Departing Faculty: Dr. Nicole Holland

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Courtesy of Dr. Nicole Holland

“It’s just a joy,” said Dr. Nicole Holland of her sixteen years teaching at Bishop’s.

Sariah Hossain, Online Editor

Dr. Nicole Holland’s classroom is tucked away in the corner of Upper Gilman, one of the few spots on campus that is impossible to see from the quad. The stairway to get to that hallway has a reputation of being the steepest on campus, and its cream-colored walls echo with years of passing student conversation. You can’t hear the din of middle schoolers at lunch once you’re inside the room, but you might hear the ocean through the open southwest window. When she closes the door at the start of class it can feel like you’re separated from Bishop’s life for a minute, surrounded instead by the 18th-century European paintings, historical puns scrawled on the whiteboard, and pinned-up pictures of her former students and advisees that cover the classroom’s walls—really, everything that makes up the beloved Dr. Holland.

At least, that’s how I remember it. I was one of Dr. Holland’s Advanced Placement (AP) European History students during my sophomore year, a statement that numerous Bishop’s students and alumni are surely able to echo. So many of us have passed through Gilman 26 in our Bishop’s history department endeavors. During her 17 years teaching AP European History and AP Art History at Bishop’s, Dr. Holland created a classroom environment of thoughtful discussion and an unequivocally clear and strong passion for the subjects she taught.

Though the end of the school year marks her retirement from teaching, Dr. Holland has spent the past five decades immersed in art and history, as well as the intersection of the two. She can trace her fascination with these subjects back to two vividly told childhood memories. It’s powerful to think about the durability of those early passions—Dr. Holland went from spending chilly D.C. afternoons at the National Gallery of Art to earning a Ph.D. in History of Art and Criticism from the University of California, San Diego some years down the line. 

“When I was nine years old,” she remembered fondly, “My mother would drop me off by myself at the National Gallery of Art to spend the day, and I would just wander around those hallowed halls. I loved those days by myself; that’s where that all got started.”

The moment that sparked Dr. Holland’s love of history occurred on another D.C. winter afternoon when she was walking with her father. “Washington D.C. has the most beautiful winter sunsets,” she told me. “I asked my father, where did these gorgeous colors I was seeing come from? He said that the beautiful oranges and cherry pinks were caused by dust that was still in the atmosphere from the explosion of the volcanic island of Krakatoa in 1883. And all I can say is, at a stroke, I just felt my moment in history, that from the terrible tragedy came this moment of beauty nearly a hundred years later. I could just see historical continuity. That was the ‘aha’ moment for me.”

And that emphasis on historical continuity became a trademark of Dr. Holland’s classes. She connects the Black Death and classism discussions in AP European History to the pandemic-laden world of today and draws parallels from the youth protests of the 60s to youth protests just last month. “I love hearing from you students, your ideas, your thoughts about the world today, and what from the historical past is relevant to the positions you’re taking now regarding your world,” she said. “This past year has pointed out to me, to everybody, how important your voices are now; not tomorrow but now, in bringing about the changes we critically need.”

It’s clear that the only things Dr. Holland may love more than the subjects she’s studied and taught are, well, us. This aspect of the Bishop’s community is what she’ll miss most in the coming years: “The students, the students, the students,” she smiled. “You bring passion for learning, willingness to master the skills.”

“You’ll never forget the rule of threes for the DBQs,” she paused to point out, referencing the trick she teaches her students for writing Document-Based Questions on the AP exam. “But,” she continued, “you also bring an incredible respect for your community, both your peers and faculty. It’s just a joy.”

Senior Delilah Delgado has taken a class of Dr. Holland’s for the past three years: AP European History, AP Art History, and an independent study in women in the history of art. “She just is so passionate about history and about art and it’s so inspiring,” Delilah shared. “This year has been really fun especially because she’s introduced me to a lot of new female artists that I had never heard of before, and last year taking AP Art History was one of my favorite classes I’ve ever taken at Bishop’s.”

Dr. Holland is also remarkably sensitive to her students’ needs at any given moment, whether it be with more class time spent on a particularly confusing period in history or simply with a brain-break. “ I remember one day in she decided we needed a little break,” said Delilah, “so we just followed a Bob Ross tutorial through the entirety of class, and it was one of my favorite classes I’ve ever had.”

Of course, Dr. Holland not only takes on the role of a teacher at Bishop’s, but also the role of advisor. “The advisory really completes the richness of the Bishop’s experience,” she said with deep affection. “You get to know and follow the development of young people and care for and love them. All of you are beautiful, loving, caring, and questioning, and in advisory, an advisor gets to experience that on a daily basis.” 

Joseph Aguilar (‘22) recalled the first morning he walked into advisory with Dr. Holland. “That first day, coming into advisory first thing in the morning, she was just so bubbly and had that bright Dr Holland smile on her face as always,” he said. “It just made me feel welcome immediately.”

“Dr. Holland really brought our advisory together,” he continued. “It just feels like coming to a group of friends in the morning and Dr. Holland’s warming personality just fills the room, even over Zoom. She hasn’t come in person on campus but she still makes us feel at home in the morning.” She has even invited her advisory to her home for a bagel breakfast recently.

As her advisees are juniors now, she will hand her role of advisor off to Dr. Regina Ballard next year, but Dr. Holland will see them through to graduation with all of her typical senior advisory celebrations, like a bagel breakfast or advisory dinner at her own house. “Advisories are like families,” she asserted. “I can’t imagine not being an advisor.” 

Alex Estey (‘18) was a Holland advisee during her high school years at Bishop’s. “I used to get to advisory early and we’d always have in-depth conversations about politics and the most recent Vogue issue,” she remembered. “Dr. Holland would always bring me a copy of Vogue and mark which articles she thought I would find most interesting. She somehow knew me better than I knew myself sometimes, and she really genuinely cared about me and my life.”

Like with Alex, Dr. Holland remains in touch with many of her former advisees who have gone on to graduate but now sometimes meet up with her for coffee and a chat. It seems that a relationship with Dr. Holland, whether as a teacher or an advisor, means she is always in your corner.