No matter when you arrive at Hamilton College, your first drive up College Hill Road will make a significant impression on you. If it’s summertime, you’ll probably be amazed by the number of people you see bustling around. Many students choose to stay on campus during the summer to conduct research with professors, work in one of the offices, or help out with the various camps that Hamilton hosts. If your arrival takes place during the spring or fall, you’ll likely be caught off guard by Hamilton’s breathtaking campus—the tree-lined paths and stone and red brick buildings are especially gorgeous when flowers are blooming and leaves are either sprouting or turning an astonishing blaze of reds, oranges, and yellows. And if it’s wintertime, you’re definitely just praying your car triumphs over the snow and makes it up the hill! But whatever the season, you’ll probably be greeted by at least one passerby on campus, and you may begin to understand exactly what it means to be a part of the community.
Hamilton is a small liberal arts institution set atop a rather large hill in the middle of Central New York. Because of its location, the college almost demands that its students become part of a vibrant and close-knit campus community. At Hamilton, there’s no big city full of distractions to pull you away from the dorms (where you’ll likely live for all four years), and there’s nowhere near enough people on campus to let you even consider being anonymous. At times, particularly during the winter, this situation can be a bit frustrating, to say the least. But, because it absolutely necessitates that students get to know each other and become involved in campus life, it is also precisely this situation that leads to the creation of the unique Hamilton community that many grads yearn for even years after they’ve left the Hill.
History, Tradition, and the Future
As a newcomer walking around Hamilton’s campus, you’d probably notice that the parts of campus you see on your left look quite different from those that you see on your right. This is because College Hill Road once ran between two separate colleges. On the right lies the north side of campus and the origins of today’s College. Founded by Samuel Kirkland in 1793 as the Hamilton-Oneida Academy and chartered as Hamilton College in 1812, the Hamilton of today (which was once all male) is the third-oldest college in New York State. On the left lies the south side of campus, which used to be Kirkland College, an independent, experimental, all-female college that was founded by Hamilton in 1968. The two schools merged in 1978, but the vastly different architecture—stone and red brick vs. poured concrete— makes their history hard to forget.
Hamilton does not encourage its students to forget its long history. The college has worked hard to preserve and promote the ideals of both Hamilton and Kirkland Colleges. From the Hamilton side comes the current emphasis on developing writing and speaking skills, and a strong association with science, social science, and government service. From the Kirkland side comes a keen interest in the arts, a more liberal view of what a college education should include, and a strong emphasis on interdisciplinary studies. In many ways, Kirkland complemented Hamilton very well, and students today benefit from a greater diversity of academic offerings due to Hamilton’s continuous incorporation of both schools’ strengths. Since 2000, the college has invested more than $125 million in new and renovated facilities for science, the social sciences, and fitness. New space for the arts and student activities are planned. One of Hamilton’s biggest assets is its careful blend of tradition and progress—it is truly a college that knows where it has been and eagerly anticipates where it is going.
The Sacerdote Series: Great Names at Hamilton
Once or twice a year, participants in the Sacerdote Great Names Series come to Hamilton to give a speech, participate in a question-and-answer session, meet with selected students, and, generally, teach a class or two.
- 2008—Jon Stewart, The Daily Show
- 2006—Aretha Franklin, musician —Al Gore, former Vice President of the United States
- 2005—Tom Brokaw, NBC News
- 2004—William Jefferson Clinton, Former President of the United States
- 2003—Bill Cosby, Comedian, actor, and author
- 2002—Madeleine Albright, Former Secretary of State (March) —Rudolph Giuliani,Former Mayor of New York City (September)
- 2001—Jimmy Carter, Former President of the United States
- 2000—Desmond Tutu, Archbishop of Capetown, South Africa
- 1999—Lady Margaret Thatcher, Former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
- 1998—F.W. de Klerk, Former President of South Africa (April) —B.B. King, Musician (October)
- 1997—Elie Wiesel, Author
- 1996—Colin Powell, Former Secretary of State (April) —James Carville and Mary Matalin, Political Strategists (October)
So, if Hamilton is moving rapidly toward the future, who is going to take it there? The answer: its 1,800 students, 59 percent of whom come from public high schools and 41 percent of whom come from private high schools. Hamilton students originate in 49 U.S. states and 45 countries, and the student body is 5.4 percent international, 3.9 percent African-American, 0.9 percent Native American, 7.1 percent Asian/Pacific Islander, 4.6 percent Hispanic, and 70.4 percent Caucasian.
Basically, regardless of their backgrounds, Hamilton students have several traits in common and, as such, comprise a unique group. They tend to be fairly conservative people who highly value a strong liberal arts education and a commitment to excellence. They appreciate being seen as individuals, and not just as numbers, in a close-knit and vibrant community. And they have a wry sense of humor about, and a curious appreciation of, their rural surroundings and often less-than-favorable climate. Ultimately, they are intelligent, well-rounded people who tend to look back fondly on their time “on the Hill.”
The bottom line is this: Your Hamilton experience is what you make of it. If you intend to spend your four years shuffling to and from class with your head down, making the occasional trip to the library or dining hall, and staring forlornly out your window at the snow, you’re going to have a miserable and isolating time indeed. But if you’re willing to take some risks, join some groups, go to some parties, and really, truly engage with some professors (inside and outside of class), you’re almost bound to have a rewarding experience. You’ll grow from being an uncertain freshman to a senior who has gained some incredible friends and experiences and loves where you are.
It’s the things that weren’t expected or immediately perceived at Hamilton that were the most important to me. It’s the four-hour-long dinners in the dining halls that no one wanted to be the first to leave…the first walk in Root Glen in the spring…the sentence that your professor casually tosses over her shoulder that makes you adopt academia as your new religion…the omelet that you waited 30 minutes in line for on a Sunday morning because the Omelet God was working that day. It’s the late nights spent chatting with friends, the play you buy tickets to so you can cheer on your friend who you ran lines with for three months…I never imagined myself doing stand-up comedy, working in Admissions, or majoring in a subject that would require me to learn another language and use quantum physics, but four years on the Hill can encourage you to take some bizarre, wonderful, and relatively risk-free challenges that can change your life. —Jane Simmons ’04