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Willamette rewind: Seniors share their favorite memories, advice to younger selves and future plans

Compiled by Dawn-Hunter Strobel, Olivia Frenkel, Noah Dantes and Sophie Smith

What is your favorite Willamette memory or event?

Bella Green: The day the Bearcat Pantry opened was definitely the pinnacle of my Willamette experience. It was this culmination of so much work that we had done to do that and it’s been so neat to see how new leaders have taken the SOAR Center and made it so much more than any of us imagined it would be. So that’s something I’ll definitely remember forever.

Emmett Blaney: Being in lacrosse has been really good for me. I joined at a really bad time in my life and it was a thing that made me get out of bed and it made me feel like there was some pattern to my weeks. I joined before I was out as trans and the experience of coming out to my team and my coaches was a very powerful thing for me. I think I’m the first trans person who’s played varsity sports here. That was a really powerful thing that I’m gonna remember, the way that I realized that it’s not a stretch to have trans people be involved in things. 

Maya Roussell: When I think back to college, the positive feelings are all saturated around my work at the Bistro. Not just because it was a job that I enjoyed, but because it was a community of people, not only the people that I worked with but also the regulars, the people who are always there. It was a little bit like a safe space for me and it was definitely the safest and most supportive job I’ve ever had. There was room to grow and also encouragement to be a student and do the student thing.

Marissa Fink: Playing in the Jazz Collective has been my favorite thing at Willamette. It’s just a great community of musicians.

Marissa Fink as a first-year student.

Marissa Fink as a senior.

What are you going to miss most?

Colin Troesken: The flexibility I had in what to do and when to do it. College and academia in general, those are some of the few times where you pick your courses and you have breaks between classes and you can choose what to do with that time, how to spend that time. While when you go into the workforce, it’s typically a nine to five day because you know, capitalism hates us. Your day is pretty much scheduled out for you, you get up in the morning, you go to work, you come home, and maybe you have some fun in the evening. But college is a very specific time to have this freedom and have these choices of what you wanna do. 

Rose Linville: A lot of people have probably said this, but just the people and the community. I studied abroad one year and the things I missed the most were things like going to the Bistro and just being able to know that I’d be able to see at least two or three friends the second I walked in. The environment here too is great. I think people are so passionate. In general I think it’s easy to be apathetic, but Willamette students are not that. I’m going to miss the awesome professors as well.

Marissa Fink: Just the community. Being at such a small school, the music department is so small, the environmental science department as well. It’s a tight knit community and there is always a professor or student you can reach out to. 

Sam MacDonald: Just having so many people around. Having all your friends in one place within walking distance of each other has been really nice. The social network and having the ability to make friends and connections all the time is also something I’ll miss.

Sam MacDonald as a first-year student.
Sam MacDonald as a senior.

What was the most impactful class you’ve taken?

Maya Roussell: “Black Queer Literature with Weekes.” That was definitely one of the ones where, until I took it, I felt like there was a huge part of my education missing. Not only was Weekes my first POC professor that I had, it was a topic and exposure to writings and authors who had just been not on my educational radar at all because of the way education is built. Some of the works that we looked at just felt so important. Not only to my understanding of self but also understanding of the holes in the perspectives that we as students get. 

Bella Green: One of the old biology major requirements is “Physiological Dynamics of Plants and Animals with Emma Coddington.” I really liked that class because Emma talked about biases in science and how to confront your own biases in your own research. I think we talk a lot about bias in other fields of study but not as much in the physical sciences so it was a really good opportunity to learn about that and how science marginalizes some communities and how to be an advocate. 

Marissa Fink: It was an anthropology class taught by Rebecca Dobkins, “Indigenous Peoples’ Human Rights and the Environment.” The class was a mixture of anthropology and environmental science majors, since it was an interdisciplinary class. The professor was so organized and on top of things. I was always learning and never had a dull moment.

Sam MacDonald: Probably “Foundations of Advanced Math.” I thought I was going to be doing politics and psychology, and that class made me decide to do math instead, so that has directly altered my life trajectory.

