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A Freezing J-term

My last J-term has been spent trying not to freeze at Hollins.  Officially, I am working on my thesis, but staying warm has become a full-time activity with days every week with temperatures in the single digits.  Unfortunately, it hasn’t snowed much, so my dreams of sledding down Tinker Beach have yet to be fulfilled, but I’ve managed to keep myself occupied despite the debilitating cold (at which my New England friends scoff).

My main activity this January has been working on my thesis.  I did a bunch of restructuring and culling at the beginning of the month, which hurt a little bit, but it’s going to make my paper much stronger.  Since then, I have been revising and rewriting what I have, and I have gotten through over half of the paper.  It’s been a blessing to have the entire month to just work on my thesis; I was so busy last semester that it was difficult to devote the amount of time I would have liked to my thesis.  I have also been able to go to Virginia Tech weekly to use their online databases of primary sources.  I have been able to spend all day down there, working and exploring Blacksburg some, which I have really enjoyed.

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Newman Library at Virginia Tech

While my afternoons have been occupied with thesis-ing, my mornings have largely been spent at the barn.  During J-term, we try to keep as many of the horses going as possible so that they can be in decent shape when lessons start again in February.  We also try to keep ourselves in shape for the spring IHSA season, which begins the first week of February.  February is a crazy month for us on the Hollins riding team; we have five IHSA shows in three weeks, then we are hosting a huge “A” rated show at the Virginia Horse Center in Lexington the last weekend of the month.  I am excited, but it will be super busy!  Our efforts to ride have been thwarted by the weather; it’s bad for the horses to be ridden when it’s ten degrees out, so we have had to skip riding a few days each week due to extreme cold.

When not riding or working on my thesis, I have found other ways to keep busy.  My roommate has gotten me hooked on Sherlock, the BBC’s modern spin on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic stories.  We’ve been watching that daily, plus I have tried to take advantage of the workout classes offered during J-term.  I’ve also continued to work on graduate school stuff.  I found out a few days ago that I was accepted to UNC-Chapel Hill (my first choice), but I’m waiting to hear back from my other schools before I make a decision.  A Hollins alum who graduated a few years ago and is currently in library school was kind enough to let me call her and ask her all kinds of questions about library school, which has helped immensely in the decision-making process.  J-term has been the laid-back, relaxing break I needed between the craziness of last semester and the craziness of February, but I am glad that everyone will be back on campus soon!

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I took my mom to see Donna the Buffalo in Charlottesville for Christmas!

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We got a few inches of snow on campus last night! Someone decided to take a new approach to painting the rock 🙂

It’s every college senior’s least favorite question:  “What are you doing after graduation?”  Luckily, I have a tentative answer.  If the stars align, I will head off to graduate school next year to pursue a master’s degree in library science.  I have known that I wanted to work in the library profession since high school; I love books and reading, and my mother is a librarian, so I was basically raised in a library.  Several internships in libraries have confirmed this for me.  I am specifically interested in the archives and special collections side of librarianship, in which I can combine my interests in libraries, history, and research, plus I get to play with cool old books.  A lot of people choose not to go to graduate school right out of college, but almost all library jobs require a master’s degree in library science, so I do not see the point in putting off my degree.

As excited as I am to go to library school and become a librarian, applying to graduate school is just as annoying as applying to college was.  I am applying to five schools:  University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Drexel University, Simmons College, and University of Maryland at College Park.  All of these schools are ranked in the top ten for their library science programs; UNC-Chapel Hill and Illinois are tied for first.  I am optimistic about my chances for admission; I just hope that I will be able to get an assistantship or a scholarship somewhere so I can actually pay for my degree.  My first choice is UNC-Chapel Hill, because I love Chapel Hill and the whole Triangle area, it’s a great school, it’s not freezing cold (unlike Simmons in Boston and the University of Illinois), and it’s my mom’s alma mater!  However, I am definitely limited by finances—realistically, I will probably end up wherever offers me the best aid package.

