Emily Breakell '17

Hello Friends!

This semester, I am in the lovely Washington, District of Columbia. While many of my fellow junior friends have jumped the pond/headed south to countries abroad, I am, if you will, studying domestic. And loving it.

The Holy Cross D.C. semester program is wonderfully unorthodox. So unorthodox, in fact, that I find myself responding to these questions pretty regularly:

“So you’re taking a semester off?”

“So you’re a student at a school in D.C.?”

“So you’re a grad student?”

No, no, and thank you! But, no. I do understand the confusion, of course. Rarely do juniors in college have the opportunity to conduct independent research with a thesis advisor, or to have a full time internship in one of the most politically relevant cities in the world.

What’s more, I am lucky enough to be interning at one of the most prevalent LGBT advocacy organizations in the United States: The Human Rights Campaign. As a member of the community, and as someone who has witnessed the struggle of a number of people so fearful to come out in their families and communities, it’s a real privilege to work in a place where people are doing incredible work for equality.

It is also very special to be a Holy Cross student at HRC. Many of my fellow interns come from schools where all housing and bathrooms are gender neutral, where sex positive programming is prevalent and integral to culture, where LGBTQ groups and PRIDE are some of the most popular student organizations, and Women’s Centers and LGBT spaces are an expectation.

Of course, I don’t. And yet, my experience on campus in the context of my identities as a woman, a feminist, and LGBT student at Holy Cross has still been very positive. In fact, these identities have been enhanced, not dulled, during my time at Holy Cross. I am supported by the Holy Cross community to be my authentic self, while I am also challenged to offer my opinions and, sometimes, criticisms of a community that I love and do my best to contribute to.  Part of being a good community member at Holy Cross and in all places means articulating how we progress, even when it might be unpopular.

And truly, the arc of Holy Cross’ history has always bent towards more justice, more diversity, and more inclusion. Holy Cross was founded as the first college in Massachusetts to serve Catholic students. The first valedictorian was mixed-race. In ’68, Father Brooks recruited 20 African American men to attend Holy Cross. In ’72, women were welcomed to the college.

Now, Holy Cross has thriving Multicultural Student Organizations, a PRIDE group, and a Women’s Forum. The Vagina Monologues happen annually. We had our first drag show last year. Most beautifully, these things do not detract from the Jesuit tradition of the college. Going forth and setting the world on fire must come from a recognition of the diversity of the world in which we live. Being a person for and with others must come from a deep sense of love, and a willingness to meet people where they are rather than where you might want them to be.

Next semester, I am returning to Holy Cross. Although I didn’t anticipate coming back quite so soon, I am excited that what I am learning in DC will transfer well to what I hope to do on campus. This year’s commencement speaker, Bryan Stevenson, encouraged the Class of 2015 to “beat the drum for justice.” Having witnessed such impressive justice drum beating in D.C., I hope to make a bit of a ruckus on campus with what time I have left.


Hello Friends!

Today is the last day of my 10-week summer internship with The United Way of Central Massachusetts.

So let’s be honest: internships have a mixed reputation, and that’s probably an optimistic adjective. As a progressive, I’m at least slightly morally opposed to unpaid internships. As an undergrad, I’m looking for meaningful experiences in offices and sectors that peak my interest. As someone about to head to D.C. for the semester, I’m depending on an internship to contribute to my academic and professional development while there. As a practical person, I’m worried about how to be sure that an internship in D.C. will be substantial (a.k.a. not a make-2o-copies-of-this-and-then-get-me-a-soy-latte-before-you-write-this-insignificant-memo-and-listen-to-angry-constituent-#375 type of internship) before I commit to one.

I’m especially concerned about that last issue–being sure that I’ll actually do interesting and worthwhile things–because my internship with United Way was really, really wonderful. Let me give you a semi-absurd but completely true indication of how much I enjoyed my time at UW this summer:

There’s this acronym, bae (before anything else). Most people use it to describe their romantic partners, or exaggerate how much they like something. Common HC examples might be:

“Inhouse Coffee is baeeeeeeeeeee”

“Sis,” (friendly, lovely, wonderful Kimball employee) “is the real bae”

“Actual bae: getting more than 5 hours of sleep”

Naturally, I became fond of referring to United Way as, well, “United Bae.” As ridiculous as that might sound, I think it indicates how much I genuinely liked this internship.

