Once an Eph, always an Eph: Young alumni return to the Purple Valley

One thing that Ashley Weeks Cart ’05 always wants to tell students at the College is that they ought to stop worrying so much about what they’re going to do after graduation. “You have your whole life to figure it out,” she said. The now-Associate Director of Alumni Relations and Director of Classes and Reunions at the College couldn’t have imagined where she would end up while she herself was a junior here. “I saw myself in California, by the beach,” she said. Now, living with her husband James Cart, another College alumnus from the Class of ’05 and the College’s Student Employment Coordinator in the Office of Human Resources, on their Vermont farm with their two small daughters, she can’t imagine things “any other way.”

The Carts, in returning to their alma mater, are hardly an anomaly among College alumni. Justin Crowe, professor of political science at the College, also returned to the purple bubble with his wife, whom he met as an undergraduate, and their two sons. (Indeed, both the Carts and the Crowes are living proof of the statistic that annually frightens the first-years during First Days – many students meet their spouses at the College.) For Crowe, the opportunity to return to be a professor was thrilling. The College, he says, “is the place where I became myself: it’s where I met my wife, and it’s where I decided I wanted to do this with my life.” Indeed, as Crowe tells his students every semester, this is his dream job.

Other younger alumni now employed at the College, such as Tom Foote ’13, don’t see their job at the College in quite the same way. Foote graduated last June with a degree in American studies and “not much of a clue as to what to do with it.” He had played football and wrestled as an undergraduate, so he approached his coaches and asked whether he might work for the College and help with the teams, a position other recently-graduated alumni had filled in the past. Foote was an assistant defensive line coach for the football team in the fall and is currently serving as one of the assistant wrestling coaches. He sees his current position as a “huge resume builder” that has opened up “some very good potential job opportunities.” Foote, who described coaching as his passion, hopes to one day get a master’s degree in education, which would enable him to teach and coach at a high school. In the meantime, however, “it’s a great feeling, being able to give back to programs that had a substantial role in helping you become what you are today,” he said.

If Foote sees his College job as more of a stepping-stone, Crowe and the Carts see their place at the College as more long-term. Although he spent his youth in Long Island, N.Y., Crowe called the College “home” and “can’t imagine … ever being anywhere else.” The Carts were living outside of Los Angeles, Calif., when they had their first daughter, but it was quickly “really apparent that we wouldn’t be able to raise our kids [there],” James Cart said. When his wife got hired in the alumni office, they were able to move to Williamstown, a place that James Cart said was more “our speed.”

The benefits of family life in Williamstown are numerous. Crowe described the way he can hardly walk down the street with his boys without running into a familiar face. When they go to Tunnel City (which, he admits, is frequently), “the baristas know our drinks.” When they go to get haircuts at St. Pierre’s, “Roger jokes with them and asks them about school.” Ashley Weeks Cart, having graduated with a double major of studio art and women and gender studies, added that she also loves living in a community where the arts are “deeply valued” and also easily accessible in a way that wouldn’t be the case in a city. This, she said, is going to offer “great benefits for our kids.” In the meantime, they sometimes have to stay at home with babysitters, but even this highlights another positive thing about Williamstown: “my kids’ babysitters,” she said, “are some of the smartest people in the world.”

Foote said that his perspective on the College hasn’t really changed since he was a student, although he has acquired a greater degree of appreciation for the things he learned here. Perhaps because they had more time away before they came back, the other alumni see slightly more of a change in their perspective of the college. The College, James Cart said, “is very different when you’re pushing your baby stroller through Frosh Quad.” Crowe added that working at the College allows one to get to know “what makes Williams tick from inside-out,” whereas as a student, “you’re either unaware or indifferent to much of the basic institutional functioning of the College.” James Cart said that working at the College means that “you get to see the man behind the curtain – see him, interact with him.” As a student, it may seem that all is “hunky dory,” but as an employee, there are problems that you have to help solve. “It doesn’t mean that I don’t bleed purple and gold,” James Cart said, “but it’s not as magical anymore.”

Even if this mystique has faded, some other aspects of the College retain their magic, so that the alumni, at least to some degree, can still enjoy what Ashley Weeks Cart called an “extension of Williams.” Her family does Mountain Day every year, she said, and all her old College friends on Facebook are “always super jealous of our pictures on Stony Ledge.”