Amherst Magazine

Meet the Seniors

Sure, they’re thrilled to graduate. But where are they going? Where have they been? Amherst  interviewed more than two dozen members of the Class of ’08—men and women who’ve studied in Siberia, Greece, India; who’ve worked for record labels, hospitals, senators; who’ve joined the U.S. Navy and the Peace Corps. Here are 15 of their stories.

Anthony Paz

 Anthony Paz '08

Home  Eureka, Calif.

Major
  Religion

Activities  Newman Catholic Student Association, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Community Engagement Orientation Trip

Favorite courses  Religious Ethics, New Testament Greek

Room decoration  His chest x-ray, a prerequisite for studying in Greece

Favorite Website  Slate.com

Defining experience  Living in the Agape Community, a Catholic commune in Ware, Mass., the summer after sophomore year

Studied abroad in Greece, where he visited places mentioned in the New
Testament

Lesson learned  “To make myself vulnerable to people in order to really get to know them.”

World’s greatest problem  “A lot of systems are bad for us and the world—war, suburbs, getting food from Florida. But we’re trapped in this sort of inertia.”

What’s next  Starting an M.A. program in theology at the University of Notre Dame and working full-time at a church

Long range, Paz hopes to live in a Catholic farming commune or an urban Catholic worker house, where he’d depend on the generosity of others while at the same time providing for the destitute. He’s considered the priesthood as well but says he probably won’t pursue it because he disagrees with the church’s stance on ordination of women.

*****

Chaka Laguerre 

Chaka Laguerre '08

Home
 
Brooklyn, N.Y.

Majors  English and theater and dance

Activities  Mentor, Girls Inc.; choreographer, Amherst Dance

Room decoration The sash she received as the reigning Miss Jamaica United States

Guilty pleasure  Watching cartoons

Acted in  For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf, her senior project

Interned at Atlantic Records

Lesson learned  “I’ve never had a lot of close friends. I used to worry about what people thought of me; I had a tough time with that in high school. But I’ve learned not to care and to be happy with myself—flaws and all.”

Goal in life  “To make my parents smile every day.”
 
What’s next  Applying to law school and continuing her training in theater and dance

Ambition  “To be extremely successful in either law, film, theater or dance. Also to start a philanthropic venture for arts in education. And I really want to adopt a lot of children.”

Laguerre commuted an hour and a half each way to LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts. She’s danced with a troupe affiliated with the Alvin Ailey Dance Co. and performed for Michael Jackson and members of the United Nations. But the audience member she’s most sought to please has been her mother. “My mom wants me to be a lawyer or doctor, because she used to be a dancer,” Laguerre says. But after the For Colored Girls performance, “she looked at me and said, ‘You were great. I support you.’ And I cried.”

*****

Dave Fortunato

Dave Fortunato '08

Home  Princeton Junction, N.J., where he grew up, and Seattle, where his parents now live

Majors  Computer science and economics

Activities  Men’s rugby, NOTE (a student computing group)

Favorite courses  The TV Novel and The City, which involved watching The Wire; Introduction to Computer Systems

Find him on C Level of Frost—“It’s the quietest place”—or in the computer science lab

Regret  That he didn’t take more philosophy courses

Talent  “I can juggle four balls.”

Favorite Website  Anarchaia.org

World’s greatest problem  “We’re not living in a sustainable manner. The things we use, the way we treat the environment, the way we treat each other—we’re taking more than we give.”

Goal in life  To make things that people use

What’s next Working in software development at Ning.com, a Silicon Valley start-up

Defining moment “I hope it hasn’t happened yet.”

“I like working on tough problems in very stressful environments,” Fortunato says. He worked with Larry Hunter, the Stone Professor of Natural Sciences (Physics), on a Website that parses information from the weather station on top of Merrill Science Center. He’s also helped many others at Amherst to build or improve their Websites.

*****

Adriana Fazzano

  Adriana Fazzano '08

Home  Coral Springs, Fla.

Major  History

Activities  Equestrian team, Amherst Student, College Republicans

Favorite course  Politics of Memory in 20th-Century Europe

Prized possession  “My family.” (Her mother and father; her sister, Alicia ’06; and her large extended family.)

Studied abroad in Milan, Italy

Award  Fulbright finalist; hopes to teach English in Italy next year

Ambition  To be a physician

Regret  “I don’t think I have any regrets. Even deciding late to be pre-med is not a regret because I love history so much.”

