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Hooray for the Hard Hats!

May 28, 2022

For many of us, Kirkland was the right place at the right time in our lives. Our unique college education gave us the tools to become leaders, creators, builders, and makers. But the Charter Class, of course, paved the way for the rest of Kirkland’s alumnae—they literally watched the campus come into being. That’s why each of these intrepid pioneers was presented with a personalized green hard hat on which Natalie Babbitt had written her first initial and last name. (I confess I get choked up whenever I hear bagpipes or see a green hard hat like the one in a display case in McEwen’s lobby.)

The display case in McEwen Hall.

To welcome all Kirkland classes back to campus in Hamilton’s bicentennial year, everyone was gifted with a plastic version of the hardhat – so those of us who had lost theirs along the way could envy our sisters with originals! The alumni parade that year featured a sea of green.

On the occasion of their 50th reunion, let’s celebrate and thank the Charter Class.

Here is Donna Kerner’s recollection of her hard hat:

My hard hat hung in my home office next to my laminated Kirkland Diploma “First Lot Inspected and Passed” for many years while I was in graduate school, during two years of fieldwork in Africa, and later during my period as an itinerant adjunct faculty member at a number of different institutions in the greater New York area. When I relocated to New England (first New Hampshire to teach at U of New Hampshire and then Boston (Tufts) I was on a full time, but contingent contract. My hard hat and diploma remained in storage (along with most of my belongings) until I landed the tenure track job at Wheaton College (MA). While I moved my belongings from New York to my new home in Providence, Rhode Island (a short commute from work), my hard hat and diplomas did not emerge from storage and find pride of place in my office until I received tenure six years later. Similarly I did not purchase my academic gown or PhD hood until that time. I think I didn’t want to jinx my chances of finding a permanent academic home. When I finally unpacked them they adorned my office for the next 27 years. 

Donna’s chair, with hat!

However, the Kirkland chair lived a very different life. Awarded to me by the Hamilton Alumni Council for service following the end of my time as the first woman VP, it was in great demand by friends during my days as an academic itinerant, serving as a side and desk chair in a number of different homes. Now that I have retired it is reunited with its beloved hard hat in my sunny dining room, though it sometimes enjoys a stint on my porch in the good weather.

Charter Class Reunions: Keeping the Faith

January 29, 2022

The decades go by, and memories get hard to retrieve. Was there a 5th-year reunion in 1977, I wondered, or only the one I could vaguely recall: our 10th, in 1982? My first child had been born the year before, and I had photographic evidence of him playing in the dorms. I wanted to know more: what really took place then? How did the Charter Class deal with the dissolution of our unique alma mater?

This is when cross-class alumnae connections, and our access to the Hamilton College Archives proved their value to me. The current archivist, Jeremy Katz, quickly responded to questions, saying “… it looks like Reunion Weekend changed from fall to summer in 1981.” While a fifth-year cycle is somewhat established, it’s clear that the College gives special attention to the 10th, 25th, and 50th year anniversaries. So there was no gathering five years after Kirkland’s first class graduated.

The first Charter Class reunion was not only its 10th – it was a gathering for all classes, organized by a dedicated cohort whose names have become ever more familiar to those of use who pitched in later on. A video of the 1982 Reunion Dinner, was captured and ultimately digitized in the archives. It runs a full hour and a half, but for the impatient among us, here are some highlights:

00:05:37 Dean Inez Nelbach takes the mike

00:21.35 Elaine Weiss ’72 reads a letter from Sam Babbitt, who calls us “….gifted, fortunate deviants, with a role to play….”

00:40:58 Jane Whitney ’71 introduces and interviews facilities manager Joe (“Man on the Hall”) Mason.

00:45:30: Nancy Gay Bargar introduces a tribute to Comfort Richardson, who then gets up to speak.

There’s a ton more: Ann Baker Pepe ’77 reported on a data from a survey of Charter Class members; Constance Stellas ’72 elaborates on the “qualitative” insights; Jane Whitney returns to prompt and provoke stories from other alumnae (including this author, but you’ll have to hunt for that).

