To their former students, Hamilton’s now-retired faculty members were teachers, advisors, mentors, and friends. And they were unforgettable. We invite you to catch up with a handful of professors to see what they’re up to now. Not surprisingly, it’s a lot.
Leavenworth Professor of English (1980-1998)
Considering that writer Jean D’Costa’s very conversation overflows with stories, insights, intellectual sidelights, and funny lines, the autobiography she’s working on should be riveting. She’s writing it at the behest of two close friends who thought she should record the stories she’s told them over the years.
“A lot of the stories are about very early childhood in rural Jamaica. The first place that I remember was a place up in the mountains, in the middle of the island, where the roads ended. You couldn’t go any farther,” D’Costa says. “It was wonderful.”
Besides her autobiography and sundry other projects, D’Costa, who is 84, is writing a series of essays about the genesis of her children’s novels. The most recent is Jenny and the General, published in 2002 by Carlong Publications, Kingston, Jamaica. As a linguist and academic, D’Costa’s work and writing focus on multilingualism in Jamaica, ranging from Jamaican Creole to standard English.
She and her husband, David, live in Gainesville, Fla., settling there for its convenience for frequent travel to visit family and friends in Jamaica. Retirement dovetails nicely with D’Costa’s approach to writing. For the deep work, she doesn’t set a schedule but writes only when in “the proper state of mind.”
“If I come to a point where I don’t know what to say, I stop and I go away, and I do other things,” D’Costa says. “And while I’m doing other things, I’ve learned not to consciously think about the process and act of writing because that literally blocks one.”
Since she left Hamilton, D’Costa’s work has ranged widely. Starting in 2004, she spent a decade copyediting for the university press at the University of the West Indies and became chief editor for a UNESCO project on the African diaspora in Jamaica and the Caribbean. She co-wrote Caribbean Literary Discourse: Voice and Cultural Identity in the Anglophone Caribbean, published in 2014. And there’s much, much, more. For instance, at the University of Florida, D’Costa helped copyedit a dictionary of a vanishing language in central Ghana; gave linguistic advice on an article on Rastafarian poetics; and, in her estimation, “failed utterly to help in a discussion of 21st-century Caribbean literature by women.”
“My happiest time was last November–December when I read the rough draft of a doctoral dissertation on suicide and suicidal ideation among Jamaican adolescents in care,” D’Costa says. “This is very important research and will lead, I hope, to much better awareness among caregivers, nursing staff , parents, and school authorities.” She’s long had a strong and active interest in education.
Just about every summer, the D’Costas visit College Hill where good friends include Bonnie Urciuoli, the Leonard C. Ferguson Professor of Anthropology Emerita. D’Costa’s Hamilton years were good ones for her, especially for her research into the history of pidgins, dialects, and Creole languages in Jamaica.
“The only thing I couldn’t stand were faculty meetings. I became allergic to them,” she admits.
Professor of Anthropology (1970-2007)
On his 80th birthday, Doug Raybeck was having dinner at home with his family and some friends who’d taught with him at Kirkland College, when his daughter, as she often does, handed him her computer to show him something.
“So I opened it up, and there were 80 students,” Raybeck says.
That’s 80 former students from his time as a professor at Kirkland and Hamilton wishing him a happy birthday, which was a sweet, yet mildly distressing, surprise. Distressing for Raybeck only because he wasn’t able to speak to the students individually. Individual relationships are fundamental to Raybeck the teacher, and the relationships often endure.
His wife, Karen Jones, who is the mathematician of the family, puts the count of former students who have visited their home in Amherst, Mass., at 28. As a professor, Raybeck loved working with students and watching them grow. Now he’s seeing them grow older.
“Some of my students are in their 50s now. Some are bald,” he says with a laugh. “Everybody’s either got gray hair or they’re coloring. And I’m very pleased that a number did go on in anthropology. One woman has an international reputation, which is something I never got.” He laughs again.
Another student who became an anthropologist was chair of her department for years and is about to retire, he says. And if she follows his example, she’ll semi-retire. Since leaving Hamilton, Raybeck has published a second edition of his book Mad Dogs, Englishmen, and the Errant Anthropologist: Fieldwork In Malaysia. Malaysian culture is the focus of his academic work. He’s published several articles, and he’s working on his memoir. “I’ve got a lot of stories about things I did, principally when I was young, to stay alive,” he says. He’s talking about economic survival.
