Group Hug

Kitty at the Parade, Q. Cassetti, 2010Wow. What a last few days. I do not think I will not run down the blow by blow as it seems irrelevant other than we got to Amherst, stayed at a Holiday Inn Express (thankfully with comfy beds and air-conditioning), and were embraced by the spirit and community of Hampshire College, its friends, families, faculty, staff and the blooms of this wild rose, the lovely, bushy tailed students. 

It was hot going—with the temperatures in the mid to high nineties. But, as we approached Kitty’s dorm, a swarm of black shirted orientation guides, surrounded the car and deftly made light work of getting her stuff to the second floor of her dorm in short order. Then it was the fam doing the furniture re-arrangement, making of the beds, identifying the things to buy, and buying them, and finally leaving Kitty to empty her totes and really settle. She was worried and fretful, anticipating failure (my daughter, entirely). However, after the speechifying, the clapping and nice dinner under the big white tents in the central quadrangle (lets not forget the biodegradable corn starch cups filled with frosty water), and before her first floor meeting, we said goodbye and watched her introduce herself to a pair of women sitting outside who were formerly being chatted up by Mr. Younger Brother. After that, the texts got better and since then, silence. So, silence is good. I know she is happy and having a ton of fun.She might even have a few friends (do you think>?) and maybe not have to move out of her dorm (that was in the last hour of our visit). My guess is no change will be necessary.

 There were apple trees all over campus. Many dropping big red orbs (so early) that were rotting which scented the air from a sweet apple-y smell to the pungent reminder of vinegar…not all together unpleasant, but memorable. Many of the buildings and grounds had facelifts since the spring, so the property seemed really nice and tidy…a little less ramshackle and far more presentable if physical plant was key in the decision-making of future students and their parents. However, the spirit of the place was the same.

 There is something about the Hampshire Community, which I now feel fully entitled to talk about as I am now part of it. There is this ephemeral essence of smart, questioning, embracing and empowering. There is a push pull of ideas which can be (I am sure) strident (as with new ideas) to skills…and the approach that why not “try it”. Try philosophy, try rock climbing, try dance, try joke writing, try astrophysics, try it all, taste it all, question it all…and its all okay. There is no right way, its all right. There are no grades, but evaluations which can give you better feedback because it’s not about competition. The race is all between you and you (something I wish I had known sooner) and that the person you should concern yourself with is you. What makes you happy? What makes you think? What makes you expansive? What kind of person are you? How are you going to engage in your community and make a difference? This is what the Hampshire students learn along with the nuts and bolts of how to learn things, try things, grow and grow and learn until you are no longer. And these simple things are for me, a hallmark of an educated person. Empowered, confident, engaged in one’s community, growing personally, spiritually, physically and contributing with a happy heart—would be real lessons (the one’s without grades) that I would hope my children could learn and exemplify in their lives.

Kitty and Robbie at Hampshire, Q. Cassetti, 2010There is this embrace, as we experienced this weekend of students with students, faculty with students, staff with students, staff with faculty, parents with students with faculty and so on… which outwardly was expressed by the speeches and generous and thoughtful gestures on move in day. They had watercoolers in the quads and piles for paper recycling mid hallway for pick up. There were the onslaught of troops of happy helping new friends. We had visits from bouncy students just coming in to say hello and remark on something nice in Kitty’s room. We  met the new hallmates (kindred spirits to Kitty) and more upperclassmen who confirmed that this was her tribe. We were delighted by the details from the regular, vegetarian and vegan options for the nice lunches and dinners offered to the completed ID badge, kit and key that was easily handed over to Kitty hour one. The new president was enthusiastic as a new president and parent of a Hampshire student as well. Her remarks were thoughtful and meaningful. And no one felt the need to be a JK Rowling character from the Harry Potter books (thank goodness).

The next day was the beginning of orientation for the students and a full day orientation for families. I had signed us up “to be responsible parents”—and it turned out to be a pleasure without the least bit of pain And Mr. Younger Brother sat through the whole thing and was thrilled. So, much so, that he could easily see this sort of program for himself…so he can study music composition, film, and run cross country for the school. I think it def could be in the future mix too. He was on fire…and wanted to enroll for January term. I wish it could be that simple.

The family program had open panels on topics such as the program of study, of life beyond the classroom, ofNew Crew, Q. Cassetti, 2010 the dorm/dorm issues which were lead beautifully by members of the faculty with lots of question and answers with the parents. The families weren’t slouches with good questions (there were a few nervous nellies getting into the details of the bus routes etc as a for instance). We had a nice time during the lunch time meeting other parents and learning about their students (that’s what we call our kids)—their interests, backgrounds and where we all sit on the alternative scale. We are pretty mainstream/mild compared with the range. We will see these folks again in October and so on until graduation, so I know there might be some new friends in the bunch. If Hampshire pushes community, then we are there to embrace the whole thing.

 I just wish I could do it all over again on this campus, sitting between grain fields and the beautiful bowl of mountains that surround the school. The gold and pink, green, purple and blue were quite breathtaking now at the height of the season. I know October will be wonderful as will the cool winter. The opportunities and friends abound.