What’s something you’ve learned about yourself since arriving at WU?

Marissa Fink: I’ve always been more of a listener in conversations rather than someone who jumps in and dominates. I saw this as a weakness before college, but I learned the value of sitting back, listening and soaking everything in like a sponge. I find more comfort and value in identifying as a listener than I used to.

Natalie Lyell: Growing up I was always called out as being “bossy,” but the communities I’ve found at Willamette have helped me learn about the ways in which I’m a strong female leader. I was able to recognize that I had important things to say and valuable skills to contribute, but that a lot of the time that was going to be overlooked or devalued because of my gender. Willamette has helped foster my confidence as a leader.

Bella Green: I became aware of how to support my mental health since being here, which is something I never had before coming here. I think having access to Bishop was really useful in helping me navigate those things and getting the support that I needed.

Sam MacDonald: Well, I’ve learned that I can do a lot of math, that’s for sure. That’s a difficult question because I feel like I’m a fundamentally different person than I was when I got here. So, I feel like I’ve learned everything. Everything is new. One of the really main things I think is that I learned how to be more genuine and open with people. I am a lot more comfortable with who I am.

Maya Roussell: In many ways and many areas of my life, self advocating. Not only with being able to advocate for the type of education that I want but also, going from a first year to a last semester senior, I got to, at certain points, realize where my areas of knowledge were growing and where I had acquired tools and things I could speak knowledgeably about and because of that, that made me a more informed artist and a more informed student of the world. Learning that having that knowledge and knowing how to interact with information can help you find your voice when you need to find your voice and be able to speak when you should be able to speak to advocate for yourself or others or what you believe in. 

What advice would you give your first-year self?

Emmett Blaney: Don’t take that 8 a.m. lab. I came in thinking I wanted to be an environmental science major but I think I confused caring about the environment for wanting to be in environmental science. I’m from Wyoming and there aren’t a lot of people who are very passionate about the environment, at least in my hometown. So because I was one of the only ones, I thought that that meant I needed to go into environmental science. But really it was coming here, realizing ‘Oh, I can be a person who cares about the environment and behaves in sustainable ways without doing science,’ because I hate science. 

Maya Roussell: I think I would tell first year Maya that there’s no shame in exploring the full picture of who I am. The understandings of myself or the definitions or ways I’ve interpreted myself or that has been placed on me that I brought with me didn’t have to apply and it never had to apply. Surrounding myself with people who nurture my true self and are accepting and open and forgiving for any growth that I need to have is completely invaluable. 

Rose Linville: Things don’t have to be so hard. I think I made things really hard for myself whether that be in my emotions and angst or just putting a lot of pressure on myself to do things. You can relax and have fun, you can appreciate life as it is instead of putting a lot of pressure on yourself.

Simone Stewart: Get involved in clubs! You won’t have this kind of free time later.

Jensine Rasmussen: Go out and do more clubs sooner. I definitely got more involved towards the end of my Willamette career, but I wish I had joined much sooner.

Jensine Rasmussen as a first-year student.
Jensine Rasmussen as a senior.

What were your expectations coming into Willamette and how did they hold up?

Emmett Blaney: I expected Willamette to be a liberal paradise. It turns out even in political paradises, things are not paradises. It happened really quickly, realizing there are a lot of unjust things that happen here. 

Colin Troesken: Part of the reason I chose Willamette was because I came out here and everyone was so friendly. A professor when I came here on my Bearcat Days pulled me into his office and talked to me one on one about my academic interests, so my expectations were, Willamette is super friendly and the professors are super involved. I thought it wouldn’t live up to that. Then I came here and I was pleasantly surprised to learn that not only did it match my expectations, it surpassed them in a lot of ways. Professors are super caring and super willing to help out students. And also students here are so gosh darned friendly and nice. They’re willing to talk about big picture controversial subjects that in other environments might be kind of pushed aside, but Willamette students are willing to take those head on and make friends through doing so. 

