Work Hard, Play Hard and LOL
The journals weren't just the official info; they were dispatches from the trenches about the pleasures and pressures of college life — tough courses, great teachers, sleepless nights, startling insights, dubious road trips, laundry bags from hell.
Over the course of 22 writers and nearly 400,000 page views online, our student journals have turned out to be all that and more. Pointed, personal, funny and revealing, this selection of entries shows that good writing and critical thinking are thriving outside the classroom.
You Can Like Tea Parties and Still Be Immaturely Macho
By Greg Leiman ’07
(Comparative literature; Los Angeles)
Oct. 9, 2006 — Liberal arts students love to brag about small class sizes and the close relationships they have with their professors. I’m no different; I had a great time last week at Professor Bahlke’s tea party.
Professor Balhke teaches a seminar on Virginia Woolf, so that would explain the tea party. If it were a Hemingway seminar we’d probably have gotten drunk and then gone big-game hunting. But it’s a Woolf seminar, and that’s nice because I like tea. I also like finger sandwiches and scones, of which there were many at Professor Bahlke’s comfortable, wonderfully decorated home.
But I always worry about parties; how does one act? What does one do with one's hands? What does one say? But Professor Bahlke and his wife solved all of that with the scones.
“Great scones,” I said, swallowing my neurosis with a sip of tea.
It’s a wonderful feeling when cultured, fascinating and genuinely nice people treat you as an equal. We talked about everything grownups talk about, and it was strangely thrilling to hear the sound of my own voice when I compared Shelley to Bukowski, or when I responded to a story about a man Professor Bahlke knew who made some invidious remarks. Later that night, as I sat at my desk and looked “invidious” up in the dictionary, I surrendered to a warm, fuzzy feeling that I usually pretend to ignore.
But life’s not all tea parties and good company. I was completely emasculated the other day when a 90-pound girl creamed me on the squash courts. Of course I smiled and congratulated her on a good game, even shook her hand (making sure to match the strength of her grip) — but a large part of me, a part that is curiously linked to my progressive, liberal-minded and slightly effeminate exterior, was fuming. How could a girl beat me in a sport?
Anyway, I’ve been training like a madman since: weights, cardio, I even bought myself a new squash racket (there must have been something wrong with the old one). She’s going down next time. I may like tea parties, but no way I'm letting someone that petite beat me in anything but a beauty pageant.
A Modern Algebra Proof
Deborah Barany ’11
(Mathematics and neuroscience; Falcon Heights, Minn.)
Nov. 28, 2009 — Assume Deborah learned how to prove Modern Algebra is an awesome math class this semester. Then Deborah can write proofs. Clearly, Deborah learned how to write some types of proofs in Linear Algebra freshman year. Thus, she had the prerequisite to take Modern Algebra. However, proofs in Modern Algebra have a specific format. Since Modern Algebra-type proofs are usually composed of complete sentences that sometimes run on but still make a little sense, and since the words “since,” “thus,” “therefore,” “then,” “so,” “however” and “clearly” are usual sentence starters, then if Deborah can write Modern Algebra-type proofs, Deborah uses those words a lot in her sentences. Clearly, Deborah uses those words a lot. Thus, since Deborah can write proofs, Deborah can write Modern Algebra proofs.
If Deborah can write Modern Algebra-type proofs, then she either learned to write such proofs in Modern Algebra or Real Analysis. Thus, since Deborah learned how to prove Modern Algebra is an awesome math class this semester, Deborah is either in Modern Algebra or Real Analysis this semester. Suppose Deborah is not in Modern Algebra. Then she must have learned to write proofs in Real Analysis. However, Deborah signed up to take Real Analysis next semester, so she cannot be in Real Analysis this semester. This is a contradiction. Thus, Deborah is in Modern Algebra this semester.
Assume Deborah is in Modern Algebra this semester. Then Deborah has Professor Redfield as her Modern Algebra professor. Since Professor Redfield is her professor, then Deborah has a very helpful professor with a lot of office hours, so Deborah goes to office hours a lot this semester to get help with Modern Algebra. Since Deborah goes to office hours a lot, Deborah must have learned how to write proofs. Clearly, Deborah enjoys her Modern Algebra class, so Modern Algebra must be an awesome class. If Modern Algebra is an awesome class, and Deborah learned how to write proofs, then Deborah learned how to prove Modern Algebra is an awesome class.
