In a speech delivered to the 1998 graduating class, Williams College President Harry C. Payne expressed his hope that “. . . our education should have so excited you about the world of responsibilities out there, that this small college in a small town – however wonderful (and it is) – just feels to you a wee bit too small, making you ready and eager to go.” Since Payne’s speech, a new school year has started, fresh faces are coloring the campus, and several members of the class of ’98 still haven’t gone.
These graduates have discovered that Williams and the surrounding town have much more to offer them than just four years of education and a diploma. As Dena Zaldua ’98, an intern with Alumni Relations, said, “The one-year employment and intern opportunities offered by the college are perfect for people like me who want to take a year off before graduate school or pursuing a career.”
Assistant Director of Admissions Maxine Burkett ’98 also remained after graduation to get her feet on the ground before she starts a new adventure. “I’ll be going to grad school in California next year, and I really wanted to be grounded this year,” she said.
“It’s amazing how many people have stayed on in Williamstown to work for the College,” Doddi said. “The College seems to be hiring more and more young alums these days.”
Dean of the College Peter Murphy said Williams has always made a conscious effort to hire recent graduates. “They are particularly suited for some things, since they know so much about the College already,” he said.
Bob Behr, the alumni travel coordinator, added that in the Alumni Office, “It’s a plus to have alumni dealing with alumni.”
However, the Admissions Office has traditionally been one of the biggest employees of recent graduates. “We like to hire recent Williams graduates who are close to their student experience” said Connie Sheehy, the associate director of admissions for operations.
Many recent alumni who have stuck around are not working directly for Williams, but say they have kept up contact with the College in different ways.
Kate Hedden ’98, for instance, is now a volunteer at InterVarsity, a nationwide organization for Christian athletes. Through this position she works with the Williams Christian Fellowship on campus. “I am fully enjoying not taking classes and having assigned work to do,” Hedden said. “I’m currently reading three books, and I was assigned none of them. What a wonderful change!”
Jeremy Wilmer ’98, who is working with Assistant Professor of Psychology Kris Kirby, agreed that he has a new-found flexibility in his schedule. “I’m really excited to spend a year here while only working forty hour weeks, so I have the flexibility to do some of the millions of things I haven’t gotten to do nearly enough of in and around Williamstown…from popping up to Mount Prospect for sunsets, to eating at the Blue Benn, to exploring the nearby and not quite so nearby mountains and trails, to learning more about the flora and fauna around me, the sky and birds above me, and the rocks below me,” Wilmer said.
Paola Gentry ’98, who is working for the Rockefeller Institute in Albany and house-sitting in Williamstown, painted a different picture. “I’m working two jobs, I have bills to pay, health insurance, retirement insurance–stuff you don’t have to worry about when you’re in college,” Gentry said. But she also noted that Williamstown is a great “transition place” for recent graduates.
Anna Groskin ’98 agreed that staying in the area after graduation “definitely makes the transition between college and the real world a lot easier.” Groskin is working as an assistant editor at Tripod Inc., a web publishing company incorporated in 1993 by Williams graduates Bo Peabody ’94 and Brett Hershey ’94, with the help of Professor of Economics Richard Sabot.
According to Derek Bruneau ’94, who also works at Tripod, “a lot of new media and technology businesses are moving into Williamstown.”
Assistant Director of Admissions Tom Wintner ’93 noted that new business ventures such as Tripod have attracted a significant number of young people to the area. “When I was a student here, I saw very little opportunity for graduates to work in this area besides those opportunities provided by the college,” he said. Wintner added that he believes over the next five to 10 years Williamstown will see even more growth and employment opportunities for young people.
By staying in Williamstown, many recent graduates have gotten the chance to see a side of the town and college community that they had never seen before.
“Now I have a totally different perspective,” Groskin said. “As a college student, I thought this was my town, but now I realize that it really wasn’t.”
Hedden concurred: “Now that I’m officially a townie, I’ve started to hear some of what goes on around here. I’ve heard about a couple of controversial things that the College is up to. First there is the big hullabaloo about the $20 million theater center. Some feel the college has too much power and basically gets its way whenever it wants.”
Bruneau noted that, by living on Hoxsey Street, he has seen college students in a new light. “I got to see Williams from the perspective of other residents,” he said. “The problems of nearby late night parties and noises suddenly became more relevant to me.”
Many of the recent Williams graduates living in the area said their social lives have changed significantly from the time when they were students.
“Now I have much more of an off-campus life, a life outside of the College,” said Joel Tolman ’98, who is living in Williamstown, designing a biology course for Mt. Greylock School and working on a non-profit human rights project.
Gentry, who used to hang out at the snackbar several nights a week, said: “Not anymore. Now I go to places like Mezze, Canteburys, and the Pub â€” places I never used to go to when I was a student.”
Groskin even admitted to “hanging out on the steps of the Post Office.”
But the majority of recent graduates say they still take advantage of the opportunities offered by the College. “The intellectual and academic stimulation of this college community was a big draw for me,” Zaldua said.
Tolman said he believes that “living in Williamstown at our age would be lousy if you weren’t in touch with the college community.”
This sentiment was shared by Wintner who noted that “Williamstown is certainly not a hoppin’ place, but the important thing is to stay involved with the College.” Wintner taught an Outing Club PE course last year, works as an assistant baseball coach, and will teach a winter study course in chemistry this year.
Josh Solomon ’97, a program assistant at the Center for Environmental Studies, said his life has become a funny blend of student and non-student activities.
“It’s very odd to have a mostly student social life without the student lifestyle,” he said. “Things like homework and bonding over academic stress are pretty important elements of student life here. Plus it’s really hard to find people to go out to a movie or a bar with you on a weeknight. Having evenings and weekends free is one of the main perks of the nine to five lifestyle, and it’s hard not having a lot of other people my age in the same position.”
br>Zaldua added that “It’s really weird for me to walk through Baxter mailroom. I keep wanting to head toward my old S.U. Box.”
Choosing to stay
Although Zaldua said she is enjoying living in Williamstown, she added that staying here after graduation is not for everyone. She admits that she didn’t even think it was for her until the end of last year.
Those who stay are often taking a very different path from their fellow graduates.“You really have to want to stay and know what you’re getting yourself into,” Gentry said. “This is very different from New York City.”
Bruneau, who spent several years in New York and Boston after graduation before returning to Williamstown, said, “It was good for me to get away for a few years. Now I know I can live someplace else. But Williamstown was a great place to come back to.”
Wilmer, who knew prior to graduating last June that he would be staying at Williams this year, said staying for a little time was an ideal option. “For me, it [staying in Williamstown] was the perfect thing to be able to do. . . a kind of stop by the woods on a snowy evening (albeit a pretty familiar woods), without the need to depart prematurely,” he said. “And at the same time it’s a great stepping stone for my particular career goal, which is to do research.”
Tolman is also happy with his decision, but, echoing the sentiment of President Payne, he added: “It makes me very excited to go to other places.”