En route to a movie, with traffic at a standstill on I-81 near Wilkes-Barre, Pa., Max Flath ’17 and his brother Connor were talking nonstop in the front seat. They hadn’t seen each other in months. Connor, who was at the wheel, realized he was ignoring his girlfriend in the back and gave her a wave of acknowledgement. When someone in another car waved back, Flath thought it was a little weird.
Actually, opportunity was about to knock.
A man appeared at Connor’s door and asked him to roll down the window. “When you’re at a standstill and there’s a Hamilton College bumper sticker on the car in front of you, in my view as a Hamilton College alumnus, it is my duty to go up and knock on the window of that car,” says Matt Cartwright ’83.
Cartwright wanted to know who in the car had the Hamilton connection. He and Flath traded Hamilton credentials, and Cartwright handed Flath his card. “And he walked away,” says Flath, “and I looked down and saw Matt Cartwright, member of Congress, with the gold seal in the corner.” Cartwright, a Democrat, took office in January 2013 to represent Pennsylvania’s 17th Congressional District. A history major at Hamilton, he graduated magna cum laude before earning a degree from the University of Pennsylvania’s Law School and working as an attorney for 25 years. He and his wife, who live in Moosic, Pa., have two sons, one of whom — Jack Cartwright ’15 — also graduated magna cum laude from Hamilton.
“I am an unabashed booster of Hamilton,” Cartwright says. “I always have been. I think it is incumbent upon us, coming from such a tiny academic institution, to stick up for each other and get to know each other. It’s almost as important as supporting the institution with our time and treasure.” As a Hamilton graduate he considers himself to be the equal of anyone who came out of Harvard, Yale, Oxford or Stanford. He is convinced that Hamilton doesn’t get the attention it deserves so its alumni need to stand together. Which is why Cartwright makes a habit of introducing himself to anyone driving a car with a Hamilton bumper sticker.
The practice seems to date back to a Pennsylvania country road, and it involves George Conner ’70. It was a chance meeting decades ago — Cartwright thinks it was circa 1984 — in Susquehanna County, Pa., near the Elk Mountain ski resort. Connor was on a customer call near his business and home in Kingsley when the car in front of him stopped at a stop sign. He noticed the Hamilton bumper sticker and, without thinking, jumped out, ran around to the driver and introduced himself as a Hamilton grad. That’s how he met Cartwright, not yet a congressman. They became friends and Connor supported Cartwright in his run for office. Connor (a psychology major) and his wife own and run Tall Pine Farms Stoves & Fireplaces. His visceral response to the Hamilton bumper sticker was an anomaly. “I don’t jump out of cars and approach people any more,” he says.
Lucky for Flath, it was only the beginning for Cartwright, and after Flath told his mother about the traffic-jam encounter, she urged him to follow up with the congressman: Flath was interested in politics, he lived in Cartwright’s district, they were both history majors. “My mom was pressing me for months: ‘You can’t let it slip away, Max. This is a huge opportunity,’” he says. Eventually he emailed Cartwright at his office and got a response from the congressman’s private email account. Cartwright encouraged him to apply for an internship with him, which Flath did, successfully. He worked in Cartwright’s DC office last summer, funded by the Class of 1964 Internship Support Fund. Flath was the second Hamilton intern to work with Cartwright. The first was Jeff Sobotko ’14.
Cartwright says he will continue to give Hamilton students priority for his internships. His office relies on interns to move legislation, and Flath was instrumental in securing bipartisan support for the Preparedness and Risk Management for Extreme Weather Patterns Assuring Resilience Act, which Cartwright and another congressman reintroduced in July. “Max helped me drum up Republican outside organization support, and that helped me persuade a number of Republications to cosponsor the bill, including Leonard Lance from New Jersey,” Cartwright says.
The internship was Flath’s first “office job,” as he puts it. He learned a lot. He’s thinking, however, that DC legislative politics probably is not the career for him. He’s more inclined toward working in nonprofits or grassroots politics, but his career interests are still up in the air. He is, however, certain that whatever he does, he’ll extend a hand to a Hamilton student. “If I’m in a position to help out some Hamilton student, I’m definitely, definitely going to do that. I feel like that’s the whole point of Hamilton: the network,” he says.