Welcome, my dear interwebbed friends, to my summer blog! It's good to have you here in my own little online tea party (no raised pinkies, I promise). Please, have some crumpets.
My name is Maria Kirigin and I'm a rising junior here in Amherst. I'm officially majoring in English, but, in the true liberal arts spirit, plan on also taking classes in as many different departments as humanly possible. I was born in La Paz, Bolivia, but have since also lived in Nicaragua, the Republic of Georgia, Jordan, and Ann Arbor, Michigan.
On campus, I am involved in the Poetry Society, Newman Club, and the theater department. I work in Archives & Special Collections and was also a Residential Counselor in a first-year dorm this past year. This summer I'm working as an intern in the Admissions Office, so you'll see me around campus giving tours and walking backwards.
Please feel free to email me at mkirigin14@amherst.edu with any questions/comments/concerns you may have about Amherst or on what you would like for tea, and I will do my best to fulfill your needs. Stay tuned for more! Until next time--here I am deeply pondering my Rao's Chai Latte...

Maria's Blog Entries

The Ultimate Amherst Bucket List

100 things to do before you graduate

A couple years ago, alumnus Paul Rieckhoff '98 delivered a lecture to the Class of 2013 on 50 things students should do before they graduate from Amherst. This year, I found a video of his speech and copied down the list (feel free to watch it yourself here). There were many things on his list that I had already accomplished (Hot Cheese at Antonio’s, visiting Emily Dickinson’s grave, etc.), but I felt that there were many other things Amherst students should be able to say they’ve done before they graduate. So, to spare you all the trouble, I’ve asked several peers for their input, thought very hard, and at last compiled The Ultimate Amherst Bucket List of Awesome. Since you are most likely a prospective student, there are some things on this list that will take explaining, so I’ve added my comments. However, if you are a current student reading this blog, you can find a copy of this list here without any personal comments. Feel free to print it out and cross the items off as you accomplish them. 

