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By Eric Sean Weld   Date: 5/12/09 Bookmark and Share

A Moment of Peace, a Future Path Begun

Tracy Murphy AC’09 felt out of control.

It was the summer after her first year at Smith and she had just handed her 3-year-old son, Jacob, to a surgeon at Children’s Hospital in Boston. Jacob was going in for heart surgery to correct a malignant buildup of vascular tissue.

That was the culmination of a difficult few months for Murphy, who is from Petersham, Mass. After transferring to Smith from Mount Wachusett Community College, she had barely had a chance to sink into life here when her son’s medical issues cropped up. 

After bringing Jacob to Henry Hayward Hospital in Gardner, Mass., to be treated for asthma, his doctor noticed a heart defect while examining the boy’s lung x-rays. The defect explained many of his problems—and could be fatal if not corrected. Jacob was immediately reassigned to specialists at Children’s Hospital. Numerous tests and doctors’ visits followed.

“It was three months of turmoil,” recalled Murphy recently of spring 2007. “It was really hard, just terrible.” She considered suspending her studies but opted to finish out the semester. “Maintaining concentration was hard,” she said, “but attending classes was actually a good diversion.”

Finally in August, the day of Jacob’s surgery arrived. Murphy restlessly roamed the hospital corridors while her youngest son was in the operating room. An aspiring landscape architect, she headed for the hospital’s Prouty Garden, a colorful oasis hidden amid the hospital buildings and designed by the legendary landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, also the designer of the Smith College campus. There, she found the solace she sought.

“It was like an epiphany in that garden,” Murphy said. “It cleared my head.”

Jacob’s surgery went well. He returned home two days later and his health began to change for the better almost immediately, said Murphy. Now, at age 5, he is growing normally and his prognosis is positive.

Meanwhile, Murphy, who is preparing to walk across the stage and collect her Smith diploma with her son’s medical difficulties in the past, will never forget the moment she found peace in that hospital garden.

“I left that garden feeling inspired,” she said. “I said to myself, ‘I need to provide this for people—to design spaces for people like me, where they can go to put things in perspective.”

Murphy will leave Smith with a bachelor of fine arts degree in studio art with a concentration in sculpture and a minor in landscape architecture. She plans to pursue a career in landscape design, in the footsteps of Olmsted, who provided her inspiration. Her designs will emphasize species native to the surroundings, she noted, and will incorporate the existing landscape while retaining environmental sustainability.

Attending Smith as an Ada Comstock Scholar has given Murphy a sense of self-confidence that she would likely not have obtained following another path, she said. “It has been extremely fulfilling going to Smith.”

During her first-year ordeal, Murphy was grateful for the support of faculty and staff in the landscape studies and other departments, as well as from her family (she has 10 siblings who live in the region).

Whichever path she takes from Smith, Murphy said, it began on the day of her son’s surgery, in a garden designed by Olmsted, in which she found peace at the moment she needed it most.


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