At an Alexander Hamilton birthday party that I attended in January, there was a trivia quiz: twenty questions and a prize for the best answers. One of the questions was “What is President Stewart’s favorite story about Alexander Hamilton?”
I was stumped. There are so many things about our namesake, original trustee and moral forebear that I cherish. He bequeathed us the example of a life of dizzying exertion and dazzling accomplishment, made possible by the philanthropy of others. I am proud to claim him as our own, particularly in our bicentennial year, and I often propose to our students that they emulate his courage (though not his foolhardiness), his seriousness of purpose, hard work and meticulous research. He was as brilliant a speaker as he was a writer – and proficiency in oral and written communication is of great importance to the college that bears his name.
Alexander Hamilton’s story still resonates and his legacy still endures on College Hill. Creative writing major Martin Cain ’13 was one of only 200 writers, and the youngest poet selected, to attend the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference hosted last summer by our NESCAC peer Middlebury College and Hamilton’s Mock Trial Team earned first place in the Colgate Tournament in November. Strong performances were also turned in by Hamilton Model UN students in Boston in October and by our Model EU students in Poland in January.
The success is hardly surprising. Martin is mentored most closely by Visiting Assistant Professor of English Jane Springer, the recipient of prestigious writing prizes. Our student orators worked closely with professors Alan Cafruny and Ted Lehmann to understand the implications and intentions of U.S. policy at home and abroad.
Model UN, Model EU and Mock Trial are well established programs at Hamilton and elsewhere, but we are constantly adding new opportunities for our students. The Levitt Leadership Institute recently held the first of two week-long sessions focused on the development of leadership skills. It is generously supported by Arthur Levitt, Jr. P’81 and the Norman and Rosita Winston Foundation and designed and led by former U.S. Ambassador Prudence Bushnell and foreign affairs executive coach Christine Powers. The inaugural class of 18 students will travel to Washington, D.C., in March to meet with alumni, trustees and public servants to discuss leadership.
In a competitive environment, it is wise for students to develop leadership skills to complement their academic preparation, and it makes sense to pursue a broad-based career exploration program early in the college years. For that reason, Hamilton is investing in the programs and resources of the Maurice Horowitch Career Center, including new offices in the Bristol Center. In addition to providing individual counseling for students interested in postgraduate fellowships or study in law, medicine, business or the professions, Hamilton’s career professionals – with help from alumni, parents and trustees – are putting in place a model that connects the academic mission of the liberal arts with the shaping of satisfying careers.
Adequate facilities in which to undertake meaningful work are important for a college of Hamilton’s caliber. The Taylor Science Center, opened in 2005 and named last fall to recognize the generosity, vision and accomplishment of Virginia and Edward ’46 Taylor, was the first major construction project in a carefully planned renewal of Hamilton’s academic facilities. Its completion has significantly enhanced our students’ scientific endeavors.
Opportunities for our student artists are about to expand as well with the opening later this year of the Ruth and Elmer Wellin Museum of Art. This beautiful and functional building will include an “open archive,” a pioneering concept allowing direct access to much of Hamilton’s diverse collection. Our faculty envision the museum as a teaching laboratory that helps students both hone and demonstrate the visual literacy skills described in the College’s statement of educational goals. New studio arts and theatre facilities are on the horizon.
With the Levitt Leadership Initiative and other distinctive programs, expanded career exploration opportunities, and academic facilities such as those for the sciences and the arts, Hamilton is a college increasingly sought after by exceptional students desiring a rigorous liberal arts education. The number of students applying early to join the Hamilton Class of 2016 set a record and overall applications topped 5,000 for the third time. I expect these students to be as talented as the juniors and seniors whom Professor John O’Neill and I are teaching this semester in our seminar on the early modern novel – students evincing a lively curiosity about history, literature and human psychology along with strong analytical and communication skills.
We recognize, of course, that Hamilton’s success in its bicentennial year is not possible without the assistance of our generous friends both on and off the Hill. We work hard to be good stewards of your alma mater and never to take for granted your pride in Hamilton. I am gratified by your support this year, which has exceeded even your usual immense generosity. In just the first six months of the 2011-12 fiscal year, the commitments you made for financial aid, new arts facilities, the Annual Fund and other College projects reached $30 million, which is already the second highest total for an entire year at Hamilton.
But let me be clear. The satisfaction we derive in establishing new milestones for Hamilton is evidence of a culture that rejects the status quo, one that challenges its members to exceed expectations. That is what we ask of our students, and I believe that is what our alumni expect of their alma mater. So even now, as we take pleasure and pride in our College’s growing stature and the loyalty of our friends and alumni, we expect even more of ourselves and of each other.
With a 200-year perspective, rigorous and thoughtfully conceived programs, a distinguished faculty, a glorious campus with major new investment, and enduring friendships of the sort that bring together alumni and friends at birthday parties for the man who personifies this College’s values, Hamilton is poised for even greater achievement in its next century. No easy feat for an institution that is already a national leader.
Joan Hinde Stewart
P.S. And what of the answer to the trivia question asking my favorite story about Alexander Hamilton? “All of the above,” of course.