  1. Learn how to say Amherst correctly (no H!)
  2. Take classes outside of your comfort zone/main interest
  3. Speak up in class
  4. Ask questions
  5. Go to a professor’s office hours
  6. Stay up all night with your friends
  7. Have a meaningful conversation with someone. One that changes your life.
  8. Audition for something
    Homecoming nfire at the foot of Memorial Hill
  9. Visit the Career Center
  10. Visit the Writing Center
  11. Do a TYPO (stands for Take Your Professor Out – the college pays for you to go out and have dinner with one of your professors. Really great way to get to know them personally. You can do two per semester)
  12. Write for the Student newspaper at least once
  13. Go to a Homecoming game
  14. Go to the Homecoming bonfire (there’s a big bonfire at the bottom of Memorial Hill during Homecoming weekend)
  15. Do Primal Scream during Finals week (students gather on the freshman quad at a random but very particular time, say 9:32pm, scream at the top of their lungs for as long as they can hold it, and then run away back to their studies)
  16. Snowball fight after the first snow of the year
  17. Step foot in every single building on campus
  18. Check out the Ulysses bathroom in J-chap (years ago, some students snuck into a bathroom in Johnson Chapel and graffittied the walls with lines from James Joyce's Ulysses)
  19. Check out the Dumbledore bathroom in Chapin (it's like the one in J-Chap but with a lot of Dumbledore quotes instead) (Update: there are now six painted bathrooms throughout campus -- can you find them all??)
    An Amherst theater troupe from 1885
  20. Pull a prank on your RC (or anyone else) (but mainly your RC)
  21. Play Capture the Flag on campus (in a building after hours, in the bird sanctuary, on the quad, etc.)
  22. Go on a roof (without getting caught) (sorry, Campus Po)
  23. Visit Narnia (an old abandoned building right off campus that students have nicknamed ‘Narnia’) (again, sorry Campus Po)
  24. Walk through the nature trails
  25. Go sledding on Memorial Hill (preferably on a Val tray) (not technically allowed, but…)
  26. Go camping on the First-Year quad
  27. Find the steam tunnels (...again, sorry Campus Po)
  28. Find the geocache tree in the bird sanctuary (it’s a tree with a big hole in it, which holds a large bucket in which people leave notes and drawings. It’s pretty cool.)
  29. The Zumbyes - one of our many a cappella groups
    Go ice skating in the Orr rink (you can rent out the ice skating rink when the Ice Hockey team isn’t using it)
  30. Go on a (casual) date
  31. Go to at least one (theatrical/musical/dance/etc) performance
  32. Attend an athletic event (other than your own)
  33. Attend an AAS Senate meeting (this is our Student Government. They have public meetings every Monday night)
  34. Go to an a cappella show (Zumbyes, Route 9, Blue Sox, Sabrinas, DQ, or Terras Irradient)
  35. Attend/perform in a Marsh Coffeehaus (a really chill and laid-back Open-Mic held in the ballroom of the Marsh Arts House every other Friday night. One of my favorite events on campus. We end every Coffeehaus with Wagon Wheel)
    Attend a live music concert (because we’re the second largest booking venue in New England, after Boston. Several big names come to perform here)
  36. Attend a Zu party (we have a co-op for upperclassmen in a dorm officially called the Humphries House, but nicknamed the Zu. They throw very good dance parties on every New Moon)
  37. Go to Senior Bar Night (senior tradition)
  38. Go to a TAP (stands for The Amherst Party – a big all-campus party put on by the Social Council. There’s one every month)
  39. Host a pre-frosh (pre-freshmen come and visit in October and in April, and they need student hosts to let them have a place to sleep within a dorm)
  40. Take a tour of Amherst (shameless self-promotion)
  41. Watch a sunset behind J-Chap (the steps behind Johnson Chapel have a great view of the West)
    Watch a sunrise behind the Mead (there’s a cool spot behind the Mead Art Museum that faces East)
  43. Visit Tuttle Hill (a hill where there used to be an old abandoned house. The house was moved in its entirety in 2008 to a location in town, and has since been renovated into apartments. The Tuttle Hill, however, is still open as part of the nature trails, and is now an eerie place where steps lead up to nowhere where once there stood a house)
  44. Visit the Archives & Special Collections (in A-level of Frost) (they have a lock of Emily Dickinson’s hair!!)
  45. Check out David Foster Wallace’s theses in Archives (because DFW is awesome. And his first novel, The Broom of the System, actually began as his English thesis when he was a senior in Amherst)
  46. Study at least once on every floor of Frost (it has six floors total with very different study spaces depending on your taste)
  47. Visit the Russian Library in Webster
  48. Do Major Scream on Memorial Hill
  49. Go inside the Observatory (behind the Zu) (as far as I know, only opens to the public on Saturdays at 9pm April-October, run by the Amherst Area Amateur Astronomers Association—yeah, it’s a thing)
  50. Go inside Stearns Steeple and play the bells (an old church steeple that still holds these old bells from the 1800s. One student per year manages to get their hands on a key to the steeple in order to maintain the bells. So sometimes you’ll be walking around on the quad and hear someone playing the Imperial March from Star Wars on these 19th century bells)
  51. Go up the Johnson Chapel tower (it’s completely locked up because it’s very old and dangerous up there, but every Amherst student wants to make it there one day)
  52. Visit Emily Dickinson’s grave and write her a note (there’s a little door on the corner of the gates where people leave her notes)
  53. Walk to the bird sanctuary at night
  54. Visit the Bunker (during the '60s, the government built a safety bunker near Amherst, which the college now owns and uses as a storage space for Archives and other museum collections. They give tours to the public during Reunion Week)
  55. Visit the Mead Art Museum
  56. Visit the Yushien friendship garden (established because of our close relationship with Doshisha University in Japan)
    Campus Police with Sabrina
  57. Sit with someone you don’t know at Val (Val is our Valentine Dining Hall)
  58. Eat in every room in Val
  59. Go to Late Night Val (a couple times per semester, Val will be open from 10pm-midnight with a lot of snacks and delicious things for students to drop by and pick up)
  60. Make friends with a staff member
  61. Befriend a professor (at least one)
  62. Take a class with Sarat/Arkes (Sarat is in the Law Jurisprudence and Social Thought department, and Arkes is in the Political Science department. They have very opposing views, but are both ridiculously smart people. It’s every student’s goal to get them to argue with each other, but so far they have refused…)
  63. Have a conversation with Richard Wilbur (once Poet Laureate of the United Sates, he is an amazing and world-renowned poet that attended Amherst and now teaches here. He’s currently 91 years old, but still the nicest human being.)
    Biddy Martin (current president) and Tony Marx (our last president) strutting their moves the dance floorHave a conversation with the President of Amherst (Biddy Martin) (funny story: Biddy was only inaugurated last year, so during her first semester, my friends and I decided to bake her a pie as a welcoming present. We knocked on her door one night, thinking she’d take the pie and close the door saying she was busy, but instead she let us into her house, let us play with her puppy Oscar, and let us eat pie with her and chat for 2-3 hours. It was wonderful. We then performed Lose Yourself for her on her piano. Biddy’s preeeeeettyyyyy awesome)
  65. Have a conversation with a Campus Police officer. They’re really cool.
  66. Work during Reunion Week (you can stay on campus doing any number of jobs and get to meet a lot of cool alumni who come back for class reunions)
  67. Get to know at least one alum
  68. Attend a commencement other than your own 
  69. Learn the words to the Lord Jeffrey Amherst song (listen here
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    and read along here)
  70. Spend one summer in Amherst
  71. Spend one interterm in Amherst
  72. Take the PVTA (the bus system here, which takes you anywhere you would ever want to go)
  73. Visit the Museum of Natural History(Beneski)
    Beneski Museum
  74. Visit the Emily Dickinson Museum
  75. Take a 5 college course
  76. Attend a 5 college event/party
  77. Make at least one friend from each of the 5 Colleges
  78. Make a friend from Amherst town
  79. Visit the Jones Library in Amherst town
  80. Eat at each of the following places in town at least once: Fresh Side, Antonio’s, Black Sheep, Lone Wolf, Amherst Chinese, Panda East, Bart’s.
  81. Hot cheese at Antonio’s (everyone’s favorite holiday: on Friday nights from 12-2am, the pizza shop that sells pizza by the slice, Antonio’s, will sell a slice of hot cheese pizza for ONE DOLLAR. It’s. SO. good.)
  82. Dine at the Lord Jeffrey Inn (recently renovated and beautiful)
  83. Have ice cream at Flayvor’s Cook Farm(where you get to pet the cows from whom the ice cream comes)
  84. Eat in the Route 9 Diner (preferably at midnight) (an old-style diner that is open 24/7)
  85. Have brunch at the Roadhouse (just down Route 9, they serve delicious and huuuuge portions)
  86. Order Wings from Wings Over Amherst
    Eric Carle's The Very  Hungry Caterpillar
  87. Walk around Northampton (the town where Smith is, it’s kind of like a larger version of Amherst town. A lot of really cool shops and restaurants)
  88. Visit each campus within the 5 colleges
  89. Visit the Smith Botanic Garden
  90. Go to the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Hampshire College (Eric Carle’s the one who wrote The Very Hungry Caterpillar)
  91. Go to the Quabbin reservoir
  92. Swim in Puffer’s Pond at night (a beautiful place to swim, just past UMass. It’s a summer tradition to swim there at night to cool off)
  93. Visit the Montague Bookmill (used to be a sawmill, but has been renovated into a really quaint and cozy used-bookshop. They also serve delicious food)
  94. Visit the Peace Pagoda
  95. Go fruit-picking in the Pioneer Valley (especially fun in the summer)
  96. Hike the Notch (a pretty short climb but you get a great view of the whole area)
  97. Visit Williams (and preferably steal a book, for old time’s sake) (because we need to know more about our rivals, right?)
  98. Road trip with friends (this is great advice no matter where you go to college)
  99. Steal the Sabrina (an old statue that was stolen from the college in the 1800s and started the tradition of the odd and even classes stealing her back and forth from each other and hiding her. The most recent class to steal her was 2008. It’s about time someone stole her again…)
                          Sabrina being stolen in the 1950s
The most recent Sabrina theft - here she is in her full glory in 2008 holding that week's Amherst Student newspaper


