good choices made a long time ago

[sometimes I read my own sent email and I just like it]


My name is [$NAME] and I am a high school senior. Two days a week I volunteer at the local public library and am very interested in making a career out of the library field. I read your blog ( whenever google reader tells me that you have updated. Today I found out that you attended Hampshire College, the school which I shall be attending next fall. I was wondering if you could tell me about your experiences there.

With immense appreciation, [$NAME]


I went to Hampshire sort of a million years ago [1986-1990] and Helaine Selin from Hampshire was my librarian role model because she could find things online [when online was fancy services you had to *subscribe* to mainly] that I had no idea existed. I was there when Adele Simmons was president. I lived in Merill dorms, then Prescott, then Dakin dorms, then Prescott again. Over the summer I lived on campus two out of three summers. I only lived about an hour and a half away so I could go home often if I wanted or needed to, but didn’t go home that much.

I studies linguistics with Steve Weisler and a few other people in the CCS school which I think is called something else now, and creative writing with Lynne Hanley. I took (well, passed) 16 classes the whole four years I was there. I graduated in four straight years which is unusual. I took classes at Amherst, UMass and Mount Holyoke as well. I got to take a writing class at Amherst from David Foster Wallace who is actually not much older than I am.

I always felt like Hampshire was where all the weird kids from every high school wound up and some of them decided to outweird everyone else and some of them decided that since they were now in a group of weirdos, they could just be themselves. I was part of the latter group. It was a strange time. There were a lot of protests over political correctness types of things. There was a takeover of one of the science buildings. It was the year after Andy Hermann killed himself live on public access TV which was a long time ago but still seems like a big deal. You can read more history from about that time at this link. Tim Shary and I went to Hampshire together.

Fascinating stuff.

I did some extracurricular things. I was part of a film and video club. I was on the volleyball team. I was an artist’s model. I worked at the Farm Center. I threw parties and helped bring bands to campus. I was part of the motorcycle collective. I sort of fit in at Hampshire and liked it there. I am still in touch with MOST of the people I lived with my senior year there and I’m always surprised when I run into other Hampshire people my own age in different places that they are interesting and have done interesting things with their lives. Despite my having enjoyed college well enough, it was in no way the “best times of my life” which I think is entirely okay.

As far as academics, I was pretty self-motivated and this was in my favor. I saw a lot of people drop out because they just couldn’t keep doing work when there weren’t grades or professors hounding them. I think some of those people were better off not being in college but for some of them Hampshire just wasn’t the right place and maybe another school would have been.

It’s an interesting place filled with interesting people. This is the good news and the bed news. There are a lot of people with a lot on their minds. Creative arty types but also just moody melancholy types, or both. There was a suicide or a suicide attempt every year i was there and a lot of drug-and-alcohol fuelled drama that may be typical for colleges but hasn’t been part of my life since.

I went on to library school at the University of Washington at the school they now call the iSchool. It was less of a big deal then, but I was able to get in with nothing but my GRE scores and that stack of recommendations that they call a transcript. I didn’t have any trouble segueing to graduate school. If anything, I felt it was LESS rigorous than Hampshire and all the focus on GPA seemed silly and missing the point of education. I have a weird collection of jobs now that make me pretty happy and I live in rural Vermont in a place not unlike Amherst and rural Massachusetts where I grew up before college.

Lastly, you know those scary dreams about being in some school hallway and realizing you have a test you haven’t prepared for, or a speech you have to give that you didn’t write yet? I never, ever, have them. I think that alone makes me feel that I made the right decision about college.


What do you think?


  1. This is such an interesting read for this 87F. Thank you.

  2. I really liked reading this, especially since I went to Evergreen, a school that’s perhaps more lax and anarchistic than Hampshire. But I think I’d have to have this sentence in my such letter: “Both college and grad school left me with a sizeable amount of student loan debt, which I still have no idea how I will pay off.”

  3. Jess, weren’t you also in the Hampshire College Marching Band? And I seem to recall that you did some work for the Pioneer Valley Folklore Society. And you were in a movie!

    Advice for future Hampshire students: file your Div II early. You can always change it later. And take advantage of the off-campus classes. I can’t stress this enough. I don’t think Hampshire would work at all if it weren’t for the 5-college system.

    I’m still in touch with many of my old Hampshire chums and I’ve made several new friends in recent years who went there.

    – Dan (85F)

    p.s. Hi Celia!

  4. I have to concur on the “debt” part. The alumni relations office will be happy to see another alum who *loved* Hampshire enough to comment here, the downside of Hampshire was the debt – even though I had substantial granted financial aid, too. But even with the debt it was totally worth it.

    I would also concur that it’s not for the slacker. I took classes at Amherst and my Hampshire classes were consistently more difficult, perhaps because they made me push myself more.

    Lastly, librarian Helaine Selin was the speaker at my (December 92) graduation, and I feel it is not an understatement to say that she was the best graduation speaker ever (and the one chosen by the 80 or so graduating students).


  5. I just want to concur: Helaine Selin rocks.

    Michael -(81F)

  6. I sort of feel like the debt part follows you if you go to any private college. If I had known what I was doing at that age — and who really does — I probably would have gone to Evergreen. I can’t say that I totally loved it there while I was there, I found Adele annoying and there were a lot of weird messed up people who got in the way of me trying to have a normal-ish college experience, but looking back on it, it was a decent choice.

  7. Thanks for sharing this and the memories. Remember welding at Mt Holyoke? I’d add that exams in early grad school were a strangely alien task that I never quite grokked, but I felt much more prepared when it came to my doctoral thesis project.
    Katrina (87F)

  8. Hey, I think I still have one of Jessamyn’s personalized door-plates from that welding class.

    I actually had a final exam for a Hampshire class, in fact it was Weisler’s “Truth and Meaning” class.

  9. I DEFINITELY still have my doorplate… as well as a welded heart on a chain that we received at Valentine’s Day, I think.

    I was the Hampshire freak who took 4 classes EVERY SEMESTER and who graduated in 3 1/2 years (took fall of my ‘senior’ year off and traveled- supposedly as ‘research’ for my Div III). That helped the economics. YES- classes off campus are important- or in my field- music- a necessity. Also- living in various mods- including with Jessamyn and Dan (HI DAN!) was a really important part of me expanding the horizons of what I knew about people. I think they (like everything else at Hampshire) are more structured now, but still…

    Honestly, my favorite teachers were at Amherst College. Lewis Spratlan, Peter Lobdell, Wendy Woodson. But man, I can write, it pays all my bills, and it’s because of Hampshire.

  10. (I just wanted to say, Katrina!!! And hi, Dan!)