For this special issue of Amherst magazine, we commissioned nine essays from alumni authors about the College’s lasting influence on their  lives. The stories that follow will bring you onto the Connecticut River before dawn. You’ll walk  through an open door into Chapman House, where you’ll meet an unforgettable group of friends. You’ll witness a moment of deep humanity in the office of a thesis adviser. And you’ll go to class, where you’ll read Emily Dickinson on the quad, teach writing to freshmen, take responsibility for your own ideas and embrace your endless contradictions. These essays offer so many examples of how an Amherst education endures over time, geography and experience. As historian Debby Applegate ’89 puts it in her essay, Amherst has devoted 200 years to “the continual, Sisyphean quest to make the ideal manifest, however it is conceived.” In honor of the College Bicentennial, we celebrate that quest.

A graphic of a large 200 in cursive writing

A photo of the writer Lauren Groff sitting on a hill The River in the Dark

By Lauren Groff ’01

“It has been 20 years since I graduated from Amherst, and if I focus my mind and coax them, all the small memories of classes or hanging out in someone’s common room can begin to shyly return to me with their strong flavors of giddiness or humiliation or tedium or joy.”

Read Lauren Groff’s Essay


An illustration of two heads with two people sitting inside talking Reaching Back to Frost

By Rand Richards Cooper ’80

“First as an undergraduate, then as writer-in-residence and more recently as a writer for Amherst magazine, I have again and again refreshed myself, and my life, from the College’s deep well.”

Read Rand Richards Cooper’s Essay


A photo of Jennifer Acker Revise, Revise, Revise

By Jennifer Acker ’00

“At Amherst, I began to understand how the writing is inseparable from the ideas. If the ideas are murky, the writing will be clear as mud.”

Read Jennifer Acker’s Essay


An illustration of a woman falling through a sea of people's faces Begin on Page 85

By Debby Applegate ’89

“Yet, even now—older, perhaps wiser, certainly more realistic—I am not inclined to give up that utopian vision that first drew me to Amherst, and that I shared with so many of my classmates.”

Read Debby Applegate’s Essay


A man in glasses and a gray beard The Equation, Given

By Rafael Campo ’87

“When I first arrived at Amherst College, having applied “early decision” and been miraculously admitted, I made my way straight to Memorial Hill, feeling queasy and excited at once.”

Read Rafael Campo’s Essay


A three-story white house with black shutters A Little House and a Lot of Love

By Carmella de los Angeles Guiol ’09

“I think about what has endured from my time at Amherst, the most valuable treasure that I took away from those four years, what immediately springs to my mind are my friends.”

Read Carmella de los Angeles Guiol’s Essay


A man in a black t-shirt and black beard looking seriously at the camera Samovars, Hope and Promise

By J.M. Holmes ’12

“Throughout my time at Amherst and far beyond, these inexplicable generosities have accrued and  coalesced into something larger than the sum of their parts.”

Read J.M. Holmes’ Essay


An older man holding a book and wearing a suit on the Amherst College quad The Last Line of the Poem

By William H. Pritchard ’53

“I look back on my early days as a teacher at the College and find that remote as adjective can modify all sorts of activity.”

Read William H. Pritchard’s Essay


A woman leaning against a brick wall The Return Visit

By Helen Wan ’95

“No matter which road you take, that first sighting of the College is breathtaking. On each return visit, I literally take in a breath when the Octagon comes into view.”

Read Helen Wan’s Essay