Sam MacDonald: I really expected to get very homesick and that didn’t happen nearly as much as I thought. I was definitely hoping that I would make friends and that I would be successful in my classes and both those things have panned out really well. 

Maya Rousell: My expectations were that I was going to have a completely fun but maybe challenging four years and that I was going to pop out the other end an expert in whatever I wanted to be an expert on and make the best friends of my life. I think that in some ways those things held up, but in different ways than I expected. I think that this time here taught me how to look for the people who are going to be my friends for life and the people who are going to nurture me. I’m not popping out an expert on what I wanna be, and I don’t think anybody really is. It wasn’t the most fun four years of my life, it was pretty awful at times. I would say that the really difficult parts grew me into who I am and taught me a lot about how to be in the world in a better way. 

How are you finding closure with the semester being cut short? 

Colin Troesken: Closure this year for me was really weird. I was in leadership in Improv Club, I’ve been on ASWU for four years, so I had all these grand ideas of what closure was going to look like. But then this happened, so I had to look for closure in other ways. It’s a lot more of a meditative sort of closure. I think that is an okay way of having closure. Is it the big, fond farewell that Commencement was supposed to be? No. But I don’t think closure necessarily needs to be one big event; it can be a series of small little events. 

Bella Green: I’m a first generation student so I think having that sort of vision in my mind of graduating has definitely motivated me in the past. So it’s definitely weird to not have that. I think what’s been helping me have closure is just sitting and asking myself what I needed from that and what I think I needed from that was recognition and just to celebrate the hard work that not only myself but my peers have done as well. One way to sort of combat that is to ask for validation and recognition. My family has been really good about giving that to me. I also think really checking in with your friends and asking how they’re doing and making sure they feel acknowledged for all they’ve done. 

Maya Roussell: I think I haven’t quite found a lot of closure yet. In a lot of ways, it feels like I’m just gonna dissolve out of here. In a way I sort of see everything as just moving forward and all kind of connected. So even when something ends it kind of blurs into the next thing and I also feel like nothing is ever really done. This time here sticks with us and the people we’ve met will stick with us in some way or another. That’s gonna be my closure, is realizing this time is done in a way but also it’s the thing that has set us up for anything we do so it’s not like it’s completely a closed chapter that will never be revisited.

Rose Linville: Making sure that I stay connected as possible is a good way to find closure. If I have to say my goodbyes over Zoom as opposed to real life, then I will. I also live really close to campus so sometimes I’ll take long, moody walks through campus. For Commencement, a couple of my friends are still in Salem, so we’ll probably put on our graduation garb and take silly pictures or something. 

Rose Linville as a first-year student.
Rose Linville as a senior.

What’s next for you?

Emmett Blaney: Everyone including my mother keeps asking me this, but I do not know. I plan to start an herb garden. I wanna have some indoor herbs. I’m not going to school next year, I’m staying in Salem for the time being, so I assume just working. I want to bike ride more, I want to do more art. I don’t remember the last time I’ve read a book for fun so maybe I’ll read a book for fun. Eventually I wanna go back to grad school. I’m not 100% sure for what yet. 

Colin Troesken: Next up, I’m going to graduate school at the university of Saint Andrews in Scotland for my Masters in Philosophy. After that I hope to get a PhD there or some other university and go into academia and do philosophy work professionally. 

Bella Green:  Long term goal is going to med school. But in the interim I think I’d like to be more involved in research. 

Bella Green as a first-year student.
Bella Green as a senior.

Maya Roussell: Right now there’s a little bit of a pause, like we’re all experiencing in this pandemic. But more long term I’m looking to go to grad school to study film, media and animation. Basically I want to become a video and projection artist/designer. So I have my sights set on grad school for that eventually when that works out. In the meantime I’ll just be trying to work and save in my hometown so I can make that happen. 

Marissa Fink: I’m moving back to New Jersey. I’m excited to be back with family again. I don’t have a definitive plan. A couple years ago, my plan was to focus on environmental science after graduation and do music as a hobby, but I’ve realized in the past year that I need to keep doing music. Music is going to play a larger part in my life.

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