, Class of 2000 

Climbing the staircase to my favorite study spot, the third floor mezzanine at Durick Library, felt familiar and routine with one exception. I was no longer the undergraduate student I used to be. I walked to my prized table — the last one on the left with the gorgeous view of a snow-capped Mount Mansfield. As I sat down to take in the 22 books I pulled from the stacks on adult learning, I caught the glances of several undergraduates at the neighboring tables preparing for semester exams.

Several minutes later, I felt their eyes on me again. I chuckled to myself when I realized how strange it must look to see an adult reading about adult learning. The titles on the book spines were bold and bright enough to be read from several tables away: Adult Learning, Adults as Learners, The Adult Learner, Adult Learning Methods, Enhancing Adult Motivation to Learn, Understanding Adult Education and Training, Lifelong Learning at its Best. The students’ continued wayward glances made me feel out of place, but they also provoked me to appreciate the moment. As an undergraduate, I remember feeling more adolescent than adult, despite the fact that I knew I was legally an adult. Minus the personal laptops and cell phones, these students reminded me of my classmates and me more than 16 years ago.

I lagged countless hours at the library during my undergraduate career — my friends usually came to the library when they needed to find me. In spite of this fact, if someone told me back when I was an undergraduate that I would find myself as a doctoral candidate in 2016, I probably would have laughed in his/her face. Master’s maybe, but Ph.D.?! 

When I reached the 15th anniversary of my SMC graduation in 2015, I stepped back to think. While my love of learning manifested early in life, it blossomed at Saint Michael’s College and set me on a course that contributed to who I am today.

Learning created my community at Saint Michael’s. I met some of my closest friends because of my coursework. First semester freshman year, my J.V. basketball teammate Margaret “Marge” Miller and I bonded while tackling the same statistics class. I discovered she also lived on the 2nd floor of Lyons. It wasn’t long before I made nearly nightly trips from 2nd South to 2nd North to study with her. Sophomore year Jean Osborne (now Plasse), Steve Badger, Jr., and I dove into American Literature with Nat Lewis together. We spend several nights discussing paper ideas and making our way through Moby Dick. The work-study program employed several of my friends at the library circulation desk. This came in handy, especially when I needed to renew my checked out items. 

Classes opened my eye to new subject areas. First semester I took Mass Communication and Society with David Mindich. This experience influenced my decision to add journalism as a second major. My interests in American history, American literature, and mass communication history led me to classes with Nat Lewis, Lorrie Smith, Doug Slaybaugh, Susan Ouellette, Mike Donoghue, Dianne Lynch, Jon Hyde, and Kimberly Sultze. When I needed help researching primary sources for my senior thesis, Susan Ouellette took me to the library at SUNY Plattsburgh and walked me through the microfilm collection of the Plattsburgh Press Republican from the 19th century. The time she spent with me that day left a lasting impression. When she dropped me off, I asked how I could thank her. She told me if I ever ended up in a similar situation in the future to do the same for someone else. As I worked with museum interns over the years, I remembered Susan’s advice, applied it several times, and continue to do so today. 

When I scored a job at the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum five months after graduation, my background in mass communication and American history made for a perfect match. As I immersed myself in the world of museum education, I felt ready to pursue a master’s degree. I became a part-time graduate student at Georgetown University. When I graduated, I didn’t feel finished. I began to think about Ph.D. programs. In the fall of 2007, I started a doctoral program in educational studies at Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The lessons I learned at Saint Michael’s served me well. The small class sizes at Lesley reminded me of my classes at Saint Mike’s. Like St. Mike’s, professors at Lesley remained highly accessible both inside and outside of class, subscribe to progressive models of education, and exhibit a strong compass of social justice. Lesley University remains a leader in education and educational studies. 

Sixteen years after I graduated with a B.A. in American studies and journalism and mass communication from Saint Michael’s, I look forward to celebrating the completion of my Ph.D. at Lesley University. I submitted my dissertation and met with my doctoral committee for the final time in March 2016. 

In May 2016, when I walk across the stage at Lesley University’s hooding ceremony and commencement exercises, I’ll think back to when I walked across the stage at Ross Sports Center in May 2000, shook Dr. vanderHeyden’s hand and received my bachelor of arts’ diploma. That day, with my B.A. in hand, I walked down the steps, only to be greeted by two of my favorite SMC staff, Marilyn Cormier and Louise Luchini. They greeted me with a vase full of beautiful purple roses. I am and always will be a Purple Knight. 

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