Future Nostalgia

As you’re researching colleges, keep in mind that one of the best ways to get to know a school is to listen to what current students themselves have to say about their experience. Whether that’s by reading a student blog (congrats, you’re already doing it!), talking to current students, emailing them with questions, or taking a tour, hearing about the school from the eyes of someone who is currently where you might be in a couple years is really important.

However, the cleverest among you may already be arguing that current students may never fully answer your questions because they would never bash their school in front of a prospective student, right? Well, first of all, as Taylor and I have both mentioned before, these blogs are 100% Real Talk Central, so we’re giving you the full answers here. But, if you still don’t trust us, there’s a loophole in all this: if you want to hear a student’s perspective on their school in the truest form, listen to commencement speeches. And this goes for all the schools you're considering, not just Amherst.

I spent most of Friday in the office watching videos and hearing audio of Amherst Commencement speeches with the other interns. This is not the first time I’ve done this; in fact, I spent an entire morning avoiding writing a paper during my freshman year going through the Amherst website and watching old Commencement and Senior Assembly speeches. In Amherst, seniors vote for three senior speakers; the one with most votes does the Senior Class Address during Commencement, and the next two speak during Senior Assembly, which is held during the last couple weeks of school.

A senior’s parting words are just as helpful for prospective students as for current students; they can help you realize what you will miss most about the school after four years here, what you will have enjoyed the most, what recommendations you may have for future Amherst students. Commencement speeches are the words of a student looking back on their college experience and articulating what has had the most effect on them, what has moved them most, what has made them laugh the most, what they've learned, and what about the school in particular has added to his/her own personal development, and that of his/her classmates. They are the most honest words you can hear from a student about their own school, because they weren’t written for prospective students in mind, but for others who have shared in the Amherst experience – the good and ugly parts alike. They do, of course, also give you a sense of future nostalgia as you wonder what you'll be missing after four years on this campus. 

