October 27, 2008

The last time Joe and Marian Murphy saw their daughter Sinead ’12 was when she left their Minnesota home for orientation at Amherst in August. So when they finally caught up with their first-year student at the college’s Family Weekend Oct. 24-26, they were excited for the chance to spend some quality time with her as well as to sample a little bit of what her new school and community have to offer.

“Cool is definitely the word,” said Joe Murphy with a laugh when asked about his impressions of the events and the college itself. (He had just attended a talk by David Hall ’91, associate professor of physics, titled “Bose, Einstein and the Coldest Stuff in the Universe.”) “It’s been great fun for us… We really got the feeling that Amherst is a very personal, friendly, positive, supportive environment.”
The Murphys joined hundreds of other moms, dads, grandmas, uncles, sisters, brothers, friends and loved ones of all kinds who flooded campus to visit their undergraduates and celebrate Family Weekend. Coordinated and sponsored by Alumni & Parent Programs, the festivities included an array of academic lectures by faculty members and notable Amherst alumni, sporting events, museum exhibitions, outdoor activities, concerts and performances.
The college’s student-athletes did their families and returning alumni proud, notching a 24-17 football victory over Tufts, defeating Williams in men’s soccer and field hockey and tying the Ephs in women’s soccer. (For a complete recount, check out the athletics Web site.)

Amherst also marked the kick-off of the Lives of Consequence comprehensive campaign during the weekend. The $425 million initiative will support financial aid, teaching and student learning, research and service experiences, among other priorities.
Many present described the celebrations as something of a campus-wide show-and-tell.
“I’ve always felt that Family Weekend is a time for our undergraduates to share their current lives with their parents, grandparents, siblings, pets—whomever,” said Karen Lee, director of student leadership and engagement at the Center for Community Engagement (CCE), who spent the afternoon of Oct. 25 meeting families at a CCE reception at Valentine Hall. “It’s a way to for them to connect their two worlds—home and college—to one another.”
“It allows students’ families to really understand what they’re doing at Amherst,” added Rasheda Vereen ’10. “They actually get to see the structure of life on campus and experience college rather than just hear about it.”
“Experience college” in this instance was literal, as guests were invited to participate in Amherst classes or take in any one of the weekend’s lectures.
Faculty members Anna M. Martini, associate professor of geology; Karena A. McKinney, assistant professor of chemistry; Paola Zamperini, assistant professor of Asian languages and civilizations; Martha Umphrey, professor of law, jurisprudence and social thought, and David Sofield, Samuel Williston Professor of English, among others, explored their work with students and family members.
Several high-profile alumni—Edmund S. Phelps Jr. ’55, McVickar Professor in Political Economy at Columbia University and 2006 Nobel Laureate in Economics; Richard Wilbur ’42, John Woodruff Simpson Lecturer at Amherst and former U.S. Poet Laureate; Blair D. Kamin ’79, Pulitzer Prize-winning architecture critic at the Chicago Tribune, and Amy C. Ronsenzweig ’88, professor biochemistry, molecular biology and cell biology at Northwestern University and MacArthur “Genius” Award winner, to name a few—also held discussions on everything from future of science education in the liberal arts to the changing look of the Amherst campus to the 2008 presidential campaign.

In addition, President Anthony W. Marx spoke to the community at Johnson Chapel. He gave an overview of the state of the college and took questions on a wide range of issues, including the economy and Amherst’s finances.
“In these difficult days, you see the true measure of people and of institutions,” he told the crowd at one point. “You have my word that Amherst will live up to its commitments… We are not going to waver in our commitment to financial aid or to the quality of our programs.”
Speeches, lectures and other activities notwithstanding, many guests were simply content to be in the company of their children again.
“We’ve been able to do so many things, but I think it’s been most fun meeting Sinead’s friends and seeing how happy she is,” said Marian Murphy as her daughter carved a pumpkin on the quad with her 12-year-old brother Aidan. “I think that’s the most rewarding thing as a parent—to see your child thriving. This has been a really wonderful experience for us.”

View some photo galleries of Family Weekend.