by Alan Dee ’70
The familiar old bromide has it that "You can't go home again," but I just did. For the first time in more than 20 years and only the second time since I was graduated more than 40 years ago, I went back to Kalamazoo College. In one intense 14-hour day I was able to tour the campus and meet with professors, administrators, and students. I found that I could go back home again. It was very familiar, but, like me, it has changed and evolved. Hopefully my evolution over the years has been as positive and downright inspirational as the College's.
My visit had its roots in an alumni gathering I attended a few months ago in my new hometown of Sarasota, Florida. After peppering President Eileen Wilson-Oyelaran and representatives from the Alumni Relations and College Advancement offices with questions, and taking far more than my share of the discussion time, they finally urged me to schedule a visit and see for myself. That's just what I did.
What did I find?
First, the physical plant was different in two ways. There are new buildings, most notably the Dow Science Building, and some of the older buildings (that were new in my era!) have been remodeled extensively. A common theme seems to run through them; they clearly have been designed to facilitate and encourage interactions among students, faculty and others, even alumni from 40 years ago who have returned to campus.
Hicks Hall, which incorporates the dining room, bookstore, facilities for student organizations, lounges, and a coffee bar, appears to be the center of student life, and deservedly so. It is open, airy, light, comfortable, and an ideal spot to get away from the pressures of academic life.
Upjohn Library also has had a major facelift and now features a light and open reading room, a coffee bar, and small lounge areas for students to take a break from studying.
The second aspect of the physical plant that I noticed immediately is that everything is very nice, welcoming, comfortable, clean and well-maintained. The down-at-the-heels aura of my day seems to be a thing of the past.
There remains a need for further improvements. The athletic areas seem to have been forgotten over the past few decades, but, all in all, it was good to see the physical plant of the College in a very good, comfortable condition. I’m told that the athletic complex at Angell Field will soon undergo a big renovation.
If the physical plant was good and interesting to see, the students I met blew me away. They all were quite smart and very industrious. That was good to see, but it wasn't a surprise. What was truly inspiring about them and what gives me great hope for the future of the College were what they already have accomplished, what they are planning for the future, and their personal values.
One self-effacing young man who was self-confident but quiet in his demeanor talked at length about his study abroad in China. One way or another he wants Asia to be a focal point in his life. When I asked what languages he speaks, he responded matter-of-factly Mandarin, Japanese, American Sign Language, and Spanish, in addition to his native English. He also told me how he has volunteered as an interpreter for the past six years in several of the five languages he speaks.
Another young man is a Spanish major and wants to teach in Spain, but also speaks Japanese and studied abroad in Japan. A third, a foreign student who had never been in the U.S. before enrolling at "K," wants to intern at an NGO in India this summer.
Perhaps most gratifying of all was the open-mindedness of the students and the diversity evident (but, perhaps not evident
"Like me, it has changed and evolved."enough) throughout the campus. Students of several races and colors seemed to be intermingling quite naturally and apparently oblivious to any differences among them. Diversity wasn't limited to color. Men and women were quite comfortable with each other, and I was told that Kaleidoscope, the organization for LGBT students, is one of the most popular on campus. Its popularity extends to all segments of the student community. In fact, a young man who is on the championship swimming team couldn't stop talking about Crystal Ball, a dance put on by Kaleidoscope and open to the entire campus, in which both men and women come in drag. It turns out that Crystal Ball is the second most popular campus social event of the entire year. Now that's open-mindedness!
Bottom line: I hope I have grown and developed in positive ways in the 40 years since I was graduated and in the 20 years since I last visited Kalamazoo College. It clearly has.
Alan Dee ’70 was an economics major who completed his study abroad in Caen, France. As a Chrysler International Scholar, he did his Career Service in London, and he also studied in Yugoslavia in his junior year. Alan received a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Michigan. He immediately moved to New York City. He and his partner, Frank, lived there until recently when they moved to Sarasota, Florida.
During his visit to campus, Alan attended the College’s spring quarter Professional Development Institute (PDI), an event held twice a year that helps students interact with alumni and prepare for “Life after K.” If you’d like to attend the fall 2011 (Oct. 20-21) or spring 2012 (April 12) PDI, please contact Amy Auer (email@example.com) in the Kalamazoo College Center for Career and Professional Development.