So, to spare you the time, I have gone through and compiled what I think are the best Amherst Commencement speeches from the last couple years, so they are still fresh and relevant. If you want to find more of them, however, here is the page for all the speeches since 2000. Some of them are videos, some are just audio clips, but all equally good. Without further ado, here are my three favorites from each event (click on their names to hear them):

Senior Assembly speakers:
PanZach CherrySpencer Russel
         Pan Ventrakaman '09
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                         Zachary J. Cherry ’10
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                             Spencer Russell ’12
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             This one is hilarious.                                      This one is also really funny.                         This one is funny but also very honest.                                                                                                        
Senior Class Addresses:
Dan ClucheyMarshall NannesElias Johansson-Miller
        Daniel J. Cluchey '08
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                               Marshall Nannes '09
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                       Elias Johansson-Miller ’12


Dan Cluchey: This is the quintessential Amherst Commencement speech. Hilarious but really clever and meaningful. (You can read along with Dan's here.)

Marshall Nannes: This one is the most relevant to tours, so you'll find it especially funny. It is brutally honest. (you can read along with Marshall's here.)

Elias Johansson-Miller: This is the most recent one, and is incredibly good. Elias is really entertaining but also really understands the Amherst experience and speaks beautifully about it. 

And, of course, I can't write a blog post about Commencement speeches and not mention David Foster Wallace's 2005 Commencement speech in Kenyon College. It is everybody's favorite Commencement speech. D.F.W. graduated from Amherst in 1985 and wrote several incredibly intelligent novels, of which the most well known is Infinite Jest. I've linked his speech here before, but you can never read it too often. In fact, that speech is one of the many reasons I'm in Amherst College in the first place. Listen to it if you haven't already.



On Connections and Conversations

Note: this post will (apparently) be narrated by an editor (a.k.a future me) in parentheses. Also, this is a long one (I’m not kidding). Prepare yourselves, folks (but there are lots of pictures).

A couple weeks ago, I posted my answer to the most frequently asked question this summer (after, of course, "Where are the bathrooms?"): "Why did you choose Amherst?" (scroll down for the answer). This week, I intend to answer yet another frequently asked question: "What is your favorite thing about Amherst?" 

There are certainly several things I like about Amherst, but I’m going to talk to you about two in particular that are also (go figure) two of my favorite things about life, because I feel that Amherst is especially good at making them happen: 1. Connections, and 2. Conversations (and, of course, the close relation between the two). Without any further ado, here are my rambling thoughts (I answer the question eventually, I promise, but first I must tell a few stories):

Nine-year-old Maria, with similarly-minded friend.
Here's me, before the devastating realization that
I'd never get to be a unicorn.

When I was small, I read a lot of books. In Georgia (see below), my tiny body was small enough for me to curl up on the ledge of a circular window in my room and enter the worlds of my books as I looked out at the city. At first, I did not quite understand what I was reading (I didn’t speak English), but in time I began grasping the meaning of most words and odd colloquialisms (it took me forever to figure out what a carpool was). As I read more and more, I began believing that I would one day get to live all the lives I was reading about. It seemed like common sense to me, and I honestly expected I’d eventually get to live all the possible lives. As I grew older (and failed to receive my letter from Hogwarts on my 11th birthday), I realized this impossibility, and though I still read many books, it made me very sad that I would never get to personally experience all the lives and journeys I was reading about. Recently, one of my residents sent me a link to a TED talk by Sarah Kay, a spoken word poet. She described a similar experience, and her words resonated deeply with me, so I’ll share them with you:

“When I was little I could not understand the concept that you could only live one life. I don’t mean this metaphorically, I mean I literary thought that I was going to get to do everything there was to do and be everything there was to be, it was only a matter of time. And there was no limitation based on age or gender or race, or even appropriate time period; I was sure that I was going to actually experience what it felt like to be a leader of the civil rights movement, or a ten year old boy living on farm during the dust bowl, or an emperor of the Tang dynasty in China.”

Sound familiar? When I first heard this, I felt a deep connection; someone else had felt the same way I felt, and felt the same disappointment that I felt, but had somehow found a way to be encouraged by it rather than disheartened:

Sarah Kay, like a bawss.

“But as I grew up, I had the sinking realization that I wasn’t going to get to live any more than one life. I only knew what it felt like to be a teenage girl in New York City—not a teenage boy in New Zealand, not a prom queen in Kansas—I only got to see through my lens. And it was around this time that I became obsessed with stories, because it was through stories that I was able to see through someone else’s lens however briefly or imperfectly. And I started craving hearing other people’s experiences because I was so jealous that there were entire lives that I was never going to get to live and I wanted to hear about everything that I was missing and by transitive property I realized that some people would never get to experience what it felt like to be a teenage girl in New York City. Which meant that they weren’t going to know what the subway ride after your first kiss feels like, or how quiet it gets when it snows. And I wanted them to know. I wanted to tell them. And this became the focus of my obsession. I busied myself telling stories and sharing stories and collecting them.” 

Note: The above is an excerpt from this video, and I highly suggest watching all of it. And while we’re on the topic of Sarah Kay, you might as well watch this one, too. I know I joke about clicking on videos that could change your life, but this one…actually might.

