“I Have Found a New Home for Myself Here”

kelseydeforestHere is a transcript of the address delivered by SGA President Kelsey Deforest ’13 at the Family Weekend Worship Service on October 21, 2012, in duPont Chapel:

Thank you, Jenny [University Chaplain Jenny Call], for inviting me to speak today. As a first-year, I never would have expected to be speaking at a worship service as a senior, but during my time at Hollins I have found my spirituality and I have built a relationship with God.

For many of you, this is a time of transition. The parents in the room are figuring out how to live now that they are no longer full-time parents and students are figuring out how to live away from home. At times, life can unexpectedly or expectedly draw you away from the place that has always felt like home. Coming to college, even though you know it’s coming, can feel like an exile. However, if you act as the scripture suggests and hope in the plan of the higher power, this new place can become home. The more you lay down roots in this new place, the more it will come to be a home. Since coming to Hollins, I have found a new home for myself here, and in doing so I have gotten to know myself better and built a stronger relationship with God.

When I first came to Hollins, I was not worried about homesickness at all, but after a couple days here it bubbled up. Coming from Ohio, I was not sure how I felt about this place so far south, where people were friendly for no reason. With time, though, Hollins became home and became a place that I am completely in love with. My mother tells the story all the time of the first time I came back to Ohio from Hollins. Many of you have probably already heard it. At the end of Thanksgiving Break, I was excited to hit the road and told my mom that it was time for me to go home. Though the moment was bittersweet for her, because I no longer just saw Ohio as home, she also knew it meant I was in the right place. That transition didn’t happen overnight. It was a gradual process of laying down roots and settling in. Home can be found in so many places during these four years at Hollins—in the people you meet, the places you explore, the time you spend here, the purpose you learn, and within yourself as you grow here.

Home can be found in the people you meet at Hollins. In your classmates, you will find a mirror for your own experience. The homesickness you do not want to acknowledge in yourself you will see in them. In them, you can see the growth you cannot see in yourself. As Hollins becomes home for them, it will also become home for you. In the faculty and staff, you will find mentors and guides who will be with you for a lifetime. In many ways they will become quasi-parents at Hollins. When you cannot get a hold of your parents, there will be faculty or staff who will open up their offices for you to vent or cry. These relationships are the first support system for you at Hollins, until this place becomes home. They will help tide you over as you settle in.

The places you fall in love with at Hollins become holy through your experience with them. Alumnae talk about the feeling they have when they come back to campus. For them, it really is a homecoming and that feeling can be healing. Many times, they will drive through campus, not even stop, just drive, to feel that sense of home, again. Some of these places may become homey and holy through your time in them. I feel this way about the theatre. It is where I found my first Hollins family. The time and dedication I have put into the theatre have made it a home for me. When I walk in the doors, I feel the burdens fall from my shoulders. You will find similar homes in Pleasants, practice rooms in Presser, or even in the SGA office. Other places may feel holy when you first encounter them; a bench in Beale garden to reflect at, the top of the hill on the loop, or within the chapel itself. For me these places are the hot spots on campus. They are warm because of the hot springs and can be found by theatre, by Pleasants, and on back quad. The little places of happenstance warmth seem set out to improve your day. For me, they remind me of the moments in your life where you suddenly feel connected to and loved by God.

The four years you spend here can feel like an exile or they can become a home in your memory. In one of my courses this term, we read Abraham Heschel’s “The Sabbath,” which writes how time can be made holy through the thoughts you put into it and the time you set aside in it to build your relationship with God. These four years can become memories that will bring you that feeling of home after you’ve graduated. No matter where you are in the world, those memories will be something to fall back on. The traditions we have here can be spiritual experience as the community comes together. When you are standing at the top of Tinker Mountain, surrounded by other Hollins women, there is no way to feel disconnected from the community. In White Gift Service, the community comes together in the dark of winter to share warmth and joy together. During Founder’s Day, we celebrate the man whose mission ensured our time at Hollins today. For me, it is a form of thanksgiving. You can also find time in your busy schedule to make holy—to work on your relationship with God. In my own life, this time usually must happen before 7 am. While this may make you cringe, watching the sunrise over the mountains on a quiet campus gives me inner peace and the time to talk with God.

At Hollins, you will find a higher calling. This passion is a home you can take with you wherever you go.  Learning to love learning again is one of the best gifts you get out of your Hollins education. As you come to invest in your academics at Hollins, you are laying down roots in a very significant way. Deciding you love what you are studying will make Hollins home faster than anything else. At Hollins you also learn how to serve and how to want to be of service. This service may be in the traditional sense, with SHARE or on the Jamaica Service Trip. Even outside of these activities, all Hollins women learn to serve. They are always willing to be called upon by friends when they are needed. This continues long after graduation. This sense of passion and service will bring you closer to your higher power.

Ultimately, at Hollins, you will learn to carry your home with you because you will learn to feel at home in yourself. As I prepare to leave Hollins, I know that I will never feel that sense of exile, again. At Hollins, I have grown, become more confident, and come closer to God. Between those assets and my everlasting bonds with my Hollins sisters, I know that I am ready to go anywhere and do anything. In reflecting on the scripture, I can only think that this is what God wanted when he told his exiles to lay down roots and connect with their communities. Like the exiles, I have learned that home can really be anywhere.

I sincerely hope that Hollins already feels like home to you. If not, have patience, keep faith in God’s plan, and work to lay down roots. With time, the people you meet, places you find, time you spend, passion you discover, and self you develop will ensure that home is always with you.