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"Aha" Moments

We’ve all had one of those “aha” moments – an instant when everything comes into focus and a voice within us says, “This is what this all means to me.”  We asked a representative selection of alumni, faculty and students to describe their Laurentian “aha” moment, or, if they so chose, moments. The theme of President Fox’s inauguration last fall was “Celebrating the Authentic St. Lawrence Experience”; for Laurentians, these moments define that authenticity.

Stretching Beyond Comfort
Although I’m more at ease in my behind-the-scenes support role here at SLU, my most memorable times are when I stretched beyond my comfortable niche.

*One summer when the director of the Adirondack Conference at Canaras fell suddenly ill, I had to step in and run the conference. 

*While waiting in the wings to go on stage at Gulick Theatre with my fellow ballet students, I remember asking myself, “Why on earth did I agree to do this??”  Later, during that same performance, I was able to reassure a panicking student just before she made her entrance. In the end it was a transformative experience. 

*Many years ago, before he was so well known, the environmental writer Wendell Berry visited SLU.  In a small classroom, he read his poetry to a mix of folks – students, professors, local community members folks – while we listened, transfixed. It was thrilling to be able to hear a favorite writer read his work in such an intimate setting.

Reflecting on these special moments, I realize that what made them so noteworthy was that we shared a common meaningful experience, shedding the usual divisions of title, hierarchy, age and so on. We were brought together as human beings.              
-- Nancy Alessi

Nancy Alessi has been employed by St. Lawrence for 26 years, currently as administrative secretary in environmental studies and Canadian studies.

Living the Dream
My feelings for St. Lawrence developed over a lifetime of living the St. Lawrence dream.  My "love affair" started almost 60 years ago, when at age 10 I visited my brother Doug ’54 and spent a winter weekend attending classes, hockey games and noisy nights at the Beta house.  I couldn't wait for the next eight years to pass so I also could become a "Larry."

Life on campus far exceeded my expectations.  Being in the North Country seemed to create a special bond that my friends in more urban colleges did not experience.  Even the rough winters gave all of us something in common to talk about.  The professors and staff cared about me as an individual, not just a number who was taught by teaching assistants.  St. Lawrence seemed to be interested in all of my "ports of life," giving me the opportunity to grow toward what lay ahead after graduation. 

My time on the Alumni Council has allowed me to share this lifetime relationship with more and more alums.  As I sat in Gunnison Memorial Chapel last October during the inauguration of President Fox, my mind flashed back over 60 years to all that St. Lawrence has given me and how proud I am of my alma mater.
-- Jim Blanchard ’62

Alumni Council member Jim Blanchard lives in retirement in Madison, Wis., after a career as a business executive.

The Mad Monks of Abbott Hall
A Stanford friend recently asked me why I went to a Catholic college. It took me a while but I got him rearranged about what and where St. Lawrence is. His knowledge of the East about matched mine of the West. I said that my largest "draw" toward St Lawrence was that my brother was an assistant professor of physics.

We talked about surviving the first days of college. He came from Palo Alto; Stanford was well known to him, whereas St. Lawrence was new to me, a Bostonian. I moved into Abbott Hall in what was then called the Men’s Dorm (today’s Sykes Residence) and met about a dozen guys who became the Mad Monks of Abbott Hall.  Their names are still engraved on my mind: my classmates Johnny Lamphear, Joe Norton, Hank Case, Jim Woods, "Phylum" Flemma, Jack Flynn, Bill Millard, Larry O'Toole, Mike Danyla. My brother, Sherwood, had a suite on that hall and became our keeper/advisor/argument-settler. My Stanford friend had lived at home, so I explained what college was all about.

A task in freshman English in fall 1936 was to write, "Who Am I and Why Did I Come to St. Lawrence? "That does make one think. For education? For sports? For the other sex? All three? It wasn't for the climate! I told my friend that I found my wife there and he asked me if she was the one I have now. I replied that she certainly is and that surprised a true Californian.

Our conversation really took me back and once again I remembered what a positive, life- enhancing experience it was to be a student at St Lawrence University.
-- Mark Brown ’40

Class reporter and retired pilot and meteorologist “Barney” Brown and the wife he still has, Bea Fairchild Brown ’39, live in Greenbrae, Cal.

Great Faculty, Great Friends
I doubt I could have survived my first year in college if it had not had been for great faculty and great friends.

My First-Year Program advisor, one of my two FYP professors, was wonderful.  Every time I stopped by her office or sent her an e-mail about some concern or other, she managed to diffuse my worries. I remember my first meeting with her – I was all worked up about what I should be doing to be ready for post-college. She listened patiently. After I had finished, she not only calmed me down, but also helped me map out possibilities that I could pursue over the next few years.

My friends also played a huge role in keeping me grounded. My biggest fear in coming to St. Lawrence was whether I would be able to get along well. Two things fed this: sometimes it's difficult to find people who have interests similar to mine; and I was assigned a single, so I was nervous about lacking a roommate.

It took a couple of weeks, but I started to find people who I meshed really well with, because St. Lawrence draws in such an eclectic array of students. My best friend was a guy down the hall who had a single too. We were both night owls, so a lot of our best conversations happened at 3 a.m. If my door was open, he’d wander in and we'd play Mario Kart and start tossing around ideas. The SLU environment removed the handicaps to letting a great friendship develop. 
-- Johnny Chestnut '11

Johnny Chestnut, of Binghamton, N.Y., is a French major and education minor. This essay is adapted from a longer one he wrote for StudentScope, an admissions office publication, last fall.

The Zen of Broomball
One early morning in December during my first semester at SLU, I awoke to the vision of my car completely encased in a shell of frozen rain, like a perfectly dipped candy apple.  It was as beautiful as it was annoying. It was also the first time it really hit me that my job had landed me in an unusual climate.

