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“Kirkland Is Everywhere . . .”

June 13, 2014

. . . according to Jill Maynard (K’74), who made this insightful comment when Jo Pitkin (K’78) and Constance Stellas (K’72) turned up at the New Baltimore rest stop along the New York State Thruway. It definitely seemed true when Jo and Constance then bumped into Fran Dunwell (K’74) in the parking lot. We four were on the way home from Clinton after Reunions 2014, where Kirkland lived, breathed, and inspired despite an ever changing and expanding Hamilton College and despite the rolling of the years.

Nancy Avery Dafoe (K'74), Bill Rosenfeld, Billie Jean Stratton (K'74), and Jo Pitkin (K'78) in McEwen's Cafe Opus

Nancy Avery Dafoe (K’74), Bill Rosenfeld, Billie Jean Stratton (K’74), and Jo Pitkin (K’78) in McEwen’s Cafe Opus

Some Kirkland highlights of the weekend:
Kirkland Echoes: Short Plays Inspired by the Kirkland Experience conceived and directed by Melanie Sutherland (K’79) and curated by Liz Horwitt (K’73). Hamilton and Kirkland alumni read plays by Susan Shopmaker (K’78); Constance Stellas (K’72); Zan Tewksbury (K’80); Lars Nielsen (H’77); Liz Horwitt (K’73); and Gwynn O’Gara (K’73), Nancy Avery Dafoe (K’74), and Nicole Dafoe (’04). For Kirkland alumnae of a certain vintage, it was a rare treat to see Ham/Kirk Class of 1975 actors Trevor Drake, Ray Dooley, and Maggie Klenck on stage again.

Abstract, an alumni art exhibit curated by Kate Faison (K’79), which included artwork by Kate, Laura Broaddus Hexner (K’79) and Valentine Merriman (K’73).

Minor Theater Festival organized by alumni (Liz Horwitt, K’73, and others) and Kirkland’s theater professor Carole Bellini-Sharp. Audiences enjoyed four plays written, directed, and acted by alumni, including Melanie Sutherland (K’79) and Margaret Klenck (K’75).

• “Our Graduates Protect the Commons,” an Alumni College discussion including K’74 graduates Frances Dunwell and Sharon Dropkin.

Bill Rosenfeld, Kirkland and then Hamilton creative writing professor, at the Lost Orchard reading

Bill Rosenfeld, Kirkland’s creative writing professor, at the Lost Orchard reading

Lost Orchard: Prose and Poetry from the Kirkland College Community reading and book signing with Jo Pitkin (K’78); Liz Horwitt (K’73); Isabel Weinger Nielsen (K’76); K’74 classmates Joanne Papenek Orlando, Billie Jean Stratton, and Nancy Avery Dafoe; and a very special appearance by our Kirkland creative writing professor Bill Rosenfeld.

Whenever Kirkland alumnae gather together, there’s a synergy of ideas, inspiration, insights, and innovation. I feel like I just took a huge gulp of pure oxygen. I learned new things about Kirkland, and I heard some great suggestions for future reunions.

Did you know that Kirkland was known as the Waffle Brothel? That incoming members of the Charter Class were shown a 3D model of their as-yet-unbuilt dorm rooms?

Kirkland’s influences are everywhere at today’s Hamilton. A recent issue of The Spectator, for example, had a cover story about the newly approved concentration of Cinema and New Media Studies. Concentration? Media Studies? Kirkland students concentrated in Media Studies in the early ’70s; now current Hamilton students can too.

Lost Orchard contributor Nancy Avery Dafoe (K'73) and editor Jo Pitkin (K'78)

Lost Orchard contributor Nancy Avery Dafoe (K’73) and editor Jo Pitkin (K’78)

Before the last production at Minor Theater, a recent Hamilton alumna introduced the alumni plays. As she tearfully bid adieu to the theater that will soon be dorms, she lamented the loss of the place where generations have performed—after the costume glitter is swept away and the stage succumbs to the wrecking ball. As a Kirkland graduate, I wanted to share with her that it’s not the physical space that matters. That theater is only a container, a vehicle. The intrinsic magic of making theater, or of making a college, can happen again wherever talented, like-minded folks gather together.