Each school requires a slightly different essay plus multiple recommendations, a lengthy application form, and transcripts from any college I have attended.  A few also required GRE (Graduate Record Examination) scores, but I took that test (which was even worse than the SAT) and sent my scores out in September so I could focus on my schoolwork during the semester.  I worked with the director of the Writing Center at Hollins to craft a good general essay, which I then tweaked for each school.  I wrote the basic essay over the summer (when I was not furiously studying for the GRE), and then spent most of my Christmas break tweaking the essay for the slightly different questions and length requirements of each school.  Upon my return for J-term, I have requested recommendations, sent transcripts, and paid exorbitant application fees.  At this point, all of my applications have been submitted, and I am in the worst part of the process:  the waiting.  None of my schools have any indication of their timeline for admissions, so I am currently focusing on writing my thesis and trying not to freak out about these decisions that critically affect my future.  I am grateful that I had J-term to work on these applications, though; I was so busy last semester that I did not have time to give them the attention they deserve!

Most seniors at Hollins are required to write a thesis or complete some other kind of capstone project for their majors.  Therefore, one of the favorite activities among seniors is complaining about their thesis, portfolio, project, etc.  As a history and political science major, I was required to write a thesis for history, with an optional thesis for political science, so I combined the two to write one big thesis.  I will be continuing it as an honors thesis during J-term and the spring, but I thought I would share some of the wisdom about thesis writing I gained this semester.

1. Start early.  Know what you want to write about as early as possible.  The more work you can get done over the summer, the better.  I read three books for background during the summer, but I wish I had done more.

2. Understand the bureaucratic process.  There is paperwork that goes with the thesis—know what it is.  However, the people in the registrar’s office are wonderful and are very helpful when you try to do something crazy like write a combined honors thesis.

3. Become best friends with the librarians.  When you are stuck on your literature review or can’t find the primary sources you need, chances are they will know how to find what you’re looking for.

4. Find your perfect thesis writing spot.  There is a big study room on the first floor of the library in which I spend inordinate amounts of time.  It is close enough to my library locker that I don’t need to haul my books too far, but out of the way enough to be quiet.

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My thesis writing spot in the library.

5. Don’t procrastinate.  This seems obvious, but your chapters are much better when you don’t write all 15 pages the night before it’s due.

6. Use the Virginia Tech library.  They subscribe to more obscure databases that Hollins does, and their collection is much bigger.  As a Virginia student, you can use their databases on the Tech campus and check out books from their collection.  There’s even a bus that goes from Roanoke to Tech so it’s easy to get there.  Most of my primary sources ended up being in either books I checked out from Tech or digitized in an online database at Tech.

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My locker in the library. These are all books for my thesis, and there were more by the end of the semester.

7. Balance neglect of your other classes with neglect of your thesis.  Inevitably, you will prioritize your thesis above all of your other school work.  This is good up to a point, but you will have to write your other papers sometime.  I did practically nothing but my thesis before Thanksgiving, then did nothing on my thesis over Thanksgiving break so that I could do my other homework.

8. Finally, to quote one of my favorite professors, DON’T PANIC.  The senior thesis is a lot of work, but I actually really enjoy writing it because it’s something I am very interested in.  Everyone has been very helpful and willing to work with me to make the process as easy as possible.

It’s everyone’s favorite time of year here at Hollins:  finals!  We have all been crazy busy and focused on school work ever since we got back from Thanksgiving break.  Luckily, I only had to take two short final tests (no long final exams), but I had two final research papers, plus I had to revise some of my thesis and come up with a plan for the rest of the year for it.  I was busy with school work, helping my first-years with their final presentations, and all of the fun holiday traditions Hollins has.  I’m also a member of the Academic Policy Board again this year, so I will be busy this week helping to run the final exam system.

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the library, my home away from home during finals

Even though it’s been crazy these past few weeks, Hollins has ways of making finals fun.  The holiday season lends itself to fun gatherings with lots of food, and Hollins certainly delivers.  We had Holiday Tea right after we got back from break, which is a great opportunity to celebrate with other students, faculty, and staff.  The White Gift Service, one of my favorite Hollins traditions, was scheduled for the Sunday after Thanksgiving, but the weather really hates Hollins traditions this year (it’s rained on Tinker Day, Ring Night, and now White Gift); an ice storm moved through the Roanoke area that day, causing White Gift to be postponed to the middle of the week.  It was still a beautiful service, even if it felt a little weird to be doing it in the afternoon.  It’s so weird to think that that was my last White Gift as a Hollins student!