We cannot possibly live every single life. We cannot possibly be part of every single community. We cannot know what every possible experience feels like. But if we can share stories with each other—whether we do it by reading, or writing, or conversing with friends, or visiting new places (there are infinite ways to reach)—only then can we begin to understand the lives that exist around us. We can live through stories, and with others.

Maria, growing older and wiser.

That connection I felt while listening to Sarah Kay is the same connection I strive for on a daily basis with the people around me. (Think of one that you’ve had—you must have at least one.) They’re addictive. And they can be difficult to find (though with some people, incredibly easy). As I grew older, and people began asking the routine “What do you want to do when you grow up?” I decided that, no matter what I ended up doing with my life, I wanted to make those connections with as many people from as many different places as possible. Sure, I may never get to experience every life—I may not get to hitchhike through the galaxy or be a young magician on my way to wizarding school—but I can still find connections with the world around me, and be moved by the experiences of others just as I can move others with my own. Here’s some more Sarah Kay on this (sorry for the SK overload):


“I see the impossible every day. Impossible is trying to connect in this world, trying to hold onto others while things are blowing up around you. Knowing that while you're speaking, they aren't just waiting for their turn to talk—they hear you. They feel exactly what you feel at the same time that you feel it. It's what I strive for, every time I open my mouth—that impossible connection…When I meet you, in that moment, I'm no longer a part of your future; I start quickly becoming part of your past. But in that instant, I get to share your present. And you, you get to share mine. And that, is the greatest present of all.”

(Okay Maria, you’ve deviated enough, now connect it back to Amherst.) Because I had decided this, and because college is a time for soul-searching and thus a very formative part of our lives, I knew I needed a college that would provide me with the opportunity to meet and connect with as many different people from as many different places as possible. Amherst College was, to me, the obvious choice. Because it’s so diverse (I won’t throw statistics around to sell the school to you – come to an info session for that) and because it is so small, it creates the perfect environment for making deep connections with people from all over the world.

We stayed up all night to watch the sunrise during Orientation.
The first connection I found in college was with these wonderful people.

And it really does make a big difference in your college experience. Take, for example, a class with a group of people from your own town. We are, to a large extent, a product of our culture and our upbringing, so if you take a class with people from your area, you’ll probably all be thinking about the topic in a similar way, and you’re most likely not going to get very much out of the class because you won’t learn anything new. However, if you take a class with people who come from all sorts of different backgrounds and cultures from around the world, you’re going to end up having a very productive and enlightening conversation because everyone in the class will be able to bring something new to the table. (Example: say you’re talking about a historical event—perhaps someone in your class has actually lived through it and witnessed it personally. Or perhaps the way it was presented in their country’s news was completely different from your own local news channel.) Amherst is kind of an anomaly in the world—in very few other places will you find people from so many different places within such a compact area—and people who are all very excited to learn and share their stories, too.

And it’s not only the diversity in Amherst but also the structure that makes it easier to find connections in conversations: because we have the open curriculum (no required courses), it means every student in your class is there because they have chosen to be in that class as one of four out of ~800 courses they could have picked that semester (or, if you count 5 College classes, ~5,000). And just by nature of the type of student Amherst attracts, you’re going to have great class discussions and dinner conversations with people who might disagree with you, or who agree with you, who challenge you, who share their stories with you, and who strive to make personal connections with you through those conversations.

transferring inspiration.

I went to a friend's lake house last weekend, and sat down on the dock of the bay, and put my feet in the water. And something struck me, as waves rippled out from the dancing of my feet: waves are like conversations (or thoughts, or stories); we don't always know where they start, but they ripple through the whole sea (or lake). And even when we start them—as when I dipped my feet in the water—we don't know how far the waves we start will go, or who they'll reach. And there's something beautiful in that not-knowing. And there's something beautiful in dipping our feet.


dipping my feet.

I shared that story with a friend the other day, and he said it inspired him to write a story he’d been putting off writing for a while. So he thanked me, and I thanked him back. And that is part of the beauty of it; that we get to thank each other for that connection. That somehow, we both have more. As he put it, “That we both, somehow, are richer, and the seas are deeper, and the waves gentle but strong. That strikes me as something close to magic.”

It is magic.  More than a waving of a wand, the connections we feel with each other are magic. So I do get to be a magician, after all.

I don’t know if my stories or my experience will move you or wash over you, but I certainly know that some of the stories people in Amherst have shared with me, and many of the conversations I’ve had here, have changed my life (and I promise I’m not just being corny. I truly mean that.) So before you dip your dancing feet into the madness of college applications, consider where best you might find these connections, and where best you might have conversations that move your seas.