Raybeck still teaches. He says he’s addicted to it. He and his wife moved to Amherst to be near their daughter, but also because the area is home to five higher education institutions. During the pandemic, he taught online. He may teach this fall at Hampshire College, which he views as similar to Kirkland in its conventions and values. He taught three years at Amherst College and one semester at the University of Massachusetts. That went sour fast, he admits.
“They gave me an intro class with 190 students, and I’m sorry, you do not educate 190 students, you talk at them, and that’s not my idea of education,” Raybeck says.
Eighty former students who joined his birthday dinner would agree.
Hong Gang Jin
William R. Kenan Professor of East Asian Languages and Literatures/Director, Associated Colleges in China (1989-2014)
De Bao Xu
Leonard C. Ferguson Professor of East Asian Languages and Literatures (1991-2014)
They are twice retired, but they aren’t yet traveling the globe as they’d longed to do. The pandemic delayed that part of their post-career plans.
Still, with no administrative chores to manage, Hong Gang Jin and De Bao Xu are feeling free in their new home in Orange County, Calif. The couple retired most recently last fall from demanding jobs at the University of Macau in China. In retired professor style, they are kicking up their heels.
“I’m reading a lot of things, thinking about life, thinking about politics, thinking about the China-American relationship,” says Xu. At Macau, he was a distinguished professor and master (or dean) of a residential college within the university.
Jin was the dean of faculty of arts and humanities at the university. Now she can devote all the time she wants to her personal research. “I would like to consider myself retired in many ways, but I’m still active in the field, doing things at my pace, and helping with teacher training, workshops, collaborative research projects here and there,” she says.
At Macau, their work was satisfying but nonstop, given the administrative duties, research, publication pressure, teaching, and mentoring. They were ready to take life a little easier and eager to explore Europe, countries in Asia they haven’t yet visited, and other places they’ve never been. “We haven’t even gone to the Grand Canyon,” Xu says.
But they have been able to see their daughter a couple of times since the pandemic hit, recently combining a trek to Boston, where she lives, with a conference they participated in at the University of Rhode Island.
They’d been at Macau since retiring from Hamilton. During their long careers on the Hill, Jin and Xu were fundamental to the East Asian Languages and Literatures Program as it grew into a department. Jin’s Hamilton legacy includes founding in 1996 the Associated Colleges in China, an intensive Chinese language and culture program in Beijing. In 1998, she was named the National Outstanding Baccalaureate College Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
Her research focuses on language processing, acquisition, and pedagogy. Her sundry projects- in-progress include a collaboration, with professors at the University of California Los Angeles and the University of Oklahoma, that uses linguistics data to analyze Chinese-language learning paths, patterns, and errors. Another of her projects looks at reading comprehension and how video captions are processed.
Xu’s field is theoretical and Chinese linguistics and teaching Chinese as a second language, and over the years he’s authored or co-authored dozens of papers and books. At Macau, he published the second edition of his chief edited Contemporary Linguistic Theory Series (10 monographs). While at Hamilton, backed by the College, he founded the International Conference and Workshops on Technology and Chinese Language Teaching in the 21st Century. Xu is still active in the organization, and, among other activities, serves as editor-in-chief of the Journal of Technology and Chinese Language Teaching.
Both he and Jin speak of how their time at Hamilton shaped their perspectives and careers. It was their first experience with the liberal arts, and they shared some of what they learned with students at Macau. Xu modeled the residential college he ran there after Hamilton.
“The working experience at Hamilton for 25 years really taught me so much about the philosophy of the College and also the way we interact with each other — the way we treat our students,” Jin observes. “That’s why I’m very close to my students, and we always feel like a family.”
Jin and Xu are proud that they helped inspire a love of Chinese language and culture in their Hamilton students, whom they often hear from. “And they are everywhere — in China, in Singapore, in Hong Kong, and back in the United States,” Xu says.
Manfred Von Schiller
Professor of Physical Education and Head Coach, Men’s Soccer and Lacrosse (1959-98)
Apples and cherries can’t be coached, even by Manfred von Schiller, who is worried about this year’s crops. “We have some varieties, there’s too many apples on them, and some varieties, hardly any apples. And the cherries, compared to last year, we have maybe a quarter to a third of a crop,” he says.
Von Schiller, 91, still works the farm his parents handed down to their children. He’s a steward of 20 acres of cherries and 30 acres of apples, handling much of the tractor work for the operation. He and his wife, Freida, live on the property in Sodus, N.Y., about five miles from Lake Ontario. Von Schiller returned home after he retired from Hamilton, where he was head soccer coach for nearly 40 years and head men’s lacrosse coach for 36 years.