World’s greatest problem  “There isn’t enough help for the Third World.” (Her mother was born and raised in Colombia: “My family comes from a place where terrorism is fact.”)

Medical school was a childhood am­bition, but Fazzano pushed it aside when she took advanced physics in high school. “I ended high school thinking that science isn’t my forte,” she says. But in Milan, far from family and friends, she was forced to be self-sufficient and she became more confident. “I realized, I’m a perfectly smart girl. I can do it.”

***** 

Daniel Curtis

Daniel Curtis '08

Home  Key West, Fla.

Major  Music

Activity  Bassoonist and guest-conductor, Symphony Orchestra

Ambition  To be a conductor

Prized possession  Copies of Darwin’s journals. “They were my grandmother’s.”

Find him in a practice room, at Amherst Coffee, or in his room listening to music or studying a score

Traveled to Vienna, Austria, where he took part in a chamber music festival

Regret  “That I didn’t learn Russian.”

Defining moment  Watching pianist and conductor Leon Fleisher perform at Amherst. “I got to play for him in a master class.”

World’s greatest problem  “Specifically, global warming must be the greatest problem. More metaphysically speaking, it might be the many preoccupations of our world that prevent us from seeking truth and meaning in our lives.”

Curtis always wanted to be a conductor. “But in the kind of way,” he says, “that people say, ‘I want to be a movie star.’” Now the childhood fantasy is a concrete goal. At Amherst, in addition to guest-conducting the orchestra, he’s taken part in a chamber music workshop. Off-campus, he’s conducted excerpts from Beethoven’s 9th Symphony.

*****

Angela Choe

Angela Choe '08

Home  Bloomington, Ind.; Wonju and Bundang, Korea

Major  Neuroscience

Activities  Concert Choir, playing piano

Favorite courses  History of Western Medicine, Neurological Biology of Disease

Prized possession  The metronome she’s had since fifth grade

Find her in the lab or the music building

Regret  “I’m not good at keeping in touch with people. It’s something I’m working on—to actively give to and show interest in my friends.”

World’s greatest problem  It’s impossible to pick just one. “Is it selfishness? Is it lack of understanding? Is it that we fail to step back and see the big picture?”

Ambition  To be a physician

Choe has spent a lot of her life moving—between Korea, where most of her relatives live, and Indiana, where her father was a visiting professor. That’s one reason she didn’t study abroad—she wanted to live in one place for four years. She’s been active in a program at Amherst to teach Korean to anyone who wants
to learn. 

***** 

Ajayi Lawrence

Ajayi Lawrence '08 

Home  East Palo Alto, Calif.

Major  Black studies

Activities  Multifaith Council, Black Student Union, Men’s Project

Prized possession  His gohozona, used for Buddhist meditation

In his room  NASA poster of Saturn; meditation beads

Guilty pleasure  The waffles in Val

Find him in the admission office, where he works

Regret  Not taking voice lessons all four years

Hobby  Studying the early black college graduates of the United States

Defining moment  “My dad’s stroke changed my life fundamentally. It made me realize how short life might be.”

Goal in life  “To be unapologetically happy.”

Ambition  To be a black studies professor. “I’m still hoping to be an astronaut as well. We’ll see.”
 
Next year, Lawrence, who spent four summers at NASA, will work for the Foundation for a College Education, a Cali­fornia organization that puts students on a college track. Lawrence himself is a product of that program. He’ll also continue to help care for his father, who suffers from dementia, and his mother, who has cardiopulmonary disease.

***** 

Katie Roza

Katie Roza '08
 

Home  Hagerstown, Md.

Major  English

Activities  Amherst Student, Choral Society, tutoring

Prized possession  “My hearing aid.”

Lesson learned  “I used to hide my hearing loss. I’ve learned to wholeheartedly embrace the challenges and the comical misunderstandings that come with it.”

Guilty pleasure  “Occasionally, I lip-read people from across the room without their knowledge.”

Studied abroad in Siena, Italy, where she studied Italian and Italian Sign Language

Defining experiences Learning American Sign Language and joining the Amherst Women’s Chorus. “To participate in both the deaf and hearing worlds—to sign and sing—is a dream come true.”

Accepted to Mt. Sinai Medical School; matriculates in 2009

Roza grew up in rural western Maryland with her parents, twin sister and set of twin brothers. In her sophomore year at Amherst, she applied to Mt. Sinai’s early-acceptance program for humanities majors. She'll spend next year working with the deaf community in Siena on a Fulbright Scholarship.