And remember (lest we get too serious):



Here's something you should know about me: a large part of my nature involves mischief and hilarity. For example, a good prank, if done well and in taste, can be a great way to catch someone (or a group of people) off guard and remind them that there is more beauty and humor to life than a monotonous daily routine. Planning and playing a prank is also a great way to bring a group of people together under a playful nature that inherently exists within ourselves but that we often choose to forget. We forget to laugh. Some of the best advice I've received was right before I left Jordan - a friend of mine made me a goodbye card and wrote, "Never forget to enjoy the humor of life." I've never forgotten. And I always try to remind others. 

All of this, of course, goes to defend the mischievous ordeals of my last week. One of our bosses, a recent Amherst grad and now a Green Dean, or Admission Fellow, Tyler Chapman, was away on vacation all last week. Unfortunately for him, he forgot to lock his door, so we interns seized the opportunity to pull off a top-notch prank on our unsuspecting dean. 

Tyler Chapman, perfectly camouflaging as a spider plant on the window ledge...

On Thursday night, I drove around to all the open buildings on campus, collecting around 100 rolls of toilet paper in my car (you could see them through the windows -- my car looked ridiculous). On Friday morning, we found 80 more TP rolls inside the office. While I gave a tour, Taylor and Dan built a large pyramid of TP rolls in the middle of Tyler's floor. When I came back, Taylor sat down to play the Pokemon Trading Card Game while I went around wrapping everything in Tyler's office. The rest, as they say, is history.




The finished product:
Mischief Managed    
    "To Tyler - Because YOU are Heavenly Soft! <3 - your favorite interns (but mostly Maria)"

Tyler was extremely pleased with his new companion, the TP pyramid. It'll keep him warm and soft during those long office hours...


Prank responsibly,  


P.S. If you haven't watched the video yet, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND YOU CLICK HERE RIGHT NOWWWWWWWWW.   

"Why Amherst?"

DON'T PANIC! - The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Hello, readers. As I turn the final page in Douglas Admas’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and eagerly begin reading the next book in the series, I realize I haven’t yet written my blog post for this week. So, I resolve to put my book down for a few moments and come talk to you.
The book, in case you are not acquainted with its plot, discusses (and provides the answer to) the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything. The answer is...forty-two. 
The book does not, however, reveal the Ultimate Question. o__O
Needless to say, I’ve been thinking a lot about questions. I enjoy reading Hitchhiker’s Guide because it deals closely with the paradox of our inquiry – we think finding the Ultimate Answer will help us understand life, the universe, and everything, but we fail to ask the Question, or questions, to guide our inquiry.
I took a class this spring called the Moral Essay, for which the final paper prompt was on the Quest for Truth. It was by far my favorite paper to write of any papers I’ve ever written. But more than that, it helped me to figure out a lot of things for myself. I concluded that it is useless to seek any final answers or even the ‘Ultimate Answer’ as Douglas Adams would say, but that the point of life is in the questions – the word in its original meaning of a quest – a seeking, an inquiry.
Maria, asking questions from Day One.
Why am I telling you all this? At the end of our tours, as we go back down the hill towards the Admission Office, we invite visitors to contribute questions to the final round of Stump the Tour Guide. One of the questions most frequently asked is “Why did you choose Amherst?” Siiiigh…I don’t like answering this question on principle – my answer will not help you make your decision; decisions about college choices are very personal, and what is true for me may not be true for you. But to some extent, I like answering it because it allows me to talk about the following:
There are many different reasons why people choose to go to college. As you go through the application process during the fall of your senior year, you’re going to be figuring this out for yourself. It’s an important and necessary question: Why do I want to go to college? As a senior in high school, I asked myself a lot of things before I could even begin thinking about where I wanted to apply/attend. I still do that – I think it’s important to always ask ourselves why we’re doing something. Anyway, I asked myself (and you should, too), why am I going through this long and dreary application process? Why is it important? What do I want to get out of it? What do I want to get out of college? Take a moment to think about all this before you start applying anywhere.
What now??
A lot of people go to college just to get a degree. They might think that college is just a necessary intermediate step between high school and a salary, and that there is nothing more to it than that. I sincerely hope that you are not thinking about college in this way. And if you are, I beg you to reconsider. I knew I wanted to go to college to get something more out of it than a parchment diploma saying I’d completed four years on a campus. I wanted to learn for the sake of learning, and absorb as much as I could from the wise and excited minds of students and professors around me. I knew I needed a school that would allow me to do this, and for me, Amherst College would fulfill that role.
With its strong dedication to liberal arts (breadth and depth), the open curriculum, small class sizes, no graduate students, the 8:1 student to professor ratio, and incredibly diverse student body – not just geographically speaking, but in ways of thinking, too – Amherst was very attractive to me. That, in combination with its location, the Five College consortium, amazing financial aid, and its promising ability to let me find not how to think, but what to think about, is why I chose Amherst (admittedly, perhaps another small reason was that Amherst is entirely different from my high school – and I was in desperate need of a change). I knew that Amherst would help me on my quest.
Those are very personal reasons for choosing a college, so my answering your question will not help you much because your decision should be very personal, too. But my telling you that I asked the Questions before I made a decision, that will help you on your quest. In life, as in Hitchhiker’s Guide, we find that the questions are really at the core of things, and without them, no answer will make sense. So ask questions. Of everything, but especially of yourself.
And remember, DON'T PANIC!
I’ll leave you with the email I sent my residents (Stearns Hall, 4th floor) on their first day of college last fall, which includes one of my favorite passages from Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet:
Stearns 4th floor, the family.
Dearest Fourthsians (see? I’m getting creative),
Congratulations! You have made it through Orientation. You
have, in a little over one week, been bombarded with information from all directions and from all sorts of sources. Among other things, you have so far experienced a very wacky rendition of Harry Potter 8 in the RC show, a hilarious dramatic interpretation of your own application essays, several nights in a row of Apples to Apples/Taboo tournaments, Melih’s Turkish poetry, a duck duck goose game with children from town, “Big Daddy” Kane’s most beautiful laugh, late night walks, your lovely RCs’ ridiculous concoctions at the Mocktail (DID WE START A TREND OR DID WE START A TREND??), and lots and lots of bonding. You’ve made it out alive, and triumphantly so. I don’t know about you, but I’m getting that cozy family feeling on the floor already, and classes haven’t even started.  
I wanted to send this email before you officially start college today to remind you of how far you’ve come already. As you embark on your first day of classes, remember why you’re here. You and the world are young and full of light and possibility. Plunge confidently into this time of discovery, knowing that you are here for a reason, and can do anything you set your mind to. Allow yourself to learn from everything around you – your classes, your professors, your fellow students, this beautiful campus, but most of all, yourself. You were called here to light up the world, so allow yourself to do so. Terras Irradient.
Always be open to learn something new, speak your mind, and ask lots of questions. Take advice from our dear Rilke:
“You are so young, so much before all beginning, and I would like to beg you, dear Sir [or Madam], as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”
Experience all you can, and savor your four years here.
"This is water.",
RC Maria 