My official title was “Day of Caring Program Assistant.” Day of Caring is a service day that United Ways throughout the US coordinate. In Central Massachusetts, DOC engages over 1,200 volunteers in projects designed by nonprofits in the greater Worcester area. It is a beautiful event that fosters meaningful connections between parts of the community that otherwise might not interact. A ton of good work gets done, and the luncheon in the middle of the day is a real celebration of service and collaboration. You can check out pictures from last year’s United Way of Central Mass’ DOC here.

Applying for this internship was a no-brainer: I love event planning, I wanted to get more experience with design, marketing, and communications, I’m really interested in the nonprofit sector, and, spending the summer in Worcester seemed exciting and worthwhile. I applied to this internship through the Summer Internship Program at Holy Cross which is run through the Career Planning office. To them, I am endlessly grateful. The lovely career planning staff helped me figure out how I would manage a trip to Guatemala, Summer Orientation, and a 10-week internship. They helped me with housing, stipends, and, of course, landing the internship itself. To avoid a lengthy tangent, the bottom line is the career planning office is filled with helpful and wonderful women that I am extremely thankful for.

Anyway, as amped as I was for this internship, I had no idea how truly great it would be. I worked under a kind, fabulous supervisor, Kerri Sandberg, who gave me enough guidance to be successful and enough freedom to explore what I really enjoyed and wanted to get out of the internship. I worked in what I am convinced is one of the friendliest offices in the world, filled with hard-working, fun, helpful people who are doing really important work for the Worcester community. I practiced all those skills I wanted to in marketing, communications, and administrative nonprofit work and found talents and interests that I had never really considered before. It never felt like day-in-day-out-real-world-adult-life. It felt like every day, I was coming in to do something interesting that would contribute to an organization and event that I really care about. Outside of the office, I fell in love with Worcester at Bravehearts games, non-Shrewsbury Street restaurants, and poorly jogging around the city whenever I found adequate motivation.

I think, sometimes at Holy Cross, we are apologetic, perhaps even overtly negative about our location in Worcester. We need to stop that. This community is filled with people who care deeply, who think carefully, and who work hard. I am filled with gratitude that this is a place I can call home.

Today, I will say goodbye to United Way. Tomorrow, I will say goodbye to Worcester. Both of those will be incredibly hard because of how wonderful this summer was.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.


The picture below was taken by the CEO of the United Way, Tim Garvin. He gave me a lovely goodbye gift and warm wishes on my way out.


Hello Friends!

Whether or not you’re an incoming first-year student at Holy Cross, their assigned reading for the summer, as far as I am concerned, should be a part of everyone’s summer syllabus. Selected by the Dean for the class of 2019, Shawn Maurer, Hand to Mouth by Linda Tirado is a punchy, caustic, and important book. Here are my top five reasons for getting your hands on a copy:

1. Let me say it again: it is important.

This is an unusual opportunity to hear a marginalized voice. Yes, we have books like Nickel and Dimed, which are essentially books of imitation, detailing the lives of relatively wealthy people temporary leading lives of poverty. But Hand to Mouth is the real deal: an articulate woman writing about her experiences as a poor person in America and being associated with poor culture. Her voice matters, her observations matter, her story matters.

2. It’s funny.

With chapter titles like, “I’ve Got Way Bigger Problems than a Spinach Salad Can Solve” and “We Do Not Have Babies for Welfare Money,” it’s clear that Tirado doesn’t hold back. Her direct, sharp voice laces humor into very dark topics. Despite the comedy, no one would accuse Tirado of sugar-coating the experiences she describes, as it is often a biting, sometimes attacking humor. One line that comes to mind is when she directly addresses the reader, “If your car breaks down, you call a shop. If you are sick, you go to a doctor. If you break a heel, you get a new pair of shoes. Appreciate that, assholes.” (I might also point out here that she can be fairly explicit, which might be seen as a strength or a limitation of the book. Other chapter titles include “This Part is About Sex” and “Poverty is Fucking Expensive”).

3. It’s easy.

I tried starting my summer reading with Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, which of course is a light, quick, and fun read after an intense finals period! ……not. While that 800-page beauty decorates my desk in Williams, my copy of Hand to Mouth is already in the hands of a fellow bookworm. 224 pages of gloriously large font and colloquial writing make it a nice way to keep reading while shying away a bit from heavier academic writing.

4. It’s difficult.

While the book does breeze by in someways, the content can be tough, even exhausting at times. Tirado’s writing brings up complex questions about the world in which we live and the issues with which we concern ourselves. She is frustrated by and frequently notes the limitation of human empathy and the willingness of rich people to dismiss, ignore, and forget about the poor. She articulates this well in Chapter 5, announcing, ‘There are millions of us who have had enough of this. We have waited. We have been patient. We have coped. And we’ve survived, which we’ll continue to do. Humans are amazingly resilient. The question is, how can everyone else live knowing that so many of us have to live like this?’