***** 

Elly Jessop

Elly Jessop '08

Home  Castle Rock, Colo.

Majors  Computer science, theater and dance

Activity  Choral Society

Award  Phi Beta Kappa

Guilty pleasures  Facebook.com and Planworld

Hobbies  Making jewelry, scrapbooking

Favorite Website  Xkcd.com

Lesson learned  “The people who don’t immediately present themselves as being social—people whom others have passed up—can make some of the best friends.”

Goal in life  To balance work and family, to develop a strong social network and to do meaningful work

Ambition  To get a Ph.D. in computer science and to fuse her interests in computing and performance

Home-schooled until college, Jessop spent
her early years studying whatever she liked. “I went through my archeology phase, my astronomy phase, my meteorology phase,” she says. Then, after spending time with public school kids, she decided to study the basics: math, English, social studies, science, French. In high school, she designed her own classical education. At Amherst, she designed costumes for theater performances.

***** 

Katherine Chen

 
Katherine Chen '08

Home  Kingston, Jamaica

Majors  English and political science

Activities  Hermenia T. Gardner Bi-Semester Christian Worship Series, peer advocate, tutoring

Favorite course  Evolution and the Intellectual Revolution

Favorite Website  OED.com

Find her on the couch in a random common room
 
Studied abroad in Madrid, Spain

Defining moment  When her parents separated

World’s greatest problem  Apathy

Goal in life  “To make Jamaica a better place.”

What’s next  Teaching English at the Hackley School in Tarrytown, N.Y.

For the next two years, Chen will try her hand at teaching. After that, she intends to settle in Jamaica: “The greatest problem my country faces is brain drain.” She says that at Amherst, she’s learned to disagree with others politely and fearlessly. 

***** 

Evan Bruno

Even Bruno '08

Home  Williamsburg, Va.

Major  American studies

Activities  Men’s baseball, Ultimate Frisbee, Big Brothers Big Sisters, admission tour guide

Favorite course  White Identity in the United States

Prized possession  “It was my car. The cold weather killed it. In general, I try not to get too attached to things.”

Room decoration  A Clint Eastwood poster

Studied abroad in London, his first time overnight in a large city

World’s greatest problem  A reluctance to assess and think critically

Goal in life  “To have done something worthwhile. That’s what drives me. So I’m not sure if I want it to come sooner or later.”

Joined  The U.S. Navy; leaves July 5 for Officer Candidates’ School

When Bruno signed on to four years in the U.S. Navy, he knew it was a defining moment. “Everything else I’ve done,” he says, “I could have gotten out of.” Bruno, whose father retired from the Navy, will work in military intelligence.

***** 

Zac Mason

Zac Mason '08

Home  Vista, N.Y.

Major  Political science

Activities  Bassist, The Elements of Style; College Democrats; Sudan divestment campaign

Interned for Senator Hillary Clinton in 2006 (on a Latham Scholarship from Amherst)

Traveled to Sri Lanka to volunteer after the 2004 tsunami (on a Gerety Fellowship for Action from Amherst)

Prized possession  “My guitar.”

Room decoration  A map of the world

World’s greatest problem  “Hands-down, global warming.”

Ambition  To join the Foreign Service

Accepted to the Peace Corps; leaves for Mali in July

In 2004 and 2006, Mason went door-to-door registering Amherst students to vote in their home states. In Mali, he’ll work in water sanitation, cleaning the water supply, digging wells and building water pumps. He speaks French and Arabic and will learn Bambara. 

***** 

Justin Epner

Justin Epner '08

Home  Potomac, Md.

Majors  Religion and economics

Activities  Hillel, tutoring

Favorite course  Sephardic Literature

Guilty pleasure  “I try not to throw too much guilt at myself.”

Find him playing basketball in the gym

Favorite Website  Freerice.com, among others

Studied abroad in India, in a Tibetan studies program

Regret  “Sometimes I regret not having enjoyed myself more.”

World’s greatest problem  Polarization

Ambition  “I don’t know. Not law. Not medicine. Not academia. That still leaves a lot. If I could run my own business—that would be cool.”

Considering  Business school

Goal in life  “To be in a position—professionally, socially, personally—that allows me a degree of freedom.”

