Kirkland College

Kirkland College

In 1978 Kirkland College graduated its 10th class. Per 10 years of tradition, women in white dresses were ushered to the tent by a bagpiper (Kirkland was the only college in the country with a bagpipe scholarship) , and when called, crossed a stage where an open mic offered the opportunity to any who wanted to offer their thoughts to the crowd. Kirkland women were always encouraged to offer their thoughts. Perhaps this was a prime reason this was the last Kirkland graduation.

Hamilton College, a venerable and long lived liberal arts institution was not happy with its new sister school. Hamilton had set out to build a cluster of colleges along the lines of the Claremont Colleges in California. But the economy lost steam and Kirkland was the only college to emerge from this plan. Eventually, that lost steam also ended the life of Kirkland and Hamilton became a coeducational institution absorbing the Kirkland facilities. Kirkland began as a perfect counterpoint to Hamilton. Kirkland was a women’s college, Hamilton a men’s college. Established in 1968, at the peak of social revolution, Kirkland had no grades, no exams, strong support of the arts and no formal majors – students devised concentrations culminating in a Senior Project. Hamilton education was formal, exam based and pre-professional with a large number of future lawyers, doctors and businessmen. Kirkland had no sororities, no varsity sports and a brand new concrete and primary color campus with interesting multi-functional spaces and classrooms. Hamilton had a long standing fraternity system, varsity sports (albeit, with its emphasis on education, it did not recruit and had pretty lousy teams. I believe Hamilton had not won a football game for 3 years and we were extremely proud of that. The student body of both schools participated in the Aaron Burr Lucky Shot Kazoo Band which performed at half-time) and had beautiful old stone buildings that befitted a top-notch Northeast college. Kirkland was liberal, experimental; Hamilton was conservative and traditional. Being a counterpoint is one thing but becoming an agent of change is quite another when dealing with an institution steeped in tradition. Kirkland was nothing if not an agent of change and as such quickly became a perceived threat to Hamilton. Hamilton began attracting men who wanted to attend because of Kirkland – men who sought both the prestige of Hamilton and the experimental nature of Kirkland. Hamilton had intended more of a women’s finishing school but instead of quiet, agreeable women, it graduated women of independent minds.

As different as Kirkland and Hamilton were, what Hamilton College missed was that the differences between the two schools gave College Hill dynamism. The clash of conservative and liberal pushed students to rethink their values. We were not able to rest on the comfort of our own convictions. We grew in our confrontations of and developed appreciation for each other’s ideas, backgrounds and dreams for the future.

I spent 3 years at Kirkland, having transferred there in my sophomore year. My graduation was just like the final graduation but without the tears. Our graduation was euphoric, lovely, a celebration of education, of thought, of freedom, of exploration, of spring and the gifts given us by Kirkland College.

Jean McGavin
2010
Bethlehem, CT

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