A modest man who tries to steer the conversation away from himself, von Schiller still can’t believe he landed the Hamilton job all those decades ago. After four years in the service and with money from the GI Bill, he entered the State University of New York at Brockport to graduate in 1959 with a physical education degree. He heard word-of-mouth about a soccer coaching job at Hamilton, applied, and surprised himself by landing it. He would go on to earn a master’s degree from St. Lawrence University.
When von Schiller talks about his successes on College Hill, he clearly prizes them for what they meant for the young men on his teams. He remembers their faces after Eastern College Athletic Conference tournaments. His lacrosse teams competed in them in 1975, 1988, and 1993. In 1979, his soccer team finished with a 12-1-1 record and won a conference title. “One of the best feelings I’ve had in my life,” von Schiller says. Seeing his team’s faces was like winning the World Cup.
Hamilton soccer players created an award in von Schiller’s honor. It goes to a player who displays team spirit, leadership, and integrity. That fits.
“The main thing that we always did was try to do the best we possibly could,” von Schiller says. “I mean, you can’t always be undefeated, you can’t always win; we tried to do the best we possibly could.”
When he turned 90 last year, well-wishes poured in from “the guys” — his former students — and von Schiller was tickled to be remembered. He remembers them, too. Tucked into the pocket of a Hamilton jacket from his coaching days is a hat that says “soccer coach,” a gift from a graduating senior, who, years later, became ill and died. Von Schiller still wears the old jacket. He doesn’t wear the precious hat. “It’s always in a jacket,” he says. “Well, it’s going to stay there.”
Hamilton B. Tompkins Professor of English Literature (1957-2000)
After 50 years of teaching at Hamilton, Austin Briggs and his wife sold their house in Clinton, gave their car to their kids, and headed to central Mexico and the beautiful city of San Miguel de Allende.
Briggs retired from full-time teaching in 2000 but continued to offer a seminar on James Joyce each fall. To mark his golden jubilee in 2007, the English Department sponsored a day-long Joyce symposium during Fallcoming. The next year, Briggs moved to San Miguel with his wife, Bunny Serlin, who was known as Bunny Lieberman when she served as founding director of the Career Center.
The couple never looked back, but Briggs misses the autumn leaves, the College swimming pool and library, and, of course, his friends. He remembers Hamilton for the wonderful opportunities to form close relationships with students. Early in his career at the College, he had to fail a freshman comp student who wanted to become a high school English teacher, and on that odd basis, Briggs says, they built a friendship that lasted years.
He remains an active scholar, using the Hamilton archives online for a project on Ezra Pound, Hamilton Class of 1905; contributing — by invitation — to a volume of essays; and convening and chairing a roundtable at a virtual Joyce conference sponsored by the University of Trieste in Italy.
He loves San Miguel, a UNESCO World Heritage City, for the warm and friendly people, the rich classical music scene, and the close-knit community of smart and interesting people. After decades of Central New York winters, he revels in the perfect year-round weather. “You know, I have very few regrets in life,” Briggs says. “One is that when we packed up and sent our stuff off to Mexico, I wish I had brought my snow shovel down here so I could hang it on the wall.”
When the pandemic abated in San Miguel and the fully vaccinated couple ventured out to their favorite restaurant for the first time in months, they wanted a photograph of themselves with their regular waiter. “And then the waiter who took the photograph and several others asked whether it would be all right if they took a picture of us with them,” he recalls. “Isn’t that wonderful? Like going home.”
Briggs swims miles every week, and the couple, who don’t have a car, stay fit walking up streets of their mountain city. Navigating the language is trickier for Briggs, who acknowledges that his Spanish is lousy. But he gets by and is the better for the challenge.
“I know there are people my age who are doing puzzles to try to keep their minds active,” he says. “What I’m doing is continuing to read difficult books and socializing with friends who are smart and interesting. And also, you know, trying to figure out how I’m going to ask in Spanish for a Phillips screwdriver in the hardware store — there’s a puzzle!”
At 90, Briggs says he doesn’t know himself better than he did as a younger man; he knows himself differently. “One of the really great things about getting on in years is that you no longer have to prove anything,” he says. “There was a time when I felt I had to keep up with the latest books. No more. I’m rereading great poetry and fiction that mattered to me over a lifetime.”
