CBL Intern Kara Cuzzone ’19 was selected to deliver the senior address at Convocation for the class of 2022. In her speech, Kara highlighted how her experience with CBL her first year and her experience as a CBL Intern her sophomore and junior years were ones where she felt as though she could be vulnerable and could “show up and be seen.” This vulnerability led Kara to grow and develop personally and academically, as she was able to find community both at her CBL site (St. Mary) and in the CBL Intern community. Read Kara’s speech below to learn more about her experience as in CBL and as a CBL Intern and to read her advice to the incoming first-year class.
If you had told me three years ago that I, Kara Cuzzone, would be up here giving the First-year Convocation address, I would have laughed in your face. To be honest, I don’t remember exactly what was running through my mind during my first-year convocation as I sat in my pew, sardined between my future classmates. But I definitely wasn’t picturing myself at this podium. I think it was something more along the lines of “what am I even doing here?
I’m sure some of you can relate. Some are already a little homesick. Others are excited, your time has finally arrived after counting down the days until move-in day. No matter what you’re feeling, take a deep breath and know that it’s going to be ok.
It’s ironic that I’m standing up here because after my first year at Holy Cross, I wanted to transfer. And I almost did. I even put down a deposit at another school. But something kept me here on the hill. That something is community. It just took me a little while to find it.
Maybe this is obvious to some of you, but community doesn’t just appear. It’s embarrassing to admit, but I kind of thought it would. I imagined myself showing up on campus, and instantly finding welcoming, life-long friends without any effort on my part. Unsurprisingly, that didn’t happen. Instead, I learned that in order to find community, you have to be vulnerable. And as author and famous TED talk speaker Brené Brown says, that means “showing up and being seen.” Basically first-year Kara’s worst nightmare.
During my first semester at HC, I didn’t feel like myself. I had begun experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety, which were totally new to me. This wasn’t necessarily because of Holy Cross. I hadn’t felt ready to go to college in general—in fact I’d simply respond ‘don’t talk about it’ whenever my parents brought it up the summer before. So when I arrived, it felt a little like I’d been thrown in the deep end of the pool without warning. As a result, I saw most things at Holy Cross through a pretty pessimistic lens. But through times where I opened up and made myself vulnerable, that began to change and I began to build a community.
The first time I tried the whole vulnerability thing was with my Montserrat Professor, Virginia Ryan. One day, out of sheer desperation, I opened up to her about the fact that I was struggling. Not only was she empathetic, but she confessed that she too suffers from anxiety, and that she went through something similar at my age. Since then, I have cried many tears in her office, and I now consider her not only a mentor, but one of my good friends. Seriously, we text, and she even sends me Bitmojis. Being vulnerable with Professor Ryan, and her willingness to be vulnerable in return, was my first encounter with the power of community at Holy Cross.
A few months later, I chose to be a little vulnerable again by going on an Immersion trip instead of going home for spring break. A family friend who was a senior had suggested it. She said the trip which students call Appa, short for Appalachia, was one of the best experiences she’d had at Holy Cross. So I went. I found myself in rural Ivanhoe, Virginia, meeting residents, doing yard work, and laughing until my sides hurt with nine people who became some of my best friends on campus. But that only happened because I allowed myself to be vulnerable. During our evening reflection one night, my leader Jane led the way by sharing something deeply personal with us. In turn, I was moved to share that I was going through a difficult time. She immediately grabbed my hand, and cried with me. As we stayed up talking, cocooned in our sleeping bags on the hardwood floor of a firehouse, my Appa family deepened my faith in the community that can be found here on the hill.
Finding community through being vulnerable became even more apparent to me during my sophomore year when I became a Community-Based Learning, or CBL, intern. My motivation for applying for the position came from a desire to continue to experience the deep connections I had started to find through allowing myself to show up and be seen. For my Montserrat course, I had been regularly visiting a nun, Sister Marie, at St. Mary Health Care Center. At first, the visits scared me because they forced me to face difficult topics like aging and death which I would have much rather ignored. But I kept going. By just showing up and being open, I developed a loving friendship with Sister Marie that I have maintained to this day. Through the intern program itself, I have gained a support system where I can be vulnerable. I feel welcome and encouraged to be myself inside those walls, and I have cried some tears in that office too. My little home in the CBL Office has become a kind of community that I didn’t even know I needed.
If there’s one thing to take away from these examples, it’s this: take advantage of the many opportunities Holy Cross provides to show up and be seen because as Brené Brown says, “in order for connection to happen, we have to let ourselves be seen—truly seen.” That’s what I’ve done, and it’s lead me to create my own club, start my own art business, and even get published in Cosmopolitan magazine during the NYC semester program. As a first-year student, I could never have imagined that I would go on to do all of these things, especially at Holy Cross, which was the last place I wanted to be at first. But through allowing myself to be vulnerable, here I am. The opportunities to establish community that I’ve found at Holy Cross not only led me to meet life-long friends, they helped me to find myself. Showing up and allowing myself to be seen has shaped me into a version of myself that I never even dreamed possible. And, if you let it, showing up and being vulnerable can shape you too. Just be open to it.