Frank Warren has close-cropped hair and a soft voice. He wears blue jeans and glasses. He looks like the average 40-something husband and father. But, as he knows better than anyone, outward appearances often conceal extraordinary stories. Warren is, in fact, the creator of a famous and influential blog; he has published four popular books and launched two travelling art exhibits. He has earned the title of “the most trusted stranger in America.”A simple idea that he set in motion a few years ago has since helped to change, and even save, lives around the world. Standing on stage in Johnson Chapel in front of a rapt audience, he introduced himself simply: “My name is Frank, and I collect secrets.”
A certain current Amherst student—let’s give her the pseudonym “Cassie”—and her friend made a decoration for Family Weekend this year: a pumpkin with an A carved in it. “We put a strobe light in it,” Cassie says. “I was so proud of it. All my friends said it was the coolest thing they’d ever seen.”
Since its first, black-and-white incarnation, created by Merv Griffin in the early 1960s, Jeopardy! has built a reputation as the thinking person’s game show. Amherst has helped prepare many trivia geeks to do battle with the big blue board: As a senior, Gwyneth Connell ’00 represented the Jeffs in the 2000 College Championship. Novelist and attorney Scott Turow ’70 towered over the competition in Celebrity Jeopardy! in 2006. And even though I ultimately came in a distant third, I consider my own Jeopardy! game, which aired in April 2008, among the luckiest and most fascinating experiences of my life.
As an innocent Amherst first-year in the fall of 2001, I developed an addiction that has a hold on me to this day. I got sucked into a strange world that’s difficult to explain to those who haven’t visited: a world where we know each other by first and middle initials, last name and class year (I’m kdduke05); where “snooping” and “snitching” are not only socially acceptable but appreciated; and where people who have never laid eyes on each other regularly engage in vigorous debates and develop lasting friendships.
One of the many reasons I chose to attend Amherst College was that it was far away. Or, far enough away. My parents could do the three-hour drive fairly easily when I wanted them to—but only when I wanted them to. The other serious contender, Vassar, was only an hour from my hometown. I cringed when I realized it got the same radio stations. I have nothing against my family or my high school, but I wanted my college experience to feel separate from them. So Amherst it was.