“We’re Freshmen Together”
August 29, 2011
It’s been a few years since he began his studies at Amherst College, but being a freshman U.S. Senator has brought back some vivid memories for Christopher Coons ’85. In delivering this year’s DeMott Lecture to an appreciative crowd of first-year students in Johnson Chapel on Monday, Coons noted that being a recently elected legislator and being a first-year are similar in many ways.
For example, Coons said he’s been “humbled and amazed,” both at Amherst and in the Senate, by the breadth and range of his classmates.
But he gave the edge to Amherst students for their “incredible and amazing” backgrounds.
Coons asked the students to close their eyes and think about their high schools, imagining the atmosphere, their teachers, their friends, their worries.
“Now open your eyes,” he said. “That’s all gone. You have an opportunity to redefine yourself at Amherst.”
He urged students to get to know each other during their time at Amherst, study abroad, take classes outside of their majors and take full advantage of all that the college has to offer.
“Promise me you’re going to do it all,” he said.
Coons—and Amherst—rocketed to national prominence in fall 2010 when Christine O’Donnell, his opponent for the Delaware senatorial seat, targeted an article in The Amherst Student titled “Chris Coons: The Making of a Bearded Marxist.”
Though the article described Coons’ more gentle political transformation from staunch Republican to moderate Democrat following a trip to Kenya, and ultimately it did no lasting political harm, the phrase “bearded Marxist” reverberated during the campaign.
When the article ran in 1985, Coons recalled, his mother had waved it in his face and warned, “This will come back to haunt you when you run for the Senate.”
“I said, ‘Mom, that’s ridiculous. I’m never going to run for the Senate.’”
But he did, and after the article garnered so much attention, the dutiful son placed a call to his mother, telling her, “Once again, you were right.”
After his speech, Coons fielded questions from students for about 20 minutes and then invited all those who hadn’t had their queries answered to Charles Pratt Dormitory. That conversation began at 10:30 p.m. and was still going strong at midnight—evidence of the students’ intense curiosity and Coons’ willingness to engage with them. See photos of the conversation.
DeMott Lecture Archive
DeMott Lecture 2010: Harold Varmus ’61
Video—August 31, 2010
A Nobel Laureate in Medicine, Varmus discusses what the lives of Romantic Age astronomers William and Caroline Herschel tell us about science: what it is, who does it, who pays for it, what it offers to society and how it is related to the arts and humanities. Watch video.
DeMott Lecture 2009: Paul Rieckhoff ’98
Video—August 31, 2009
Rieckhoff is executive director and founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, a non partisan non profit with tens of thousands of members in all 50 U.S. states. Rieckhoff’s book, Chasing Ghosts, is a critically acclaimed account of his experiences in Iraq and activism afterwards. Watch video.
Demott Lecture 2008: David Freudenthal ’73
“History is shaped by ordinary people doing ordinary things… So don’t be afraid to try and don’t be afraid to fail,” David Freudenthal, governor of the state of Wyoming and Amherst College alumnus, urged the members of the school’s Class of 2012. Read news release and hear audio.