As Jules Cashman ’22 prepared for graduation, she reminisced about her routine during her first year at the College of the Holy Cross. Each day, she woke up feeling that she beat most of her crew teammates out of bed. Each morning, however, as she walked into Kimball Dining Hall, she was met with a daily reminder: She was second to teammate Grace Rett.
“I would always walk into Kimball at 8 a.m. I feel like I was awake early, and she would have already been there for an hour. She’s, like, ‘Good morning!'” Cashman said in a high, excited voice. “She was doing her homework at the same table every day. I was just, like, ‘Oh, my God, how are you awake right now?’ But she was very much an academic and loved her classes and professors.”
Knowing that about Rett and in anticipation of commencement, Cashman and other 2022 class chairs began thinking about the best way to honor their classmate. Before commencement on May 27, through a gift from the class of 2022, the College honored Rett’s passion for academics by dedicating a classroom in her name.
Rett passed away after a serious motor vehicle crash while with the women’s rowing team on a winter training trip in Vero Beach, Florida, in January 2020.
Since that time, the school has kept Rett’s memory present on campus in a number of ways, among them several memorials in the Hart Center at the Luth Athletic Complex, including where she set a world record for consecutive hours rowing and a plaque honoring the 2020 team. Outside of St. Joseph Memorial Chapel, a bench sits in her honor and five crew boats have also been named for her.
As Rett’s class is set to leave The Hill, Cashman and fellow class chairs felt compelled to honor their classmate through her passion for learning.
“We thought about her three pillars of life here: It was academic, spiritual and athletic,” Cashman said. “We realized we wanted to honor her academics.”
In thinking about their relationships with Rett, class chairs understood how much the Montserrat Program at Holy Cross influenced her and soon landed on naming Stein 102 — her Montserrat classroom — in her honor.
“She loved her Montserrat class. It was a really transformative academic experience for her and transformative intellectual experience,” Cashman said.
Rett’s Montserrat advisor, Debra Gettelman, associate professor of English, noticed that same early-riser energy that some of her closest friends still talk about.
“A good Montserrat class has a space for that. There is always someone who steps up to that. More than other classes, Montserrat kind of allows for that to happen. It takes a certain kind of person to do that,” Gettelman said. “Her energy. There are very few students with that much energy.”
Rett’s Montserrat class focused on the literature of childhood. One of her most memorable moments in the class was her first presentation, a six-minute analysis on St. John Rivers in “Jane Eyre.”
“The debate it sparked; she always got a discussion that was much more lively than it would have been otherwise,” Gettelman said. “She meant a lot to the other students’ learning.”
It marked the first — but far from the last — time Rett ignited a conversation in Stein 102. Gettelman said Rett possessed unique, colloquial, captivating and funny energy that often pried complex and interesting thoughts out of classmates.
“She passionately engaged in debate and discussion. It was caring about what we were talking about,” Gettelman said. “There was a level of emotional and intellectual passion that she brought to the class. She just upped the meaning and relevance and cared for what we were talking about.”
Now generations of students will continue to learn in a room that bears her name.
“She always said, ‘Everything is always a mindset,'” according to Cashman. “So hopefully kids going into the classroom, if they have Montserrat or any other class, they’ll have the mindset of excellence and dedication in that moment.”
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