Maria Kirigin '14
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.
- Learn how to say Amherst correctly (no H!)
- Take classes outside of your comfort zone/main interest
- Speak up in class
- Ask questions
- Go to a professor’s office hours
- Stay up all night with your friends
- Have a meaningful conversation with someone. One that changes your life.
- Audition for something
- Visit the Career Center
- Visit the Writing Center
- 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)
- Write for the Student newspaper at least once
- Go to a Homecoming game
- Go to the Homecoming bonfire (there’s a big bonfire at the bottom of Memorial Hill during Homecoming weekend)
- Do Primal Scream during Finals week (organized by the Outing Club—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)
- Snowball fight after the first snow of the year
- Step foot in every single building on campus
- 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)
- 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??)
- Pull a prank on your RC (or anyone else) (but mainly your RC)
- Play Capture the Flag on campus (in a building after hours, in the bird sanctuary, on the quad, etc.)
- Go on a roof (without getting caught) (sorry, Campus Po)
- Visit Narnia (an old abandoned building right off campus that students have nicknamed ‘Narnia’) (again, sorry Campus Po)
- Walk through the nature trails
Go sledding on Memorial Hill (preferably on a Val tray) (not technically allowed, but…)
- Go camping on the First-Year quad
- Find the steam tunnels (...again, sorry Campus Po)
- 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.)
- Go on a (casual) date
- Go to at least one (theatrical/musical/dance/etc) performance
- Attend an athletic event (other than your own)
- Attend an AAS Senate meeting (this is our Student Government. They have public meetings every Monday night)
- Go to an a cappella show (Zumbyes, Route 9, Blue Sox, Sabrinas, DQ, or Terras Iradient)
- 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)
- 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)
- Go to Senior Bar Night (senior tradition)
- 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)
- 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)
- Take a tour of Amherst (shameless self-promotion)
- 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)
- 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)
- Visit the Archives & Special Collections (in A-level of Frost) (they have a lock of Emily Dickinson’s hair!!)
- 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)
- Study at least once on every floor of Frost (it has six floors total with very different study spaces depending on your taste)
- Visit the Russian Library in Webster
- Do Major Scream on Memorial Hill (a fairly new tradition, explained here)
- 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)
- 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)
- 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)
- 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)
- Walk to the bird sanctuary at night
- 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)
- Visit the Mead Art Museum
- Visit the Yushien friendship garden (established because of our close relationship with Doshisha University in Japan)
- Sit with someone you don’t know at Val (Val is our Valentine Dining Hall)
- Eat in every room in Val
- 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)
- Make friends with a staff member
- Befriend a professor (at least one)
- 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…)
- 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. Here's some of his work)
- Have a conversation with a Campus Police officer. They’re really cool.
- 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)
- Get to know at least one alumn
- Attend a commencement other than your own (read my previous post)
- Learn the words to the Lord Jeffrey Amherst song (listen here Loading the player ...
and read along here)
- Spend one summer in Amherst
- Spend one interterm in Amherst
- Take the PVTA (the bus system here, which takes you anywhere you would ever want to go)
- Visit the Museum of Natural History(Beneski)
- Visit the Emily Dickinson Museum
- Take a 5 college course
- Attend a 5 college event/party
- Make at least one friend from each of the 5 Colleges
- Make a friend from Amherst town
- Visit the Jones Library in Amherst town
- 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.
- 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.)
- Dine at the Lord Jeffrey Inn (recently renovated and beautiful)
- Have ice cream at Flayvor’s Cook Farm(where you get to pet the cows from whom the ice cream comes)
- Eat in the Route 9 Diner (preferably at midnight) (an old-style diner that is open 24/7)
- Have brunch at the Roadhouse (just down Route 9, they serve delicious and huuuuge portions)
- Order Wings from Wings Over Amherst
- 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)
- Visit each campus within the 5 colleges
- Visit the Smith Botanic Garden
- Go to the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Hampshire College (Eric Carle’s the one who wrote The Very Hungry Caterpillar)
- Go to the Quabbin reservoir
- 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)
- 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)
- Visit the Peace Pagoda
- Go fruit-picking in the Pioneer Valley (especially fun in the summer)
- Hike the Notch (a pretty short climb but you get a great view of the whole area)
- Visit Williams (and preferably steal a book, for old time’s sake) (because we need to know more about our rivals, right?)
- Road trip with friends (this is great advice no matter where you go to college)
- 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…)
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:|
|Senior Class Addresses:|
| Daniel J. Cluchey '08
Loading the player ...
Marshall Nannes '09
Loading the player ...
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 brutaly 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):
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. I imagined something like this). 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:
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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):
TP for T.C. - THE DAY WE PRANKED OUR BOSS
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 recieved 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 unexpecting dean.
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 (nerdpoint) while I went around wrapping everything in Tyler's office. The rest, as they say, is history.
UNDOUBTEDLY YOU ARE DYING TO SEE THE RESULTS OF THE PRANK. YOU KNOW YOU WANT TO SEE HOW IT TURNED OUT. CLICK HERE IF YOU WANT TO SEE JUST WHAT TYLER'S FACE LOOKED LIKE UPON HIS RETURN. CLICK NOWWWWWWWW THIS IS A BEAUTIFUL VIDEOOOOOO JUST FOR YOUUUUU CLICKKKKKKKKKKKK.
Tyler was extremely pleased with his new companion, the TP pyramid. It'll keep him warm and soft during those long office hours...
P.S. If you haven't watched the video yet, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND YOU CLICK HERE RIGHT NOWWWWWWWWW.
What the Light Touches