Thus, Deborah learned how to prove Modern Algebra is an awesome math class if and only if Deborah is in Modern Algebra this semester.
Okay, not the best proof — but you get the idea. Math is fun.
Geoffrey Hicks ’09
(English; Dorchester, Mass.)
Oct. 19, 2008 — My stroll today was a most sobering walk indeed. I closed the cover of the book that I was reading and placed my pen and my highlighter on the desk. I threw my jacket on and headed for the red exit sign which, of course, led to the door — a big glass door. I opened it and walked and could see the remnants of the fading sun. Leaving my hands in the pockets of my jacket and bracing myself for the coolness of the air, I stepped outside.
I walked through the green grass along Minor Field which, surrounded by loping hills and trees of various kinds and colors, felt like another world. The sun had now set and the sky, filled with those beautifully indecisive colors of night and day, began to fade azure. The crisp air of autumn wrapped itself around my arms. I exhaled into the evening and saw my breath hanging in the air, then become invisible, ascending above me. I enjoyed the fiery colors of the leaves and the tension of their stillness in the mild, windless air.
Before I decided to return to my studying, I surveyed, with my ears this time, the sounds around me and listened to the rustling of leaves. All was quiet for a moment, until, again, more rustling. Walking closer, I approached the trees in the glen, and looked with the mere expectation of finding a bird or a squirrel, but with the hope of seeing a deer. I inched closer to the sound and this time was able to witness the beauty with my eyes that I had pleasure of listening to the moments prior. And as I returned to my studies, I felt refreshed.
Kate Northway ’11
(Communications and women's studies; Pittsburgh)
Dec. 1, 2008 — The citizenship classroom tonight was filled with smiles and good food. The woman I have been working with for a few months now, Vanna, passed her citizenship test last week! To celebrate her entrance into society as a U.S. citizen, she brought in fried rice and egg rolls, popular dishes in her home country of Cambodia.
When I first met Vanna in September, she was discouraged about her abilities. She had just failed her citizenship test a month earlier when she could not define “deport” to the citizenship officer.
From my first day at Project SHINE [Students Helping in the Naturalization of Elders], Vanna was the student I worked with the most. In the beginning, she had trouble completing the readings and worksheets given in class. However, as the months rolled by, she became more confident of her capabilities as an English speaker. A few weeks ago when we obtained a few more Cambodian students, Vanna even took over the role of teacher, helping to translate the American political process into the native language of Cambodia, Khmer. Her confidence communicating with native speakers has increased so dramatically I can hardly believe it. She is no longer afraid to shout out an answer to a question, even if she’s unsure of its accuracy.
As she entered the classroom today, I couldn't help but feel so proud. I had helped this woman become a citizen of the United States. She chattered away with the other students, telling them all the questions she had to answer and what it was like to take the test.
When I attend my last SHINE session next Monday, Vanna will be gone. She will be officially sworn in as a U.S. citizen this Thursday. While I will move onto teaching other students and Vanna will begin to study for her GED, I will never forget the bond I formed with my first student while helping her become a citizen.
Thomas Coppola ’11
(Biology and economics; Atlanta)
Oct. 8, 2008 — The opera house is an enormous, beautiful building filled with old rich dudes. The richest, oldest old rich dudes I’ve ever seen. You know that Monopoly Guy? He was there. We went to see Richard Strauss’ Salome. I’d never been to an opera before, and my friends sitting next to me, Razeena Shrestha ’09 and Hilary Weiss ’10, didn’t know much about opera either. There were electronic translators on the back of every chair, but I decided to turn mine off and simply listen and watch. I figured I should try to experience the opera in a holistic and fully engaged manner. Or fall asleep. Whatever came first.
Here's the opera’s progression as I understood it ....
8:00 – Lights dim, audience goes silent, curtain rises. Hilary leans over and says, “I think it’s starting.” Thanks, Hilary.
8:10 – Salome comes out on stage. She’s wearing skintight leather pants, a loose silk shirt, and is roaring barbarian German love songs. I feel I should be attracted to her. Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure the singer is like 90 years old.
8:25 – Everyone’s drunk, there are angels of death running around, and some dude just stabbed himself. So far so good.