What the Light Touches

Memorial Hill - the quintessential Amherst view
It's likely that if you ever take take a tour of Amherst, near the end of the tour you'll end up on Memorial Hill. Your tour guide will then point at the beautiful hills in front of you and say, "This is the quintessential Amherst view. Everything that the light touches...is yours."
Corny, I know, but it's true! Amherst owns around 800 acres, but most of the campus is centralized on only 200 of those. The other 600 extend towards the Holyoke Range - that beautiful view we students know so well.
Last weekend, we occupied the other 75% of the campus. Taylor, Dan, Jenna, and I explored the walking trails and wildlife sanctuary through the woods on the other side of campus. On the way, we found some cool plants, a pond, some great climbing trees, Tuttle Hill, and the bird sanctuary. Then we went to Flayvor's Farm for delicious homemade ice cream.
guess how many of us there are
Now that you've seen the video, let me tell you a little more about how much I love the bird sanctuary. I've spent quite a lot of time there -- it's one of my favorite areas of the campus. As a first-year, my friends and I would often take long walks through the trails at night, exploring and reading poetry in the woods. Afterwards, we would walk back to my room in Stearns and sit around in blankets drinking hot chocolate. Once, we were all so tired after the walk that we ended up crashing on my bed. See the evidence on the left.
What I love about the bird sanctuary and my relationship to it is that it really feels like I can make the campus mine. I've had so many great experiences on the War Memorial, on the Hill, and in the Sanctuary, that it makes the whole area feel very personal. I love that I can do that in Amherst.
Here are some of the ways I've personalized this area of the campus:
My roommate my first year was from India, so we had a lovely candlelit Diwali celebration on the War Memorial. However, we had to be careful, because it's rumored that if you walk across the centerpiece - you won't graduate from Amherst!
Diwali on the War Memorial
   Don't let Maria play with fire
Every fall, during Homecoming Weekend, there is a large bonfire at the bottom of Memorial Hill. It's huge. I'm not kidding. These are some pictures taken by Sam Tang '15, one of my residents this year, who also knows how to take some cool light-writing pictures.
        My residents doing cool things with lights on the Memorial

Another tradition that takes place on Memorial Hill is the Major Scream. Amherst students don't have to declare a major until the end of their sophomore year. This is usually a pretty difficult decision, since we liberal arts, open-curriculum students want to major in everythingggg... So it's a big deal when we finally decide on a major. We celebrate this by doing the Major Scream on Memorial Hill - once you finally declare a major, you go to Memorial Hill and yell out the title of your major at the top of your voice to the great hills beyond. My friends and I did it this year, and for me it was easy - I just had to yell out a nice, short "ENGLISH!!" My friend Maia, however, had to take a very deep breath and yell out, "WOMEN'S AND GENDER STUDIES AND ENGLISHHHHH!!" It's a really fun tradition.
               Major Scream on Memorial Hill
             English majors - call me maybe?
So, faithful reader, I hope I've given you an accurate perspective on the types of things that occur on Memorial Hill and beyond. If you haven't watched the video, make sure to do so now (here's the link again!). Make sure to come back next week for more fun stuffs, funny videos, and awkward pictures of my friends (that I have unashamedly used entirely without their permission - sorry, guys!).
See you next week!

