200 Days in the Life of the College

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Out of the house and into the past

By Courtney Flint ’11

Walter Zonenberg ’14 has a passion for history. The Hamilton newcomer stands on the steps of Burke Library on a breezy late-summer afternoon, carrying a bulky tome, The Restoration Church of England 1646-1689 by John Spurr, which he has just taken out to read “for fun.” Since he was 5, Zonenberg has been carrying around cumbersome history textbooks. He has checked them out of libraries and hunted them at garage sales.

An avid Boy Scout, Zonenberg grew up traveling with his troop to historic sites such as Gettysburg and Valley Forge, which further sparked his interest in history. To become an Eagle Scout, Zonenberg completed a project for his community that involved transcribing a 19th-century will and cataloguing local genealogy papers. Recently, fascinated by his own family’s genealogical history, Zonenberg has put together a document listing family members’ names as far as 21 generations past. His Hamilton admission essay focused on his five-times-great-grandmother, Martha Thompson, and her adventure with John Wesley, the founder of Methodism. Zonenberg explains his zeal for genealogy: “It drives home that people of the past really existed.… Person X did not live and die and end — he is the father’s father’s father’s father of Person Y, who is around now.”

Zonenberg has so far pursued his passion for history on his own; he has been homeschooled until now. Hamilton is his first long-term exposure to “real” school. Why Hamilton? Walter says he “could never get enough” new knowledge. And the Hill’s mountainous surroundings and open curriculum appealed to his love of the outdoors and independence of mind.