5. It will be on the test.

As an Orientation Leader, I sometimes get the question–Do we have to read the book? And I totally get it. You have one more summer before the big unknown of college and it’s been made abundantly clear to you during Summer Gateways that Holy Cross is an academically fulfilling, but surely, demanding institution. You want a break before that all begins. But this book does not taint summer break, and thinking of it in that way gets away from the real reasons that we read, anyway. Of course, we read to learn. We read to better understand the world. We read because writing can be beautiful. We read because we understand more about ourselves. We read because we understand more about other people. Reading, and I would argue that reading Hand to Mouth in particular, helps us in the struggle towards being more empathetic and thoughtful people.

Many people know John Green as a famous young adult novelist, with now two film adaptations of his novels. I was first acquainted with John Green on youtube, where he produces a variety  of content with his brother. One such variety is the educational videos he helps create in a series called Crash Course. One of my favorite quotes comes from one of those videos, in which he addresses the comically portrayed “High School John Green” after he asks the question, “Will this be on the test?” The now more eloquent and intellectually curious John green replies,


So yes, Hand to Mouth will be on the test. Happy Studying!



Hello Friends!

This was my second summer working with Gateways Orientation. This time around, I had the really great (get it…Greatways…it was great) opportunity to be on Gateways Orientation Central Staff, or, GOCS, as the student coordinator for the student orientation program.  I couldn’t have asked for a more ideal position. I still was able to do what I love, be an orientation leader, but I also was involved with team selection (interviewing and selecting orientation leaders) and enjoyed more responsibility during the program. Of course, I was also intimidated.

How could I so quickly transition from the Guatemala Immersion to Gateways mode? (I flew in at 3AM and started work at 12PM…oops)

How would I perform with more responsibility (and less sleep)?

On a team with so many new orientation leaders, what would it be like to be considered one of the “returners”? How could I be nearly as helpful or fabulous as the returners who helped me last year?

How could Gateways 2015 be nearly as awesome as Gateways 2014?

And yet, despite my worries, I was still very, very excited because I knew a few things for sure: First, as always, I have a wonderful family at Holy Cross that cares about me and believes in me. Second, the orientation leader team was diverse, fun, hilarious, thoughtful, and engaging. Third, I love orientation.

So no need to hold your breath–Gateways 2015 was wonderful. And let me tell you, the members of the class of 2019 that I met are definitely bringing a whole collection of fascinating stories and experiences to Holy Cross. Although I won’t get to see them much in their first year as I spend my junior year off campus, I anticipate what interesting work will be done, what worthwhile new projects/programs will arise, what foundations will be established for the legacies these students will eventually leave. Certainly, when I return for my senior year (ahhhhhhhhh), Holy Cross will not be what it was when I left.

And no–Gateways 2015 was not very much at all like Gateways 2014. But, somehow, they both were thoroughly important, incredible, and overwhelmingly fun experiences.

Many, many, many thanks to faculty, staff, incoming students(!!!), fellow GOCS, and of course, my beloved Orientation Leaders, for making this month of June oh-so special.



Classic orientation circle with my A+ orientation partner, Mike(y) McCaffrey.




“… this place, this bond, this faith, this love, this Holy Cross.”  -William H. Jenks ’54

Hello Friends!

On May 24th at 3AM, I embarked on the third immersion trip of my HC career. I climbed into a van with ten other students and two members of the chaplain community and we headed to Logan airport, in order to go to Houston airport, in order to travel to Guatemala City airport, in order to get in another van for 5 hours and drive to Quetzaltenango, Guatemala.

Although I have had ample time to reflect on the amazing experience that was this immersion trip, it’s still really difficult for me to begin to respond to the question,

“How was your trip?”

I usually start with some general indication that the trip was wonderful. Then, I flail around in an endless sea of evidence to support my thesis. Do I talk about my 3rd grade friends, Paoula, Lucia, and Jennifer, that brought such hilariously different light and personality to class every day? Or maybe about Rosenda, a woman with the strength and courage to be provide for her children independently? Do I lead in with my newly found love for boiled plantains? Do I talk about the weather, how it was like spring every day? How the landscape was absolutely gorgeous? Do I point out that there is a lot of suffering? Do I point out that there is a lot of joy? Do I plug for Education and Hope? Do any of those ideas even begin to do justice to the trip?