Kirkland no longer exists as a functioning institution, but our gatherings on and off the Hill prove that, as Sam Babbitt said in 1978: “What is good about Kirkland, what is lasting, is a separate thing from these buildings in which they have had their start, and it has a life quite independent of this place, beautiful as the place has been in which to nourish us . . . it is those intangibles which all of us will take from Kirkland as we leave, and as we go, there, finally, will ‘Kirkland’ also go.”

Kirkland is not gone. Lost Orchard, Limited Engagement by Sam Babbitt, Fruits of Victory by Elaine Weiss, Falconer on the Edge by Rachel Dickinson, and an array of Kirkland green sweats and T-shirts were prominently displayed in the snazzy new bookstore by the old ELS. (By the way, the manager will create a shelf of “Kirkland Alumnae Books” if she gets more titles by Kirkland authors.)

Display of Lost Orchard and Natalie Babbitt's books beside the Hamilton Bicentennial book On the Hill

Display of Lost Orchard and Natalie Babbitt’s books beside the Hamilton Bicentennial book On the Hill


We met a lively, curious Hamilton alumnus who had graduated well before Kirkland was a gleam in Robert McEwen’s eye. He didn’t know much about our college and was eager to talk to Kirkland graduates. He asked us about our curriculum, our seal, Sam, the merger. By the end of the weekend, he sported a green Kirkland button and was carrying a copy of Lost Orchard and one of Jo’s poetry books that he’d bought in the bookstore. A fan!


Jo Pitkin (K'78) and Joanne Papenek Orlando (K'74) at the Kirkland Reception

Jo Pitkin (K’78) and Joanne Papanek Orlando (K’74) at the Kirkland Reception

It’s our job to tell our story so that other interested alumni might learn about—and help us celebrate—Kirkland. If we don’t, who will? Thirty-six years after the merger, the various contributions that Kirkland made to the culture and curriculum of the Hill are part of the fabric of today’s Hamilton. Let’s make sure that pre- and post-merger generations of Hamilton students understand from whence these threads have come.

The upcoming all-Kirkland reunion in 2015 will be a good time to keep the conversation going. What kinds of activities do you want? Panel discussions about how Kirkland has influenced the Hamilton of today? Feminist documentary films? More play readings and performances? Formal recognition of our living professors? Let us know what you think. And, if you attended Reunions 2014, what were your favorite moments?

Jo Pitkin, K’78


Photos supplied by Liz Horwitt and Nancy Avery Dafoe

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Matt Schaefer permalink
    June 13, 2014 9:49 am

    Great posting. I spent many an hour in Minor Threatre with some of the people named in the post including Jill Kuz and Ray. Those memories are indelibly etched in my memory as is Kirkland. Thanks

  2. Douglas Raybeck permalink
    June 13, 2014 9:59 am

    T’was a splendid weekend and we greatly enjoyed seeing you all.

  3. mcintosh301 permalink*
    June 13, 2014 10:17 am

    Doug, I’m so glad I saw you, even briefly. Thanks so much for coming to the Lost Orchard reading! It was a whirlwind weekend but meaningful and fun.

    • Douglas Raybeck permalink
      June 13, 2014 11:38 am

      I’m only sorry I couldn’t catch the plays, but I had an obligation I couldn’t ignore. I did get there in time for some of the dancing. :-}

  4. June 13, 2014 11:13 am

    Brings back so many memories, some I’ve tried to forget, and some that live and stay as green as that apple orchard. I was a creative writing and music major my first year. Kathy Dewart and Tess Gallagher were the professors. It was like a whole different college experience from the rest of the years, when I became a psych major. That year and a half of being immersed in writing is something I will never forget. Eight unfinished short stories later, I it time, now, to recapture what Kirkland gave to me? Anyway, it’s good to see that you are keeping Kirkland alive, and breathing it’s life into others. I am so glad.

  5. June 13, 2014 11:25 am

    It’s time, for sure! I hope we can fill the next All-K reunion with readings, performances and studio workshops. And meals, of course!

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