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The Cocke building with its Christmas decorations

Other than Christmas traditions, Hollins does a lot to try and preserve our sanity during finals.  They offer free five minute massages, coloring, and stress balls on Reading Day.  There are snacks in the library as well as fun crafts to do for study breaks.  One of my favorite things Hollins does during finals is the pancake study break, which takes place on the night of Reading Day.  Hollins faculty and staff cook and serve pancakes in Moody for us, and there’s music and hot chocolate.  It was great to take a break from my solid evening of thesis-ing to eat a lot of sugar and laugh with my friends.

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One of the library’s study breaks: making buttons from discarded books!

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yummy pancakes at the pancake study break!

Besides the Hollins-run finals fun, my roommate and I have been doing our best to keep each other from going crazy.  We decorated our apartment with Christmas lights, tinsel, and wreaths and have been snacking on Christmas cookies since Thanksgiving.  I’m going to miss her and all of my friends at Hollins, but it’s that point in the semester where I am just glad to be done.  I’m going to spend my break sleeping, baking, and visiting with my friends from high school, and return for J-term rested and ready to power through lots of thesis writing.

I have always said that Thanksgiving break is the hardest of the whole year.  On one hand, everyone is exhausted and overwhelmed at this point in the semester.  On the other, it is really awkward to go on break and come back with only two and a half weeks until Christmas.  Also, Ring Night is the weekend before break, and it is always hard to leave the Hollins family after it has been reaffirmed with this powerful tradition.  This year was no exception, though I desperately needed the break to catch up on all the work I have been neglecting to write my thesis and prepare for Ring Night.

In deference to this need, I spent most of the first four days of break writing papers, sleeping, playing with my dog, and watching all the television I have not had time to watch this semester.  I have also had to learn how to drive a stick shift, because my car finally died and I will have to drive my sister’s car (with its manual transmission) until I can get a new one over Christmas break.  This has proved to be very challenging, but I have been getting better—I made it to the grocery store and back and only stalled out three times the other day!

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snuggled up with my kitty

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From a hike with my mom. It was freezing, but the view was excellent!

Despite the nasty rain and cold that descended on us on Tuesday and Wednesday of break, my mom and I drove up to New York City to visit my younger sister, who’s a sophomore at NYU, for Thanksgiving.  This was my first time driving into the city, and it was surprisingly not as stressful as I had anticipated, although driving through Manhattan was not fun.  We stayed at her little apartment in Brooklyn and did Thanksgiving dinner with a bunch of her friends.  We cooked an enormous amount of food, causing the oven to smoke continuously, but it all turned out very well.

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Our dog came to NYC with us!

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driving into Manhattan in the rain

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part of our Thanksgiving feast

We drove home on Friday, stopping at a park just outside of Washington, DC, for a contra dance with one of my favorite bands, Elixir, in one of my favorite dance spaces, the Spanish Ballroom in Glen Echo Park.  Elixir gave an excellent show, and it was a packed dance with a lot of amazing dancers.  It was a great way to break up our long drive home.  I spent Saturday finishing up some homework and lunching with a Hollins alumna who lives near me.  These last few weeks before Christmas break are going to be brutal, but there is light at the end of the tunnel!

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our Christmas tree is up in our apartment!

Senior Ring Night

Last year around this time I wrote a blog about my Ring Night experience as a junior (https://ceceliaathollins.wordpress.com/2012/11/12/ring-night/).  This year, I participated as a senior and had a totally different, yet equally amazing, experience.  Seniors are responsible for orchestrating the entire event and making sure the juniors have a wonderful time.  It involves an incredible amount of planning and coordination among the senior class, but it turned out great as always this year!

Most of us have had an idea of who we wanted our junior sisters to be for a while, but it all became official at the end of October when the senior class gathered to pick sisters (pick night happened to be the night before Tinker Day this year, keeping the seniors very busy!).  Each junior can have up to two main sisters and four half sisters, plus an unlimited number of honorary sisters.  I ended up choosing four main sisters and ten honoraries.  We received sheets that the juniors had filled out with important information about themselves, such as their favorite candy, favorite movies, favorite colors, etc.

From there, the planning began in earnest.  Emails flew fast and furiously within the different groups of seniors, trying to decide on the skits each group would do, group shout-outs, and the Friday night scavenger hunt.  Meanwhile, we were all coming up with demands for our juniors to complete, shopping and crafting like crazy for the baskets we would give them, and getting demands and gifts from other seniors sisters for our juniors.  I had a separate document on my computer for each of my juniors, plus a giant timetable of all of their demands.  The documents eventually turned into the official lists of demands the juniors were given.

