While all of the alums I interviewed earned advanced degrees after graduating from Hamilton, they all agreed that their experience at a supportive, thriving, liberal arts college provided an excellent foundation for parenting. Several cited good communication skills as a key benefit of their years at Hamilton; others named specific professors and classes that woke them up to a love of learning; still others said the most important skills they gained were flexibility and critical-thinking skills.
"Parenting requires you to think on your feet," Bonnie Jones Shugrue '90 jokes, "especially when little people are literally trying to run circles around you. While I am often outnumbered in bodies, I outrank them in mental acuity. On a good day."
Shugrue looks forward to getting back into teaching to share her love of reading, writing and critical thinking with students again, and she feels Hamilton played a role in instilling that passion in her. "I had so many interesting professors, and I remember feeling the intensity of learning on campus," she says. "While I have missed being in the classroom, this appreciation for curiosity and knowledge is wonderful to bring to child rearing. I remind myself that, at this stage of life, I am teaching my own young children, and there will be plenty of time later to teach others."
Margaret Carpenter Jones '88 points to her experience as a Hamilton residential advisor, her close friendships and her role on sports teams as instrumental in her becoming a good parent. Her years on College Hill also exposed her to the kinds of things that she now enjoys experiencing with her children. "I love sharing my interest in art, theater, history and math," she says. "Oh, and hockey – both my boys play."
Susie Szeto Price '92 praised Hamilton for the great students and professors that it attracts. "There were just so many decent people with responsible values at Hamilton, and that has helped me with my parenting in important ways," she says. "Those values are now what I have come to expect for my own kids' education, for how I want my children to serve the world, and for how they can conduct themselves professionally."
As for Ward Halverson '92, who as a child and family therapist advises parents to guide their children without becoming hovering helicopters: Hamilton had something of a role in the formation of that viewpoint as well. As an undergrad, "I took a leave of absence from Hamilton. I backpacked on my own and ended up in Australia for a bit," Halverson says. "But when I returned for my senior year, I was really so much better off. Hamilton tolerated my need to break away, to experience things on my own, to learn by doing. Just like a good parent should."
In my own case, the College offered a different kind of freedom: independent study. When I spent a semester in London, Hamilton allowed me to take a drawing course at an art school just outside the city. And on two occasions on campus, I approached professors about creating a subject of study, and both of them—Dan Chambliss, the Eugene M. Tobin Distinguished Professor of Sociology, and George Bahlke, professor of English emeritus—willingly became faculty sponsors.
When I drew an analogy between pursuing these independent study courses and choosing to become a parent, Carrie Contey '93 agreed. "You're absolutely right!" the clinical psychologist and parenting coach said. "Can you imagine if new parents were filling out a course proposal form? They would basically say, 'What we would like to do is create a new life, and then figure out how to raise it, and then be totally responsible for it for the next two decades or so.' No one could argue that becoming a parent is just about the biggest independent study project you could sign up for."
And so far, it's been the best course I've ever taken.