The 2015 Senior Perspectives is the 10th in a series of annual collections. Senior captains and representatives of teams at Harvard have been invited to contribute viewpoints based on personal experience from both their senior seasons and full varsity careers at Harvard.
For a complete listing of 2015 Senior Perspectives,click here.
Haley Mendez, Women's Squash, Team Co-Captain
Hometown: Brooklyn, N.Y.
Concentration: Human Evolutionary Biology
House Affiliation: Lowell
The past two years I have stood up at the end of season banquet to talk about our graduating seniors and it seems quite surreal that it is now my turn to graduate. Somehow, it was easier talking about others’ experiences rather than my own, but what still holds true from my comments to them, is that even though the seniors are leaving, it really isn’t a goodbye. If there was ever a doubt in anyone’s mind, let me assure you that being a part of the Harvard squash family goes way beyond whatever happens on court and lasts well beyond your four-year stint in Cambridge. I realized just how true this is in the past two months after my knee surgery, as former and current teammates alike called, sent packages, brought me food, took turns spending the night with me, and even showered me when I needed them the most. It’s just like marriage; for better or for worse, in sickness and in health! This is a team that is always there for each other and always will be.
I obviously haven’t had the best of years this season, between a concussion, a stress fracture, and a torn ACL (two of the three thanks to the men’s team…), but if I am really honest with myself, I know that of my three national titles and two Ivy League titles, this year’s win was the sweetest. Ending my on-court Harvard squash career the way I did might be the hardest thing that has happened to me in my four years here, if not ever, but being picked up by my family, the coaches, and my teammates and being able to lead this team to a national title might be one of the best. I can’t tell you all how proud I was of each and every single one of my teammates that weekend as I watched them all step up, and against all odds, win that title for us.
I was recently asked to talk about my Harvard experience and the things that were most important to me and I wrote that it was defined by my time on this team. When I first arrived to school I had an instant family which helped me navigate my freshman year. Teammates gave me a list of their favorite classes and told me some funny monkey sex facts, and before I knew it I was a pre-med, human evolutionary biology concentrator. As a two-time captain, I learned lessons that will stay with me my entire life; I learned how to lead, when to exert authority versus show compassion, when and how to motivate, how to teach, how to plan and how to budget both time and dollars. I truly poured my heart into the team and the Harvard squash program, frequently putting teammates needs, personal training, and coaches’ meetings ahead of homework in my daily schedule. But I wouldn’t do a single thing differently. And aside from all the squash, the titles, the gear, and a trip to the Cayman Islands, I made friendships that will last a lifetime, and for that, I am forever grateful.
I’ve gone on long enough… but can’t conclude without a few heartfelt thank-you’s. Firstly, I need to thank my family. Thank you to my parents for being my most loyal fans for the past 11 years. And thank you Mom for making the rule after my first loss, that if a match result ever made me cry again I wouldn’t be allowed to play tournaments for an entire year – while difficult for my 10-year-old self, it made me a better player and stronger person, realizing that win or lose, I play squash because I love it. Thank you to Keegan for helping me pick out squash outfits over the years and always getting on court to drill or feed me whenever I demanded.
Secondly, I want to thank all of the coaches. Thank you to Luke and Hameed for all your behind-the-scenes work and obviously for all your help and support at every practice and match. And a special thank you to Mike and Beth – from my first week on campus you have been there for me like my family away from home. That first week Beth took me to MGH for a cardiac stress test after I failed my freshman physical and I remember getting stuck in traffic on the way home and her telling me about her four boys; I am lucky to now say that I feel like the adopted daughter she always wanted. And Mike, I cannot thank you enough for everything you’ve done over the past few years. For those of you who don’t know my mother… she is more of the man-up, tough love kind of parent (whom I love). But Mike on the other hand, is the mom I never had, always there for me for anything from future job guidance to help with boys! I know I can count on him for everything… except fashion advice.
For those of you who don’t know Andrei, you’re lucky! It means you’re healthy. Maybe I should wait to thank him until I see how my knee really turns out... but thank you to Andrei for putting up with my sass, or should I say reciprocating my sass, and working tirelessly to help me get back on court.
A quick thank you to Bob Scalise, Tim Wheaton, Shanna Kornachuk and the entire athletic department for everything they do for us. Thank you to the men’s team for always getting on court with us, coaching us, and despite eating all our food in the process, cheering us on the whole way through. And thank you to the Harvard squash friends group and all the parents who have provided us food and support all season – we couldn’t have done it without you!
To the future HWSQ Birds,
Play hard. Have Fun.
Squash love always, Mama Swhale ’15