Of course, the first day Mr. Ramsey and Ms. Kronenberg, our chiefs and school board members, join us on a tour, we forget to wake up. We are so late that we almost miss the 7:15 Poughkeepsie train out of Penn Station. We make it, though, by a hair's breadth.
The ride north along the Hudson is spectacular. The Vassar campus, about a ten minute drive from Poughkeepsie, is an empire of red brick and grey stone separated by trees, green spaces, and theaters. I counted at least four of them, which is impressive when one considers that only about 2,000 undergraduates go to Vassar (average class size, 16). Though not even in the top five majors (psych, econ, English, biology, and history, if I remember correctly), dance, drama, and live music are a huge part of campus life; one does not need to be in the department to perform. (Fun fact: Vassar boasts the third largest collection of Steinway pianos in the world; every dorm hall has one.)
Upon reflection, though, it's not so surprising. Almost all of the students live on campus all four years, and they spend almost all of their time there. Add a few feet of snow for a few months of the year, and watch the theaters get filled up.
Vassar is not for everyone, but there are--get this--over 125 clubs and organizations on campus. And here is another but: whom Vassar is for will surprise anyone. At dinner tonight, I spoke to an incredible young man named Ken Miles, whose titles and honors I could not possibly remember, except for the observation that they far outstrip his years, and the only thing that outstrips them is his charm. Ken told me about Vassar's connection with the African American community, which dates back to a sit-in in 1969 and the subsequent creation of the Africana(!) Studies department. Amusingly, Ken relates how when he applied to and started his life at Vassar, he had no idea about this connection of the school and his community. He attributes this to Vassar's particular sensitivity to the needs and preferences of its students of color, born out of 40 years of an increasingly welcoming experience.
|Desert and candy? Cohort and Vassar alums after dinner|
From now on, when some of my students inform me that they will be taking an extra week's vacation in the spring to visit Traditionally Black Colleges in the southeast, and that I therefore need to give them slack on their homework, I will encourage them with even more slack if they promise to visit Vassar in the northeast, as well.
In between Vassar and dinner at the Gordon Ramsey, here's what we did:
contemplated occupying Wall Street, but then thought, that would never work. From there, it was over to the 911 Memorial, the abyssal pools and the Surviving Tree.
Ms. Kronenberg came along and, being a New Yorker, provided context and depth, for which we thank her.