Was it a unique moment? The beginning of a tradition – or the extension of a long-hallowed one? This portrait probably only includes the ’71 and ’72 graduates, reflecting Hamilton’s tradition of class year affiliation. But over time the feeling that Kirkland alumnae are all one cohort has grown. I look forward to 2022 as another moment to reinforce that.

Kirkland College 1982 Charter Class Reunion

It must be noted that some of those in the video, and listed above, have since passed away. But please also note those who are, once again, are working to coordinate a landmark Kirkland Reunion (looking at you, Prof. Kerner!). And we can all remember what committees could be like at a school that encouraged independent thought. Fortitude recommended!

Rare, Remarkable, and Refreshing: All-Kirkland Reunions

January 25, 2022

Most colleges encourage graduates to return to campus for class reunions. And most follow a traditional reunion formula—alumni from an individual class will gather every five years to celebrate and reminisce. For example, one might expect in 2022 for colleges to host reunions of graduates from the classes of 1967, 1972, 1977, and so on in five-year increments.

Not Kirkland. As a closed college with displaced alumnae, our situation is unique. We do have a place to gather, but our campus isn’t ours any longer. We do possess the spirit and the desire to sustain relationships, but many of us don’t care to travel back to Clinton for a host of valid reasons. It’s too far, too painful, too alienating, too disruptive to our current lives. Somehow, though, we have managed to re-invent our own reunions and, in the process, help re-invent Hamilton’s as well.

The Charter Class’s 10th Reunion in 1982 was the first occasion in which more than just a couple of Kirkland’s classes were represented. For that event (see Jennie’s post, Keep the Faith), alumnae from all graduating classes were invited. Then, in the winter of 2006, the innovative reunion wheels began to turn again. In May, a kick-off committee meeting was held in person in New York City. By the following month, this small yet determined alumnae committee began to hold monthly calls via Hamilton’s conference call service. No Zoom yet! One fledgling committee turned into several sub-committees, each tasked with planning events and programming independently and then reporting back to the entire group as plans progressed. Another All-Kirkland Reunion was born.

Our second whole college reunion took place May 31 to June 3, 2007. It was as unique as any college reunion can be. First, the reunion encompassed ALL classes from Kirkland, 1971 – 1981. That’s only possible for a small college with a short life, but it totally made sense to do it that way. One benefit, from my perspective, is that alumnae from different classes have been able to meet one another and spark friendships that otherwise wouldn’t have likely happened.

In addition, the reunion planners decided that the all-Kirkland reunion could be much, much more than simply a parade, fancy dinners, class photos, and beer tents. Although there’s nothing wrong with a traditional reunion at all, the 2007 AKR aimed to shine a light on some of the talented women and creative pursuits that embodied Kirkland.

The 2007 AKR featured Inspirations, an alumnae art show in the Emerson Gallery; Kirkland Voices, an alumnae poetry and fiction reading in the Red Pit; Kirkland Echoes, a presentation of short plays written by Kirkland alumnae; and the film Indomitable Spirits. Other events included talks by Doug Raybeck and Sam Babbitt, the unveiling of the Kirkland display case in McEwen,  a guided meditation, a dance with Steak Nite, and a map of Kirkland landmarks. Wowza. Reunions on the Hill have never been the same since. The tradition of all-alumni gatherings took root, paving the way for similar celebrations in 2015 and the upcoming reunion in 2022.

We’ll be sharing more photos and memories of past Kirkland reunions in the months before the 2022 Charter Class 50th Reunion and the fourth All-Kirkland Reunion.

Click this one to enlarge

Sounds of Steak Nite

January 23, 2022

You may have heard this sound at the last Reunions – and the next! We will welcome the band back for the June 2022 event for Charter Class and All-K!

Audio clip of SteakNite playing “Goin’ To Cuba” (circa 197?)

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