Environments have a way of selecting and promoting among their inhabitants certain manners of thinking and acting. Mix a challenging landscape with a pinch of isolation and you have the perfect recipe for a unique culture. Unlike most other institutions, we view broomball as a legitimate extracurricular activity and the yurt as a choice piece of housing.

Glancing out my office window I see my colleague rolling into the parking lot in her pick-up truck, snowplow and all. I doubt you’ll see that type of down-to-earth practicality among the faculty at Harvard.

For me, the finest of SLU’s winter-related culture can be found at Appleton Arena. The satisfaction of seeing all the youngsters, students, faculty, staff and local townsfolk together a frigid North Country night is exceeded only by hearing them roar in unison when a puck finds its way past the opposing team’s goalie, especially when that goalie is dressed in repulsive green and yellow. Go Saints! 
-- Bill DeCoteau

Assistant Professor of Psychology Bill DeCoteau’s icy first semester at St. Lawrence was fall 2005.

Common Cause
The annual North Country Symposium ( hosted on campus is a forum to convene stakeholders in northern New York to explore and ultimately enhance the region's economic, environmental and educational vitality.  I’m privileged to coordinate this program. 

At one of my first symposia, I took stock of what was happening: Over 150 people, from all walks of life and all parts of the region, listened to reports on compelling activities in our area, heard a keynote speaker with international esteem for his knowledge of rural development, and networked with each other to come up with new ideas.  An organic farmer in Carhart jeans may have sat next to the vice president of sales of a large commercial business, decked out in a fine wool suit.  An economic developer worked through energy issues with the director of a non-profit service organization.  And when a man came in with informational material for an event in Ogdensburg celebrating its role in the French and Indian War, and I saw that he was dressed in full period costume, I grinned and said to Education Professor Jim Shuman, “Man, this is great!”

That moment reflected for me a dimension of St. Lawrence that some perhaps don’t get to see.  In addition to providing a strong liberal arts experience for incredible students, St. Lawrence also works hard to bring strength to its home town and region.  It has a symbiotic relationship with a unique community stretching from the St. Lawrence River to the Adirondack Mountains, and it’s great fun to bring the people of this community together in common cause.
-- Ben Dixon

Ben Dixon is St. Lawrence’s coordinator of regional development and sustainability.

Love and Pain
In the spring of my junior year, 1964, Brian “Jinx” Doyle ’65, a very popular member of the hockey team, was killed in a freak accident while training on a trampoline.  He was to be my roommate at the ATO house the next year. The entire St. Lawrence community was in shock and mourning.\

All of our fraternity brothers joined several hundred students, facility, coaches, staff and Canton citizens at the funeral in Hingham, Mass.  Standing in front of the church after the service with the community of St. Lawrence people was one of the most unforgettable experiences of my life.  The sharing of the love -- and pain -- was overwhelming. 

That experience taught me how much you need the support of a community of friends to help deal with the grief and suffering from such a tragedy.  St. Lawrence is special because it has created an environment in which students, faculty and alumni can become a community of life-long friends.
-- Kent Fuller ’65

Alumni Council member Kent Fuller is an investment advisor in Lake Forest, Ill.; he has been active in Reunion planning and fund-raising.

Love at First Bite                                                                                          
You've heard of love at first sight. How about love at first bite?

St. Lawrence is the place where I met and fell in love with my wife, and also an irresistible treat known simply as the Pub Cookie.

You remember it. Soft. Sweet. Bursting with chunks of dark chocolate. A baker's triumph. It was with me through college, and, more recently, on a trip through the Adirondacks.

Kath and I and our two little ones road-tripped to Canton last fall with Jim and Wendy Muschett, both '93, and their two children for a mini-reunion. The kids drew annoyed stares in ODY while they climbed the Tree Houses; the adults marveled at how much the campus had changed in the 16 (gulp!) years since we left. We saw two great hockey games, grabbed pizza rolls downtown, fed peppermint candies to the horses at the riding stables and dropped too much money at the bookstore.

My highlight?

A reunion with the Pub Cookie, of course.

It tasted better than I remembered. My son liked it, too. He wore chocolate on his face for longer than he should have before his embarrassed mother realized it and cleaned him up. The same woman and her dear friend left the hockey game early to search for more cookies, bless their hearts. They scoured the campus, and in a moment of sheer delight each found 10 to take home.

At this writing we're down to eight. We scarfed one down on the ride back, and a second went to another SLU grad and friend. The others are in the freezer. Or so Kath thinks.
-- Chris Gardner ’93

Class Reporter Chris Gardner is a bureau chief and news editor with the American-Republican newspaper in Waterbury, Conn. “Kath” is Kathleen Thiesen Gardner ’92.

A Place Where Things Happen
During my first few moments at St. Lawrence, I immediately had the sense that St. Lawrence was a place where things could happen. As someone whose attention is easily captured, I was always looking ahead to see the next opportunity, as there were (and still are) many. In doing so I decided that I wanted SLU to be the catalyst for me to learn in an international setting. I made the decision to study in India.
It would be extreme for me to say that I would not have had this opportunity otherwise, yet it is because of my initial sentiment that I am writing these thoughts from the subcontinent of India.  St. Lawrence is a place where things happen. That’s what comes to mind when I think of St. Lawrence: a setting in which to make possible that which would otherwise be much harder.  It was in the moment when I opened my acceptance letter to the India Program that I knew that potentially, through St. Lawrence, anything really is possible.
-- Fernando T. Gomez ’11

Fernando Gomez, of the Bronx, N.Y., prepared for his India semester with a NcNair Fellowship research project on British colonial architecture in India. His semester there was further supported by a Tanner Fellowship.

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