A taste of Amherst weekends...

One of my favorite things about staying in Amherst over the summer (I stayed here last summer also, working in Archives) is the glorious town tradition called Taste of Amherst. For four days (Thurs-Sun), most of the restaurants in town will set up booths on the Town Common and sell low-cost samples of their most popular items.

This event is, of course, a student favorite. I made sure to grab a few meals there on three out of the four days it was open. It's a lovely way to spend your weekend--there are live bands, local families, a rock climbing wall, bungee jumping, pony rides, and, obviously, absolutely delicious (and cheap!) food options.  

It just so happens that I made a video blog about my experience of the event and of the rest of my weekend, which you can find here:

You better have clicked on that. I worked hard on that vlog. I made it just for you. That's right. Feel special. 

Also, you should watch it because this blog post was supposed to consist largely of just the video, but I can't find a way to embed it...SO GO WATCH IT. HERE'S THE LINK AGAIN. WHY HAVEN'T YOU ALREADY CLICKED ON IT. THIS IS WHAT AN AMHERST WEEKEND MIGHT LOOK LIKE. YOU KNOW YOU WANT TO KNOW. 

Here are some previews of what you will be watching:

Also....this happened:
                                                             We (somehow) managed to fit inside these instrument lockers

Third Culture Kid

Good morning, good mooooooorning! I don’t know about you, but we, the Admissions Office summer interns, like to sing our way through early weekday mornings. We are all looking forward to a summer filled with many games of Contact, delicious food, Pioneer Valley adventures, competitions to be the funniest person in the room, achieving goals, and many, many, many tours.

Pardon me; I’ve forgotten to properly introduce myself! I’m Maria Kirigin, a rising junior from…well, let me explain. My upbringing is a little geographically complicated, so when people ask me where I’m from, I tend to just say ‘Bolivia’ to spare us both a long story, but now that I’ve got you all nice and seated and reading my blog (oh, the power!), I can indulge in all the details:

I was born in La Paz, Bolivia, a beautiful city in the mountains. I could look out my window and see the red Andes every day. I lived there until I was 7 years old, long enough to throw water balloons during Carnaval and attend pre-school and first grade in the German school in town. When I was 7, my parents’ jobs led to the first of my family’s nomad lifestyle.

We moved to Managua, Nicaragua, where I continued my education in another German school—though the main teaching was in Spanish, the school was under a German education system and we all had to take beginning German language classes. Really, we just learned the colors and how to sing “Bruder Jakob”

We stayed in Nicaragua for two years and then moved to Georgia – nope, not the “Peach State” in the South, but the Republic of Georgia. The only non-Georgian school in Tbilisi was an international school. So, at 9 years old, in ex-Soviet Russia, I finally learned English. There wasn’t much to do – most TV was in Russian or Georgian and I wasn’t allowed to walk around the city on my own – so I spent most of my time reading books and playing GaGa Ball (yep, it’s a thing!).

After two years in Georgia, we moved to Amman, Jordan, where I continued my education in an American school. There, I took a new interest in theater and began writing my own short stories. Also, we went to see the Pyramids for Christmas.      

Two years later (yes, most of my life is divided into two-year sections), we moved back to Bolivia, where I could no longer attend the German school since I’d forgotten it all, so I enrolled in the local American school. Though time in Bolivia did wonders for my Spanish and for re-connecting with my roots and extended family, we decided to move again after 9th grade.

I ended up spending the last three years of high school in Ann Arbor, Michigan, attending a small Catholic school where I was among the only three or so international students. By some odd chance, I learned about Amherst College, and though most of my classmates thought it was some small school in Ohio, I applied and came out east to attend this noble institution and meet many other TCKs (Third-Culture Kids – watch this video!). 

I hope that in this blog I can give you a taste of my experience of Amherst and of the Pioneer Valley, and also to bring you with me as I embark on my many summer adventures.

I’m telling you this because, although having adventures in all these places has had its perks, moving around so much was also really hard. Being a TCK means it's really difficult to define 'home'. Yet, when I finally got to Amherst and met people with similarly diverse backgrounds, it felt very much like coming home. There are very few places in the whole world that are as geographically diverse within one compact palce as this campus. It has made a huge difference in my college experience, and I’m so thankful that I get to call this community home.

 Also, I hope to have better links than Taylor does – click here and here and here. Ha!


Until next time, kiddos,

MK <3