It would be, to some extent, exhausting to try to explain to others how meaningful this trip was for me, but it is also clear that embarking on that endeavor is of the utmost importance. Working with the wonderful nonprofit Education and Hope was something that I am incredibly grateful for, because I witnessed a truly empowering organization–one in which community members serve other community members. Relationships within that authentic community were marked by love, compassion, and justice. It was an amazing gift to be welcomed into that space like I have never been welcomed anywhere else (despite being the pastiest of gringos with shaky-at-best Spanish). Indeed, on top of learning about love, justice, and respect, I learned about real hospitality and generosity.  I learned about the sacrifices that we make for those that we love, I discovered my place within my own communities, and my own family, even as I was thousands of miles away from them.

The 13 of us were certainly not at the Holy Cross campus, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that it somehow was Holy Cross.  That indeed, Holy Cross is something much more than a place on a hill. It is an idea, a love, a shared experience.


P.S. This picture almost captures the joy my friend Marily (also a member of the class of 2017) and I shared to be close to finishing a less-than-easy hike.






Hello Friends!

I just got out of my last class as a sophomore, which also means my last Holy Cross class until senior year. Woah.

When I talked to my dad on the phone yesterday, he said, “Can you believe you’re almost done with your second year?”

I confidently said, “Yes.” While it does seem like the time goes by fast, I can’t help but feel that these have been two dense, wonderful, busy, outrageous years. I look around this campus, and I see so much more than the extravagant buildings crawling with intimidating intellectuals I once imagined Holy Cross to be.

I look at Hogan, I see countless hours spent with wonderful staff in the Office of Student Involvement planning events and working on initiatives. I walk by Rehm Library, and think of the countless esteemed speakers I’ve been privileged to hear from, and the great discussions I had after them. I walk through the third floor of Fenwick and feel at home in the copy room, where I shared laughs with professors and staff during work study. I find myself in Kimball, and carefully put my clean plates on the conveyor remembering my time in the back as a student worker, where I made many of the friends I have today. I stroll through Stein, where most of my classes have been at Holy Cross, and am overwhelmed by memories of truly exciting lectures, engaging debates, nerves before tests and presentations, and above all, meaningful conversations.  I climb up Mulledy steps, and two years of communal living give the walls this radiating, indescribable charm. It feels like home.

Amazing relationship-building and unique experiences are commonplace here. I take them for granted all the time. It is so hard for me to remember the days of being intimidated by these buildings, professors, and peers, they feel so distant.  I love being an orientation leader because I am convinced that if this off-the-wall girl from dirt roads and classic rock with odd political/religious background can make Holy Cross a home, anyone can.

So yes, I can believe I’ve spent two years at Holy Cross trying to, as Thoreau so aptly put it, “suck out all the marrow of life.” And what a wildly rewarding two years these have been.


Hello Friends!

Little darling, it’s been a long, cold, lonely winter.

Well, 3/4 of the way into Spring Semester, spring has arrived! It’s a wonderful day when you know–marked by every type of sport possible scattered down Easy Street, occupation of the Hoval by frisbee throwers, tanners, and passive readers, and that subtle (but noticeable) difference in everyone’s smile that just screams “I’m walking outside without a coat and I’m not risking any major health repercussions.”

While the warming climate does suggest sometimes intimidating impending academic projects: final papers, exams, thesis presentations, it’s hands down my favorite time of the academic year.  This semester brings around a lot of phenomenal programming. The Multicultural Student Organizations put on some really fantastic events, like ExplorASIAn, Noche Latina, and CASA’s Culture Night. Purple Pride Day was just yesterday, wherein Purple Key Society had some awesome stuff on campus, like food trucks in the hoval and little giveaways throughout the day. Things like the Easy Street Fair, where every residence hall house council sets up a fair-like booth, The Pig Roast, and Spring Carnival will come along with spring weekend.

Ultimately, it’s awesome to spend time with wonderful friends, new or old, before the summer.  As a student planning on being off campus for all of next year on the Washington, DC Semester and in El Salvador, this is an incredibly valuable time for me to demonstrate to people how much they have made my experience so wonderful at Holy Cross so far. Here Comes the Sun!



Hi Friends!

If you want a concrete example of “men and women for others” on campus, Spring Break Immersion Leaders might be one of the strongest. While many of their friends head to Cabo and other balmy spring break destinations, these seniors dedicate their last spring break to creating incredibly meaningful experiences for those who choose to do Immersion. Their service to the HC community is endlessly valuable to the students who sign up for trips, and our community as a whole as students return with new perspectives and understandings.

