Legends of the Hill

Compiled by Danielle Burby

Two hundred years is a long time for a school’s traditions to shift, for life to move forward, and for the very subjects we learn to evolve. The Continental asked several Hamilton alumni for a snapshot of what life was like for them back when they were on the Hill. Their stories may be set at a different Hamilton, but still may inspire students today.

One of the things I loved most about Kirkland was that the College allowed us to “pull” non-human roommates. Mine was a sweet, beautiful, black lab mix named Tasha. I would leave my dorm room in the morning with Tasha by my side; in the afternoon when I returned, she would be happily snoring on my bed. Our “kids” had the freedom to run wherever they wanted. They had their friends and we had ours. Olive, a scruffy campus dog, would often hitchhike into town and back. I once got a ride with her and her human. In fact, hitchhiking was pretty commonplace for those of us who lived off campus. We rented houses in town and on College Hill Road and enjoyed communal living. Wherever we lived, the smell of apples and apple cider filled our rooms. It was fabulous.
- Jennifer Rich ’75

I would not recommend this, but sometimes an all- nighter can pay off. A lucky few of us had the great Austin Briggs for Modern British Literature, and at the beginning of the semester he told us we should be reading Yeats on a regular basis in preparation for a paper toward the end of the semester. Naturally, I put off reading Yeats until two days before the paper was due. I camped out in a comfy chair on the second floor of the Bristol Campus Center and propped my feet up on a window seat, looking south, and began reading poem after poem. After poem. Not fast, mind you—I would not do that to Yeats. After poem.
As night turned into day, I noticed that my reflection in the window was turning into the scenery along College Hill Road. And so it dawned on me, quite literally, that some of Yeats’ poems were night-time reflections, and some were day-time views of the outside world. (Some were even about sitting in a chair all night long.) With that imagery in mind, I wrote my essay. One of the reasons I remember that paper is that I got an A, and I didn’t get many of those. - Steve Wulf ’72

My best memories revolve around all of the “work hard-play hard” aspect of Hamilton! While that phrase is a little hackneyed, it is still relevant in today’s world and it is a lifestyle we Hamiltonians lived on the Hill!
- Alexandra Kirtley ’93

The moment I recognized that Hamilton was more than a place to study and hang out with friends was in an American literature class. Fred Wagner was the professor. He conducted class around a single large table and delighted in our discovery and appreciation of works he loved. When one of us made a worthy comment he lit up. He had a wonderful laugh and it was clear he loved to teach. I looked forward to going to his class and read his assignments carefully in hopes of making valuable contributions to the discussion. On a dreary day during that semester when I was in my first course with “Daddy Wags” as he was called, I stopped at the coffee shop near McEwen. There sat my (somewhat intimidating) professor having coffee and a sweet. I joined him for a mere 15 minutes. We didn’t talk about literature or even school. I barely remember what we discussed, but somehow by the end of our time I realized what a wonderful community I had fallen into. To this day I marvel at my good fortune to have spent four years in bitter cold icy weather, toiling away as professors picked apart my work, at significant monetary expense. At the time and all these years later, l feel privileged to have been on campus and to be a part of the Hamilton family - a family of which I have been an active member for all these years.
- Linda Johnson ’80

When I started at Hamilton in 1967, the core requirements were expected to mandate a complete “Hamilton man.” The overriding force during the late sixties and early seventies was political. The first person I met at Hamilton was the captain of the soccer team, a vibrant, athletic, bright senior. By the same time the next year he had been killed in Viet Nam. I have never gotten over that. Viet Nam was constantly in every student’s thoughts. We had friends over there. We were destined to be drafted after our student deferments expired and be sent there.

Unlike many colleges in New York, no buildings on campus were taken over by protesters, but anti-war protests were regular events. Megaphone-packing students drew groups throughout the campus. A liberal faculty was supportive of protesters (some even gave A’s to students who missed the exam due to protest activities). Major rallies were held on campus and in the Village park in downtown Clinton. Students who never stood out became leaders and spokesmen in the anti-war movement. Army fatigues were de rigeur, the peace sign was ubiquitous, and anti-war folk singers were blaring all around campus. The escape for many was drugs. Timothy Leary, the guru of LSD, came and spoke on campus, advocating “tuning out by turning on.” He found a receptive audience among many. Recruiters came to campus and protesting students blanketed the floors by lying down around the recruiters trying to limit access. They were trampled by other students who felt they were making a different statement. No one was apolitical. No one was uninformed. It was a time to think of things bigger than ourselves.

In the midst of this came “The Sterile Cuckoo.” The occupation of the campus by a film crew and Liza Minnelli seemed anachronistic in light of the times, but we were all captivated by the concept. Students were paid to be extras in the party scenes, and one or two actually had speaking parts, becoming instant celebrities. Free time was spent standing around hoping to see the “stars”, and “Come Saturday Morning” briefly replaced the folk singers. The filming ended, the war did not, and the priority again was the War. Looking back forty years later, I am still not clear if there was a right or wrong in the way we at Hamilton dealt with Viet Nam. I do know it made us all less self-centered and more aware of life. I guess that is always a goal of higher education. Hamilton succeeded!
- Robert Wiggins ’71