William R. Kenan Professor of Biology (1983-2014)
As ever, Ernest Williams is a man of science and nature, but now he’s a man of photography and painting, too. The professor of biology emeritus has since started to paint, mostly landscapes. He created a website, ewnature.com, as “a celebration of the beauty and diversity of nature,” and on it he shares his nature photographs and paintings.
“Students, I think, sometimes categorize people, and they categorize themselves: They’re either a science person or they’re an arts person, and so forth. Well, one can be interested in and do many things, and one should not be limited by categorization like that,” observes Williams, who relishes the freedom he’s found in retirement.
If the weather is miserable, he doesn’t have to go outside. Any deadline he faces is self-imposed. “One is free from other people’s schedules,” he says with satisfaction.
Williams, who taught his first course on the Hill in January 1984, retired in 2014, but kept teaching one course a year until 2017. By his count, over the decades he assigned 4,760 final grades and taught Ecology 38 times, Introductory Biology 40 times, and Evolution 30 times. He produced four books and published 66 articles, and was the founding chair of the Environmental Studies Program. Over his career, he focused his research on the population biology and conservation of butterflies, including the monarch, and he still receives invitations to write and speak about them.
Clinton remains home for Williams and his wife, Sharon, who ran Hamilton’s Writing Center for 30 years. Often they make the drive to spend a few days at their camp on Twitchell Lake in the Adirondacks. Williams is secretary of the Monarch Butterfly Fund, an international organization that works for the conservation of monarchs. The couple work with Kirkland Trails, a local group that’s developing a trail system. Sharon was the group’s founding president.
Even after retirement, Williams led Hamilton alumni trips to the Galapagos and Costa Rica, and has traveled on his own, with nature as a focus. His daily exercise regimen, which includes long walks, inspired him to create a periodic report about the birds, wildflowers, and butterflies on the Kirkland Trail and at Twitchell Lake, and he emails his updates to anyone who is interested.
Williams loves to hear from and about former students, and he misses his colleagues from the Hill, but that’s OK. “I loved teaching, but I’m having a wonderful time retired in part because there are a lot of things I’m interested in, and I’m doing a lot of different activities,” he says.
Professor of Hispanic Studies (1984-2010)
Retirement sounds more enticing in Spanish. The word is jubilación — that’s jubilation in English, explains Santiago “Santy” Tejerina-Canal, who is enjoying partial jubilation and would love to attain 100 percent status.
Tejerina-Canal lives in León, Spain, with his family and directs the Summer Institute of Hispanic Studies in cooperation with the University of León. He’d like to step down from that position but is reluctant to do so until he can ascertain a secure future for the program he co-founded in 1992.
He retired from Hamilton in 2010 after creating and directing in 2007 Stanford University’s Bing Overseas Study Program in Madrid. He continued that work, retiring from the position in 2015.
He, his wife, Bonnie Kay Canori, and the youngest of their three children split their time between León and Tejerina-Canal’s native village of Las Salas in the Picos de Europa National Park.
He considers Hamilton his “American alma mater,” although he didn’t attend the College, Hamilton was a special and productive place for him.
His work at the College included heading the Spanish section of the Romance Languages Department for several years, and he was the first chair of the newly created Hispanic Studies Department. He spent 20 to 30 extra hours a week working on behalf of Hamilton’s Academic Year in Spain, serving as its director in Clinton for seven years and in situ in Madrid for another seven.
“Let me add,” he says via email, “that Hamilton’s size, beauty (including the Glen) and Arcadian mores and collegiality with students are unparalleled in all the prestigious institutions [where] I have taught.”
In retirement, he’s kept busy. “I have read more in my five years of jubilant retirement than in the previous years,” Tejerina-Canal says.
He’s recently written articles for Spanish newspapers, delivered papers in Spain and the U.S., and given presentations annually about the Summer Institute at Harvard, Princeton, Yale, and other institutions. Tejerina-Canal is working on three new diverse books: one on study-abroad programs, one about the Camino de Santiago, a cultural/spiritual pilgrimage in Spain; and one about his experience creating an “Atlantic bridge of understanding” between the Americas and Spain.
He and Bonnie remain connected to College Hill and their Hamilton friends. “Every November I have gone to Hamilton to visit for the past 14 years, and I would actually love to return for a longer period, as we still have our house in Clinton,” Tejerina-Canal says. “After all, I received with tenure my own plot in the College Cemetery!”