8:33 – Salome’s dancing on top of the dude who stabbed himself. There’s this stuffy old man with a cane limping around and staring at everything in confusion. I think he represents the audience.
8:40 – Razeena keeps laughing whenever something terrible happens. I kind of want to switch seats but I’m pretty sure if I stand up the aisle clerks will shoot me.
8:47 – The King of France is sweating profusely on a throne and ogling Salome. I don’t actually know if he’s the King of France, but that would be interesting, so I’m spinning it that way.
8:53 – Salome’s writhing on top of a pile of garbage. The King of France is throwing apples at her. I’m allergic to apples.
9:02 – Things are getting kind of hot and heavy. Salome’s straddling the King of France and thrusting her pelvis in his face.
9:06 – She’s still at it. She’s very limber for a 90-year-old.
9:12 – Not gonna lie, the pelvis thing is getting a little tiresome.... This theatre sure has some beautiful chandeliers.... Wait — was Salome just naked? I saw clothes disappear out of the corner of my eye, but when I refocused they were back!
9:13 – Razeena confirms: Salome was naked. Full frontal naked. I totally missed it.
9:17 – I can’t believe I missed it. I know she’s 90 and all, but still — these tickets cost $100, and half of that goes toward nudity costs, so I feel cheated.
9:29 – This is such a scam, they cram all the nudity into one nanosecond and then leave you high and dry for the rest of the play.
9:34 – Salome’s talking to a severed head. I’m beginning to think there’s going to be some grand finale nudity. Something really avant-garde, like instead of a curtain call everyone gets naked and starts fingerpainting, and keeps painting until the audience gets uncomfortable and awkwardly shuffles out in the dark. Brilliant!
9:40 – Nope, everyone’s dead.
Ngoc “Mike” Nguyen ’11
(Government; New Hartford, N.Y.)
Dec. 3, 2009 — One of my best classes is American Public Administration because we get to discuss my favorite topics — government, public policy and the role citizens play in it all. It’s geared toward the elements that make administrations inadequate. Lately I’ve been a little depressed finding out all the things that we could be doing better as a society. The golden lining in this is that I see how great our society can be. The class is a very interactive class — like many at Hamilton are — but this class requires a different student to present in front of everyone each day. We are supposed to facilitate the discussion and lead the class through the arguments.
To my surprise, I received a letter-sized, crinkled white envelope in my mailbox. I was confused at first but smiled after opening it. I had written the letter to myself freshman year during Adirondack Adventure. AA is the pre-orientation program that allows students an opportunity to meet classmates and go climbing, hiking, backpacking, camping, canoeing, or traversing (and much more). Our AA group wrote letters to ourselves, sealed each in an envelope and gave it to the Hamilton Outing Club for safekeeping. We all put different dates on the envelope — I chose today’s date at random — to be delivered.
There was a paragraph in my letter that rejuvenated my desire to be a public servant. My American Public Administration class is fantastic because it forces me to really think about what is good for the public. Thanksgiving may be over, but I feel compelled to thank myself for writing the letter, to thank American Public Administration for bringing out my best, to thank AA for providing such great opportunities to make memories, and to thank HOC for doing the many great things it does.
Just when I thought there was so much wrong with the world and that I couldn’t do anything, a simple letter made me see that there are some great things to appreciate. And for all those aspects that aren't so great — I feel empowered to try and change them.
Alexandria Dotson ’11
(Hispanic studies; Pasadena, Calif.)
Oct. 18, 2009 — One of the great things about the Hamilton College Academic Year in Spain program is the Spanish-only rule. All students in the program sign a pledge, like the Honor Code at Hamilton, to only speak Spanish at all times while in the program, outside of emergencies. Obviously, if you fall down and break your leg you can use English, or if you are talking with your family and they don't speak Spanish it is permitted, but other than that, it’s Spanish 100 percent of the time.
That being said, these first couple of months, the things that I say may or may not be what I really mean. However, by the end of the year, or semester, I guarantee my Spanish will be 50 million times better! (Okay, maybe not that extreme, but better nonetheless.)
At times, it can be a little difficult to get the point across and express yourself in depth as you would in English. So my friends and I have come up with some great sentences and words that may not be exactly how you should say them in Spanish, but they have great flair!