This year, Epner (whose father is Maury ’78) started broadcasting basketball games for WAMH, the student radio station. In India, he hitchhiked from rural town to town (wearing the boots he’s pictured with), “simultaneously feeling
utterly dependent and independent.” 

***** 

Juliet Tan

Juliet Tan '08

Home  Singapore

Major  Anthropology
 
Activities  Coxswain, varsity crew; co-captain, bowling team

Room decoration  Postcards from around the world

Studied abroad in Buryatia, Siberia, where she lived with a reindeer-herding family

Regret  “I focused on my major too early.”

Lesson learned  “Take things one step at a time. It’s okay to go slowly.”

Talent  Hula-hooping

Ambition  To be a medical anthropol­ogist or to work in Arctic studies. “Or maybe to go to Alaska and do organic farming or research there.”

World’s greatest problem  Measuring progress through material comfort

Goal in life  “To affect the way people see things, especially culturally.”

In Siberia, Tan lived in a remote village in the Sayani Mountains, where she witnessed reindeer births and learned about the contemporary concerns of reindeer herders, including rural health care, the role of ecotourism and how to maintain traditional herding activity in a modern country.

*****

Oscar Báez

Oscar Baez '08

Home  Boston

Major  Political Science

Activities Center for Community Engagement, La Causa

Favorite course  Education in Latin America

Room decoration  The Oct. 28, 2004, Boston Globe, reporting the Red Sox’ World Series win

Studied abroad in China, Italy and Argentina
 
Favorite Website  Overheardinnewyork.com

Guilty pleasure  Deal or No Deal

Talent  “By picking up luggage, I can tell you within two pounds how much it weighs.”

Ambition  To get a joint degree in law and public policy

Goal in life  “To work for populations that need a voice, to give back to my parents and to never stop traveling.”

Awarded a Watson Fellowship; will study language policy in Spain, Morocco, Switzerland, Turkey, South Africa, Brazil, Mexico and Taiwan.

Born in the Dominican Republic, Báez was 3 when he immigrated to Boston, where his parents had come in search of a better life. He grew up speaking English and Spanish, and he’s studied Latin, Chinese, Italian, Arabic and Portuguese. While at Amherst, he became an American citizen. He also co-founded Intercambio  YA!, which sends volunteers to the Dominican Republic and raises scholarship money for university students there. Before he starts the Watson, Báez will spend the summer in Europe on a Humanity in Action Fellowship. 

***** 

Amy Miller

Home  Kutztown, Pa.

Major  English

Activities  Christian Fellowship, Relay for Life 

Favorite course
  Fiction Writing

Lesson learned  Not to focus on myself but to help other people. “That’s what God wants me to do with my life.”  

Hobby 
Raising peacocks on her family farm. “I have 150 right now.”

Regrets  “Sometimes I regret not studying abroad. Sometimes I regret not taking more advantage of spring break. But I’m happy with my choices.”

Wrote a novel about a girl growing up on a farm (for her senior thesis). Has worked on three other novels as well.

Defining experience  Doing community service with Springfield Urban Plunge

World’s greatest problem  Apathy

***** 

Lauren Benson 

Home  Hamilton, N.J.

Major  Chemistry 

Activities  Field hockey, track and field, Amherst Student, Student Athlete Advisory Committee

Prized possession  A lucky string she’s had since eighth grade

Room decoration  “My walls are kind of a shrine to Amherst field hockey.”

Favorite Website  Flyers.nhl.com

Traveled to Wurzburg, Germany, the summer after sophomore year, to work in an organic chemistry lab

Regret  “I wish I could go back to freshman year and study the way I’ve learned to study. I think my grades would have been better. But it was an important learning opportunity for me, so it’s not really a regret.”

Goal in life  “I want to have an intimate influence on people. That’s why I’ve shied away from science research. You’re not really connected to the people you’re helping.”

***** 

Amanda Gibson

Home  McLean, Va.

Major  Biology

Activities  Crew team (freshman and sophomore years), biology teaching assistant, chemistry tutor

Room decoration  Plants and travel posters 

Favorite Website  101cookbooks.com

Studied abroad in South Africa, where she lived on a wildlife preserve and spent time tracking baboons and their social interactions with one another 

Regret  “I wish I’d taken a year off before coming to college.” 

What’s next  Working in a lab at the National Institutes of Health in Washington, D.C.

Ambition  To have a career in academia 

World’s greatest problem  An inequitable distribution of resources

*****

Brendan Milliner

Home  Rochester, Minn.

