Tales of a Gap Year by Egan Barnitt ’16
Students move on from the Mount with a shared and solid foundation, yet they each embark on a unique journey that doesn’t always lead directly to another 4-year school experience. In this alumna byline, Egan Barnitt, class of 2016, shares part of her journey with us.
For as long as I can remember, transitions have never been my strongest suit. My struggle with change all these years has not necessarily been based out of a lack of preparation for the future as I’ve been surrounded by incredible support my entire life, but more out of an inevitable nostalgia and worship for the past, because I have lived a beautiful life. Although as a Kindergartener I wasn’t gifted with such insight; even then I had overwhelming trouble getting through the first few days of school away from my family. Years later, as I neared the end of my high school career at Mount St. Dominic Academy, I couldn’t help but get swept up in the excitement of college decisions and senior year moments without remembering how big of a step I was about to take away from everything I have known for 18 years. I was accepted Early Action to my dream school, Georgetown University, and graduated proudly with the Class of 2016 that spring. Yet, no matter how infectious the energy of moving forward was among my classmates, there was something about going to college in the fall that just didn’t feel right to me. The Mount had become my home, and despite a more than fulfilling four years at a school that I am honored to call my own, I came to understand that no matter how much I thought otherwise, I still had more growing to do. I had to experience life firsthand. With great support from my parents and an enormous leap of faith, I deferred my acceptance to Georgetown and committed to taking a Gap Year to work, travel, and hopefully begin to discover my place in the world before I made it my own.
Life Lessons at Toast
Although the idea of a Gap Year is often romanticized by adventure and freedom, I would be lying if I said I didn’t spend the majority of my year working, hard. During the first few weeks of my year, I was wildly lucky to be hired as a full time barista at Toast, a breakfast restaurant in Montclair. Working five days a week, I woke up every morning for a seven o’clock shift and returned every afternoon around 4:30 to a much deserved nap. Jobs in the service industry are often taken for granted as a means of supporting oneself between Point A and Point B, but this wasn’t just any restaurant job to me. I worked in a ten by four foot pen with coffee machines and a register behind me, and a counter full of people in front of me, and through the months, learned more about myself than I ever would have expected. Not only did I learn to make the fluffiest cappuccino you could imagine, but I began to understand the importance of a smile, of steady eye contact, of an unexpected conversation over someone else’s breakfast. I met husbands who had just become fathers, running from the hospital to pick up breakfast for their wives who had just become mothers. I knew a woman who seemed to mistake our restaurant for a philosophy forum, arriving for genuine human connection and leaving with a full stomach. I served a Whole Foods worker almost every day and constantly disappointed him with my lack of video game knowledge, but I now know more about virtual reality games than I ever did before. The regulars became my friends, and our conversations became memories I will remember for as long as I live. It was never just a job to me. Everyone in that restaurant has changed me for the better, even the prank caller that we had to call the police on once. I stopped drinking coffee behind that bar. I learned that double counting money was never a waste of time—looking at things in two ways was never a waste of time behind that bar. I learned how easy it was to make a difference in other people’s lives by simply sharing joy. I fell in love with the human race behind that bar.
Shaping Young Minds While Shaping My Own
On top of my full-time job at Toast, I babysat two adorable kiddos who lived next to my grandmother in Bradley Beach. Every Thursday I drove an hour down the Shore (making it a six day work week for me) to spend the day with Clark and Paige, two energetic, loving, and rapidly growing toddlers. When I started with them, Paige was two and half years old. Now she is three, and in the time I spent watching her grow up, she’s learned to ask all of the questions in the world, can ride a scooter like nobody’s business, and finally lets me brush and braid her hair when she wakes up from her afternoon nap. Clark was only six months old in September, and this June he’ll be fifteen months. Watching him grow from a tiny, barely mobile baby to a hulking toddler has been the craziest experience for me. Every week I returned he was a little closer to walking than he was the previous Thursday, and now he stomps with a bow-legged trot all over the house. He hits baseballs off tees, spins in circles to MC Hammer, and has mastered the art of saying “ball” really, really loudly (other than that, his vocabulary is still pretty limited). These children and their family allowed me into their lives at a time when I was having to confront my own struggles with growing up, and taught me that even though I was past learning how to walk or being comfortable with babysitters braiding my hair, growing into the person I am meant to be is something I will be doing for a long time to come. It may not happen quickly, but it will certainly happen for the better.
The Means for my Mission
Working six days a week often led to exhaustion (and even led to a case of Mono in March), but in the end, I made more money than I knew what to do with it. This money has since gone to fund my real adventures, some of which I have already seen and some of which have yet to be experienced. In January, I traveled with a medical mission based out of St. Barnabas—Marian Rose World Mission—to Iloilo, a bustling city on the southeastern tip of Panay Island in the Philippines. The mission was primarily focused on providing care to the women of the island, which had my all-girls school senses tingling. I spent a morning in the operating room and witnessed three hysterectomies and a mastectomy, and although I left that day pale and swearing to never return to a surgery-based medical environment again, I saw some incredible men and women doing what they did best: saving lives. That itself was an experience unlike any other. For the rest of the week, my time can be summed up by one simple yet essential activity: playing with little kids who were in the process of being evaluated by all varieties of doctors. Every day I returned home covered in dust, exhausted, and so overwhelmingly happy. On my way home from the Philippines, I spent a few days alone in Hong Kong, which was both terrifying and incredible. It was the first time I had ever been truly alone in a faraway place, and although it was strange to eat meals on my own and go days without having a conversation with anyone personally, there is nothing more exhilarating and fulfilling than getting to know a city all by yourself.
To say that I learned more in this year than I would have ever expected to understand at this point in my life is not to discount the effect Mount St. Dominic Academy had on who I am today. I was a Dominican Preacher, I was an honor student, I helped institute our Kairos retreat, I was a loyal member of the Breakfast Club, I founded the Poetry Club and started our Poetry Nights. I was a servant to others and believer of God. But most of all, I was a proud Mountie. And if there is any one thing that the Mount teaches its students, it is to trust in themselves, and believe with their entire beings in the decisions they make. Without the confidence instilled in me during my time at Mount St. Dominic Academy, I never would have had the nerve to break away from the crowd and take a moment for myself. My Gap Year is coming to an end, and although it is bittersweet, I am ready to re-enter the world of learning that the Mount taught me to love. But don’t worry, I won’t be ending the year without a grand finale. This summer, I will be traveling to Montana to volunteer on the Blackfeet Reservation with the Native American Indians. Come July, I will be leaving the United States again to backpack through Europe; Barcelona, Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Florence, and finally, meeting my family in Lucca, Italy, where I will turn 19 and celebrate an incredible year of life lessons, emotional strength, and much-needed growth. I will return home three days before I leave for Georgetown University. I will attend Georgetown University, and I will thrive at Georgetown University. After the year I’ve had, I know I am finally ready.