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Ivy Day Address 2017

Katie Hitchcock-Smith ’17

Katie Hitchcock-Smith, a member of the Class of 2017, delivered the student speech at Smith College’s Ivy Day celebration on Saturday, May 20.

Thank you, President McCartney. Good morning!

My name is Katie Hitchcock-Smith, a member of the class of 2017. I am absolutely honored to share my story of how Smith College changed not only my life, but me in my entirety.

The Katie who entered Smith in 2013 looked very different from the Katie you see here today.

Three days before starting Smith I hadn’t done any of the stereotypical things a first year was supposed to do.

I hadn’t…

Picked out my classes.

Pinterested my entire room.

Or read the mandatory summer reading book.

Three days before starting college, I was standing in a packed courtroom, getting a restraining order against my ex-boyfriend, and being cross-examined by his attorney.

I came to Smith College broken. I would call my mom crying every day, go to sleep at four a.m. to delay the nightmares, and wake up in a cold sweat.

I felt alone. I believed that people would always do wrong if they thought they could get away with it. That people at their very core were selfish, self-serving and self-interested.

Smith College. Proved. Me. Wrong.

Early in my first semester, I ended up so stressed that I broke out in hives all over my body. A senior in my house saw me sitting miserably in Neilson Library trying to study, took me back to Scales, ordered me to take two Benadryl and tucked me into bed.

When I woke up, she had done all of my laundry, thinking that changing my detergent would get rid of my hives.

This woman epitomized the people I have met while at Smith. When I was having nightmares, my housemates dragged my mattress into their rooms so I wouldn’t wake up alone. My track coach, Carla Coffey, took me to my doctor’s appointments. My teammates and assistant coaches stayed to talk with me long after the dining halls closed.

Everyone knows how Smith professors change lives right? When I was at my lowest, Professor Marc Lendler’s classes would give me a reason to get up in the morning.

We spent hours talking about the fundamental importance of free speech, of hearing and being heard. Unlike that courtroom, I felt as though I was finally coming through loud and clear.

Yes, Smith is hard, but the people here made it more than worth it. At Smith you can have access to some of the most potent figures in U.S. higher education. The president of our college is just an email away. Professor Andrew Zimbalist, currently busy with his 13th book tour, took hours out of his schedule to give me life advice. Professor Alice Hearst has called me several times over the summer to discuss campus politics, and has given me the benefit of her professional wisdom. Professor Randy Bartlett extends his office hours for me when it conflicts with track practice.

Other than my family’s selflessness, I had never seen this type of unwavering support. It’s because of these people that I’ve been able to find the confidence to unapologetically achieve. I’m proud to share that I’ve made the Dean’s List; was a semi-finalist in the Draper Entrepreneurship Competition, supported by Tim and Melissa Draper ’77; the vice president of our class sophomore year; and served as a campus climate liaison. As a four-year member of Smith’s track team, I hold the school record for the 60 meter hurdles.

My junior year, I co-founded the Bipartisan Coalition. We are based on the principles of free speech and open discussion between Republicans and Democrats. We’ve been featured in the Boston Globe, hosted political commentators, speechwriters and senators on both sides of the aisle.

Starting the Bipartisan Coalition is when I recognized Smith had changed me. Now to give you some context, I am a Democrat. I was born a Democrat, raised a Democrat, and have worked for Democrats such as Attorney General Maura Healey and liberal messiah Senator Elizabeth Warren.

I also happen to have a conservative best friend here at Smith. I didn’t know that when moving into Scales House my first year, I would be meeting one of the single most important people in my life. Alison and I have literally shared a wall between our rooms for the past four years.

Given the current political climate, a Democrat being best friends with a Republican sounds like a modern love story. It’s not always easy. As you can imagine, Alison and I disagree on almost everything. Abortion, religious issues, health care, how to solve poverty, you name it, we disagree. But somehow we can fundamentally disagree on just about everything, and still remain best friends.

Being friends with, and genuinely listening to those whom you disagree with, requires a certain faith in humanity. You have to believe that people don’t hold malice in their hearts, are not self-serving, selfish or self-interested. I have learned to trust that although Alison and I come from different backgrounds, families and life experiences, our differing opinions come from a good place. I believe that both of us want to make this world better, we just have different ways of going about it.

The best part is this doesn’t have to end when we graduate. We are joining the ranks of all those who came before us. Smithies are everywhere. We are inescapable. When I worked for Senator Eizabeth Warren, her communications director was class of ’06. During that application process, the man who interviewed me shared that his sister is a Smithie. And last year at reunion, I had the opportunity to interview former Congresswoman Jane Harman ’66 in front of a live audience.

A couple weeks ago I was getting my hair cut in a salon in Boston, and I was talking to the hair stylist about where I was from, where I went to school. As soon as I said “Smith College,” the woman sitting next to me whipped her head around, reached out her hand, and said “Class of ’84.”

We got to talking, and she told me about living in Baldwin House with Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin, and I told her about the Bipartisan Coalition, Senator Elizabeth Warren and that I would be speaking to you today. We exchanged emails and not an hour after we met, I saw one from her in my inbox.

It read: “Every Smithie that has come before you is your older sister. Every Smithie that comes after you is your younger sister. We take care of our sisters.”

Without even knowing it, Smith College administrators, professors, classmates, alumnae, supporters, all of you sitting here saved me.

Alumnae, I want to especially recognize your support of Smith students past, current and future. If it wasn’t for your generosity, I wouldn’t have been able to attend Smith, to have my life changed. Smith College restored my faith in humanity. I will spend my entire life paying it back.

Thank you.