Major  Neuroscience

Activities  Crew team (freshman and sophomore years), orchestra

Favorite course  Psychoanalysis and Law

Prized possession  “Probably my camera.”

Room decoration  Wooden statue of a Tanzanian medicine man

Favorite Website   Facebook.com

Guilty pleasure  Fresh mozzarella cheese

Studied abroad at the University of Capetown, South Africa

Ambition  To get an M.D. and a master’s in public health

Regret  Not getting to know people outside his social circle. “I wish I’d taken the initiative to jump the border to another group.”

World’s greatest problem  Lack of understanding

*****  

Ben Lockwood

Home  Sandpoint, Idaho

Majors  Philosophy and economics

Activities  Jazz band, writing tutor, Career Center adviser

Favorite courses  Philosophy of Math, American Diplomacy

Favorite Website  Despair.com

Studied abroad in Paris

Regret  “There are all these other great professors and great classes. It would have been nice to take more classes, but it’s hard to call that a regret.”

Talent  Splitting firewood

Ambition  To get a Ph.D. in economics, and then to either teach or work for the government or a non-governmental organization.

Goal in life  To maintain balance and variety. “To keep from getting bored.”

World’s greatest problem  “We have a serious inequality in opportunity.”

***** 

Anne-Claire Roesch 

Home  Westport, Conn.

Majors  Law, Jurisprudence and Social Thought; French 

Activities  Co-captain, women’s basketball; chair, pre-business group; resident counselor

Favorite course  Global Legality 

Prized possession  My sneakers 

Favorite Website  “I check CNN all the time.”

Talent  Impersonating her friends 

What’s next  Working in business intelligence services at Deloitte

Goal in life  “I want to have my own family. I want to give to my kids and give back to others everything that’s been given to me.”

*****

Burr Fong

Home  Miami and Singapore

Major  Biology

Transferred from Miami Dade College, after two years in its honors program

Activities  Amherst College Emergency Medical Services

Favorite course  Investigating the U.S.-Mexico Borderland

Military service  Tank operator in the Singapore military

Hobby  Listening to classical contemporary opera

World’s greatest problem  Lack of tolerance

What’s next  Will apply to medical school and, he hopes, work at South Miami Hospital

Ambition  To be a pediatrician, neonatologist or OB-GYN

***** 

Laura Taylor

Home  Mililani, Hawaii

Majors  Anthropology and sociology

Activities  Equestrian team

Favorite courses  Child Welfare in East Africa; Mental Illness and Culture

Prized possession  My horse

Studied abroad in Kenya, where she worked on her thesis on mental illness in Kenya

Awarded a 100 Projects for Peace grant (with Hyowoun Jyung ’08) to serve in a slum in Nairobi

Guilty pleasure  Watching America’s Next Top Model

Talent  “I can wiggle my eyes.”

Goal in life  “To be happy and to help people around me be happy.”

***** 

Ryan Shields

Home  Bloomfield Hills, Mich.

Majors  Biology and sociology 

Activities  Resident counselor, admission tour guide, sailing team, gospel choir

Favorite course  Genetic Analysis

Studied abroad in Senegal 

Traveled  To Thailand, the summer after sophomore year, where he served as a surgical assistant during a hysterectomy. “That’s when I fell in love with surgery.”

Favorite Website  Threadless.com

World’s greatest problem   Trash. “We’re accumulating so much garbage. You step onto the streets of Dakar [Senegal] and you’re overwhelmed with it. America just does a better job of hiding it.”

Awarded a Watson Fellowship. Will study post-genocidal health care in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Rwanda and Cambodia

***** 

 

Here are the questions Amherst asked the seniors. Log in (at upper right) to post your answers.

  • What's your hometown?

  • What's your major?

  • What activities have you been involved in while at Amherst?

  • Looking back over your four years at Amherst, what was your favorite course?

  • What's on the wall of your dorm room?

  • What's your favorite Website?

  • What's your guilty pleasure?

  • Do you have an unusual talent or hobby?

  • What is your prized possession?

  • If your friends wanted to find you, where would they look?

  • What's been your most defining experience of your four years at Amherst?

  • Looking back over your last four years, what's been your greatest regret?

  • Did you study abroad? If so, where?

  • What's the most important lesson you've learned outside of class?

  • What do you see as the greatest problem facing the world today?

  • What will you do after graduation?

  • What's your big-picture goal in life?

 

Photos by Samuel Masinter '04