Apañate — Make it work! This word can be used in situations that require you to go with the flow.
Cualquier — Whatever. While here in Spain you should use vale, aka the word for everything, cualquier is still Spanish with an American attitude.
Estamos en negocios — Literally translated, this means we are in business; however, with the Alex flair, this means, yes, we're in business! We can go forward from this point on happily! Uses: When I finally got a Spanish cell phone, what did I say? “Estamos en negocios!”
Afuera de forma — Literally translated, this means outside of shape. This sentence can be used as a form of insult: ¡Tú estás afuera de forma! Your form is over there, and you are here. Or it can be used as a self-critique: Estoy afuera de forma. My shape is nowhere near to me, and I need to get back into it.
Muy país — Literally translated, this means very country, as in a physical place. However, my friends and I sometimes use it as another way to say “ghetto,” or to critique an action as very country.
So far these are the only crazy Spanglish translations that we have created. However, I am sure there are more to come! Por los menos (at least) it's Spanish. ¡Apañamos!
Rachel Richardson ’09
(Creative writing and German; Tulsa, Okla.)
Nov. 12, 2006 — There’s a point I reach about 11 minutes into my half-hour, six-mile stationary bike ride when I’m pretty sure I could win the Tour de France. There’s another point about 28 minutes into my half-hour, six-mile bike ride when I decide I really need to buy a second pair of sweatpants, since I'll have to wash the pair I own for the eighth time in as many days.
When the Blood Fitness and Dance Center opened in October, I’ll admit I didn't see what the big deal was. While I wouldn’t say I frequented our old fitness center, I had been there a few times, and the equipment and resources seemed fine enough to me. I entered a weight-loss bet with my father a few weeks back; like all good college sophomores, I’d resolved to lose that freshman 15 at some point, but the minute I was challenged, I decided that time was now. So I bought the fated Hamilton sweatpants (whose comfort had been touted by some of my friends), filled up an Aquafina and wandered into the fitness center one morning.
The place is enormous — huge, two-story windows take up an entire wall facing the football field (where, fortunately, few can see you in compromised positions, i.e., red in the face and sweating miserably, plagued with visions of cycling grandeur). Another wall is devoted to rock climbing, though I haven't been brave enough to try it out just yet. There are two floors of equipment, most with individual televisions (yes! Individual televisions!), and if you aren’t so blessed to have your own little TV, there are four giant flat-screens suspended from the ceiling. Simply leave your ID at the front desk, and you're given a set of headphones.
I am not an avid exerciser, but the fitness center suits my casual workout needs perfectly. I never suspected I’d decline invitations because I had to go work out, but this seems now to be the case. It’s not even that I have to go — I want to.
The Hill Card
Casey Gibson ’09
(Economics and music; Madison, Wis.)
Dec. 10, 2007 — I think the Hill Card is a great idea. Why? Because eventually, these little babies will be able to open locked doors, do our laundry for us and give us back massages — plus, “The Hill Card will offer more convenience as new features are added throughout the Spring 2008 semester.” What could lie in store for us lucky Hamiltonians? In what exciting ways will our lives at Hamilton become more convenient through these “new features”?
The biggest thing is, I foresee the Hill Card quickly becoming my best friend. Sure, right off the bat, we’re going to be able to balance our account online; in a few months, though, I think my Hill Card will be able to talk to me and tell me when he's running low. Then it’s only a matter of time until he learns that I love Opus coffee, and Paper Mate pens, and Audrey Hepburn movies. We can talk about my favorite sports teams (Packers, Blackhawks, White Sox, Brewers), watch funny YouTube videos together — I can really see us becoming fast friends.
It'll be like my Carnegie double is a quad: My roommate, our Hill Cards and I will just be hanging out, having fun, doing cool stuff all the time. Like that, except two of my roommates don’t make any mess and never eat someone else’s food. Also, I’ll never have to deal with misplacing my meal card again, because it would be like misplacing your best friend, which doesn’t happen.
It’s going to be a brave new world with the Hill Card. Who knows what innovations will come next? They could have a button that converts it to a Frisbee or a basketball. It could even valet my car for me someday. The possibilities are literally endless. And while I can’t say for sure that my card will be able to tell me about a great book he recently read, I do know that come January 13, he will definitely say one thing about me: “Little Pub Accepted.”