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Crafting took over our entire living room floor for a few nights.

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Spray painting the bottles the juniors receive for their senior year traditions (First Step, Ring Night, Hundredth Night, and Graduation)

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We turned our spare bedroom into Ring Night headquarters, with 4 baskets, 4 posters, and everything for our honoraries.

Finally, the first day of Ring Night arrived.  The schedule was changed this year to accommodate faculty complaints of people missing classes for Ring Night, so it started on Friday afternoon instead of Thursday.  All of the juniors gathered on Front Quad with the helpers, with the seniors watching from Main.  The helpers gave the juniors their Friday demands and things got started!  I was kept busy watching my juniors perform a Taylor Swift dance routine, be a unicorn, lead a wilderness expedition on Front Quad, and teach people how to do handstands, and much more.  I also got a milkshake and pizza for dinner, plus cinnamon rolls for the next day!  In the evening, we watched skits and sent the juniors out on their scavenger hunts.

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The helpers and juniors on Front Quad.

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A variety of juniors doing the Wobble on Front Quad.

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One of my juniors and two of her friends getting ready to lead a wilderness expedition.

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Learning how to properly do squats from a junior.

We had a horse show at Sweet Briar on Saturday, so I missed pretty much everything that my juniors did during the day on Saturday, but I saw some pretty fantastic pictures.  They all had odes and top 10 lists due, including an ode to my favorite horse and the top 10 reasons to study abroad in London.  The demands I had my sisters perform included having a tea party on Front Quad, dressing up as Karl Marx, teaching a paddling class on dry land, and posting an album of fifty selfies on Facebook.  They all performed admirably!

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One of the top 10 lists I demanded from my sister with whom I went to London.

When we got back from the horse show, we had Panera waiting for us for dinner, and we rushed around to put the finishing touches on our sisters’ baskets and took them over to Moody for final skits.  When everything was as ready as it was going to be, we cheered as the juniors came in, then enjoyed some excellent skits.  The groups I was involved with had to do That 70s Show and a dance battle between N*Sync and the Backstreet Boys.  We finished skits by all singing “Don’t Stop Believing” and “Bohemian Rhapsody”, the two unofficial Hollins songs, and revealed ourselves to our junior sisters.

One of my juniors had guessed mine and her other sister (my roommate)’s identities, but I think I managed to surprise my other three.  I am so proud of them—they truly rose to the occasion.  I am proud of my class for actually pulling Ring Night off.  I worked with people I normally never would have spoken to, but we all pulled together and made it happen.  Ring Night always makes me so glad to be part of the Hollins community, and this year was no exception.  I just can’t believe that this was my last one!

Rainy Tinker Day

Tinker Day is one of my favorite Hollins traditions, and seniors get to play an integral role in it.  It’s our job to let everyone know that it’s Tinker Day and wake everyone up by running up and down the halls of the dorms in our senior robes banging pots and pans that we get in our Ring Night baskets.  We also lead songs in Moody in the morning and on Senior Rock at the top of the mountain.  We get to yell and make a lot of noise, which I always enjoy.

All of the senior traditions seem to involve losing sleep.  Painting the rock takes place at midnight, as does our first run through the halls on Tinker Day.  We do our second run at 6am and then climb a mountain!  I think I maybe got four hours of sleep the night before Tinker Day.  Unfortunately, the weather outsmarted us this year and it rained all morning so it was not safe to climb Tinker Mountain.  Instead, we walked around the loop, did class songs at the rock, and had skits in the Tayloe gym.  It definitely was not the same as climbing the mountain in the sunshine, but we still had fun.  Tinker Day wasn’t perfect this year, butI wouldn’t trade Hollins traditions for the world.  Even though I’m exhausted, I had a blast with my friends for my last (!) Tinker Day.

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Tinker Day breakfast of champions

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Waiting for the official proclamation with one of my fellow abroaders!

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President Gray making her Tinker Day proclamation in the rain.

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So gross out.

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Coming up the hill by the barn.

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You couldn’t even see the mountains.

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The first-years singing to the seniors!

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My costume in all its glory atop the rock.

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Seniors on top of the rock.

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