William R. Kenan Professor of Biology (1985-2015)
This summer, Jinnie Garrett will log another 1,000-plus miles on her trek through retirement. The solo trip with her teardrop trailer will take her from her condo in Moneta, Va., to Maine and back. She’s considering a stop in Clinton.
It’s Garrett’s second big post-retirement road trip. The first was a five-month, 17,000- mile journey. “It was wonderful. I went to 25 national parks, visited friends, family, a former student, a former colleague or two, people scattered all around the place. I left mid-August and came back just before Christmas,” she says.
She struck out on the road after she retired in 2019 as dean of natural sciences and mathematics at Ferrum College in Virginia. She first retired from Hamilton in 2015 after 29 years. Garrett’s primary interest was in genetic research, and her expertise included molecular genetics of yeast and microbial metagenomics.
Garrett has a long interest in helping students from underrepresented groups access higher education. At Hamilton, she was a Posse mentor. She spent 2012-14 on leave to serve as dean of the Asian University for Women in Chittagong, Bangladesh, a U.S.-style liberal arts college for women from South Asia. The move to Ferrum gave her the opportunity to work in a small, private liberal arts college whose students are very culturally and socially diverse.
Garrett gravitated to Ferrum in part for its location. She loves the Blue Ridge Mountains, hiking, and the music of the region. And it is near her oldest son and her grandchildren.
In retirement, with more free time and inspired by the old-time and bluegrass music that surrounds her, Garrett has taken up the guitar for the first time in decades. “I think, like many people, I’ve found that you go back to what you were really interested in as a young adult and then kind of put aside,” says Garrett, who was once deep into English folk music.
Her favorite place for music and jamming is the community of Floyd, where she had a chance to play with Jake Blount ’17, an acclaimed banjo player — and a classmate of Garrett’s daughter, Cori Smith ’17. “I’m very much in the background of a jam. Jake leads it,” Garrett quickly points out.
She keeps in touch with Boston Posse students she mentored and remains friends with many people from her Hamilton years.
“Hamilton was an amazing opportunity and wonderful place to work for almost 30 years. I’ve met so many great people, and it’s such a beautiful place to be,” she says. “I’m from England; we don’t have liberal arts colleges, and I never really knew what one was until I worked there, and I’m an absolute advocate for liberal arts education. I believe in it 100 percent.”
Elias W. Leavenworth Professor of Economics (1976-2012)
Jim Bradfield thinks professors are particularly well suited to enjoy retirement. “I think it’s because most of us like to learn things. What you’re going to do with that learning is beside the point,” he says.
He strikes a balance between his scholarly work and recreation, which primarily consists of spending time with his grandchildren, who number six.
Bradfield and his wife, Alice, enjoy the summer months on Fourth Lake in the Adirondack Mountains and winters in Lewiston, Maine, to be near his daughter, her husband, and their twin daughters. The Bradfields’ other two children and their families live in New York State.
No longer bound by an academic calendar, when the Bradfields get a call about a grandchild’s event, even on short notice, they can easily hop in the car to be there. That’s their priority. Even so, Bradfield gets nostalgic when he reflects back to the days when he faced a classroom of college students several times a week. It seems to him that by the time he learned to deliver a decent lecture, retirement was almost at hand.
“Most of the students I had were quite respectful and eager to learn, and that was very rewarding for me. I miss that,” he says. “But the cost of hanging on as I got older, as our grandchildren got older, became too high. And when you’re teaching at a college, there’s an interesting temporal phenomenon that goes on. The students are always 20, but you keep getting older and older and older.
“But I am glad I spent the bulk of my life — it was 36 years — at Hamilton,” he adds.
When he left the College, he vowed to stay broadly engaged intellectually, including in his fields — microeconomic theory, mathematical economics, and financial markets. While at Hamilton, he published two books, and he’s still writing. He’s about to complete a book on the economic efficiency of the financial markets and another on the optimal way for the typical retail investor to build wealth for retirement.
He stays connected to the College through the Alexander Hamilton Institute, where he is a charter fellow. He’s also in touch with some former students, especially members of Alpha Delta Phi. When he was at Hamilton, the fraternity invited him to join its ranks, which he considered an honor. In 2006, the chapter gave him its award for outstanding teaching.
A year later, Bradfield received the Sidney J. Wertimer, Jr. Award for Excellence in Teaching, a career highlight. “This award is given by the Student Assembly, which I particularly prized because it did not come from the administration. There is no money attached to the award, so the honor does not become contaminated — my word — by money.”
He keeps the plaques for both awards on the wall of his home office.