I was lucky to go to El Paso, TX over break with 10 other lovely HC students. Considered one of the “special sites” outside of Appalachia, I jumped in with an open mind and heart, knowing it would be different from my experience last year in Wheeling, West Virginia, but feeling confident having attended immersion before.

El Paso was, to say the least, a beautiful place to go. The desert landscapes were outrageously beautiful, like nothing I had ever seen before. So many people were welcoming to us, asking how we were enjoying our time, if we had been to Chico’s Tacos, and if we were enjoying the weather. Their willingness to embrace us, an odd group of undergrads from Massachusetts, was truly touching.

Beyond that, as a Political Science-Spanish double major, so much of the immigration policy that we discussed was humanized in real individuals. I was privileged to speak (in my broken Spanish) with a number of immigrants, and learn about their stories. Indeed, Spring Break Immersion is very much about stories. It gives us an opportunity to share our experiences with others and catch a glimpse of how community affects experience, and how our lives intersect with the lives of those in El Paso, or Wheeling, or Roanoke, or New Orleans…

I came back to Holy Cross refreshed by the beauty of the El Paso community and inspired by the passionate individuals working for justice there. Further, I came back hopeful that I am learning enough from people fighting for social justice that I might one day do that work effectively, too.


Hey Friends!

You’ve probably heard about Worcester getting a LOT of snow this winter.  I won’t be shy about it…not everyone on campus is thrilled that Mount Saint James resembles Elsa’s kingdom in Frozen, but, here are my top four reasons for asserting that snow isn’t ruining my life.

1. WE HAVE AN AMAZING GROUNDS CREW. I’m endlessly impressed by how wonderful the grounds crew is at keeping the campus safe and navigable despite the outrageous amounts of snow that mother nature has thrust upon the Woo. If you’ve been on campus, you know that stairs are our best friend, and I can honestly say that I feel completely safe walking throughout campus, which to me, seems like nothing less than a miracle. YOU ROCK GROUNDS CREW!

2. I am outside minimally. No joke, although I love the outdoors, in balmy -2 degree temperatures, it is really manageable to stay inside for the majority of the day! Whether that means cozying up in Dinand, brewing some tea in Kimball, or hunkering down in Hogan, our little campus makes it practical to minimize time spent in the “tundra.”

3. Communal Living. On the days where we were not allowed to go outside because of extreme wether conditions, I really loved having so many awesome friends around me. My residents and I had a cookie decorating event, I got to catch up on work, and enjoy a movie with my roommate. What more could a girl ask for in a snow day?

4. Fun Snow Things! HC students have taken advantage of the snowy conditions in some of the most creative ways I’ve ever seen. I’ve seen students sledding on everything from legitimate toboggans, to cardboard, to trays, endless snowy candids on facebook, and a number of snow sculptures.

So friends, cozy up for a little longer, and soon enough, we’ll be talking about Spring Weekend!



Hey Friends!

Since the start of the school year, I’ve been working hard on an event that I mentioned in a previous post: Agape Latte.

It is basically a super cool program that started at Boston College and has since spread to several other colleges and universities throughout the US. Some members of Student Government learned about the event at the National Jesuit Leadership Conference and asked me to take charge of it, as my position on cabinet is Spirituality and Social Justice.

By working with a really great administrator in the Office of Student Involvement, Dan Kagdis, as well as other individuals from a variety of offices and organizations, Agape Latte is taking place this Wednesday, February 4th. It is truly an awesome experience to see a program move from tiny beginning stages to something real, something cool, and hopefully something meaningful. This year in particular I have felt empowered to do positive work for the Holy Cross community by administrators and faculty. Although many students at other schools can collaborate with administrators and faculty on programs, events, projects, etc., Holy Cross works very hard to make sure students feel equipped to do work independently. Indeed, in my experience, offices and administrators here support students rather than direct them.

If you will be on campus, I highly encourage you to come to Agape Latte. Professor Stephanie Yuhl, highly regarded in the history department and the director of Montserrat, will be our first speaker. Students will have the opportunity to hear a 20-30 minute talk on some of her life experiences, as well as ask questions and enjoy coffee, desserts, and music! I am extremely excited to have a program that could possibly reinforce faculty/staff and student relations, because having worked with several awesome employees of the college, I think it is absolutely imperative to understand the great work and fascinating stories of individuals who dedicate much of their life to the project of undergraduate education.


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Emily Breakell '17

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