Chorus performing at Convocation 2016
At Convocation the Choral Society performed the College standard “Three Gifts.” Its composer, Lisa Smith Van der Linden ’89, was on hand, as was her daughter Anna Van der Linden ’20.

“When I agreed to be interviewed for the presidency here,” she said in Johnson Chapel on Labor Day, “there was a summary statement about Amherst’s culture that made me laugh: ‘Amherst,’ it read, ‘with its independent faculty, committed staff and actively engaged alumni and students, has a distinctive, yeasty culture.’”

When the first-years laughed, she said, “That’s exactly my reaction.”

“It turns out that the adjectiveyeastyhas a figurative meaning that seemed perfect—‘characterized by unrest or agitation, in a state of turbulence, typically a creative or productive one.’ And now I’ve decided Amherst is yeasty,” she said.

“To some degree, yeastiness ought to characterize every college and university community,” Martin added. This culture stands for diversity, discussion and people who, according to a German saying quoted by historian Carl Becker, “think otherwise.”

Biddy Martin at Convocation
Martin spoke of the community that new students are entering, a family that she first observed through the College’s alumni.

“The alumni like to argue with one another,” she said. “Good-natured argument, but argument nonetheless. About what a professor said in this or that class, who taught what, whether the College was changing for better or for worse, and, always, about the open curriculum. Always.”

“What their arguing proved to me was that Amherst faculty had done a great job of encouraging their students to ‘think otherwise’ in their own ways and to value differences of opinion,” she said. “I came away from those meetings expecting a bunch of wickedly smart, quirky and demanding professors who allowed themselves to be what I call, following my mother, ‘real characters.’ That’s what I found. And that’s what you’ll find—teachers who will support you in developing yourselves as ‘otherwise-thinking’ adults.”