For her birthday this year, Katie Fretwell ’81 decided to celebrate with a few friends—some 472 friends to be precise, who cheered for the dean of admission in Amherst College’s Buckley Recital Hall as she welcomed them to campus.

“I'm having a fabulous day. Today is my birthday," Fretwell told the students during New Student Orientation on Aug. 30. Before she could continue, the entire Class of 2020 burst into applause and then a celebratory song.

"I do not get a birthday present as spectacular as the Class of 2020 very often!” Fretwell said with a laugh to a chorus of "awww!"

“During these next important and very full days, you will learn a great deal about the College,” Fretwell continued, “but before you do, I want to share a little bit about you.”

Members of the Class of 2020 come from an applicant pool of 8,406, Fretwell said. From that number, 1,161 students were admitted and 472 enrolled. An additional 403 transfer students applied and out of the 25 accepted, 16 enrolled. 

As she talked about the accomplishments of some of these young people—who include a U-18 national chess champion, a firefighter and a student of astrophysics—Fretwell gave a special shout-out to a fellow Virgo, also celebrating her birthday, and reminded students to stay proud of their past achievements, humble about what they continued to learn, and open to all the opportunities and experiences Amherst has to offer.

Amherst College President Biddy Martin also had advice for the students, telling them that they were the future leaders and that they should welcome diversity in all its forms—particularly when it comes to welcoming different ideas and opinions.

"Most of the time more than one thing is true," she said, "and being capable of holding contradictory ideas in your head and thinking them through together is the outcome of a good mind and a great education."

Here are some facts about the incoming Class of 2020:

  • Students hail from 40 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, as well as 26 countries.
  • They have lived in 50 countries and speak more than 35 languages.
  • There are four more men than women in the class.
  • Forty-seven percent identify as American students of color.
  • The oldest incoming student is 28 and the youngest is 16.
  • Among the incoming class, 52 percent are receiving financial aid from Amherst.
  • Eight percent are non-U.S. citizens. Another six percent are dual citizens with the U.S. and another country.
  • Some 14 percent of this year’s class are first-generation college students.
  • Their wide range of athletic abilities have led them to become black belts in karate and taekwondo, state champions in rock climbing and mountain biking, and junior-national players in volleyball and squash. They are also boxers and badminton players, members of rifle and snowmobiling teams, and plank canoers.
  • Their interests have led them to beekeeping, the ukulele, glassblowing and woodworking.
  • They count among them a U-18 national chess champion, the host of a comedy show on public access TV and a nationally ranked debater in his second language.
  • Their studies range from researching dark matter, celiac disease and protein repair to evaluating the design of cricket bats.
  • They have raised money for cancer research, taught English to immigrants and helped senior citizens with technology. They have worked as firefighters and advocated for sustainability, violence prevention and anti-bullying.
  • Among the most popular names in the class, Daniels and Williams have displaced the Johns of last year, and Emilys have upset the perennially favorite Katherines.
  • Members of the Class of 2020 have graduated from 379 different schools. Of these, 59 percent were public, 34 percent independent and seven percent parochial.
  • Fourteen students took “gap years” in 15 countries on five continents. These students served as literacy, farming, hospitality and presidential campaign volunteers, as translators, and in their nation’s military. They played junior hockey and trained to become a master at chess.
  • The students describe themselves as atheist, Bahai, Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Quaker, among other affiliations.
  • They are Republicans and Democrats, vegans and carnivores. They are gay, straight, pansexual and questioning.
  • They have lived on farms and in foster care, in cities and communes, in high rises, homeless shelters and rural villages.
  • Students in the incoming class—many of whom recalled the powerful influence of the Harry Potter series—have an unusual number of writers among them and have attended programs at Iowa Young Writers, Breadloaf, the Young Writers’ Workshop at Bard and Kenyon Review Youth Writers.
  • They also count among them many more Eagle Scouts than most Amherst first-year classes.