The Colgate Scene
July 2001
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A million places to go

by John D. Hubbard

Katie Schmidt is greeted by co-salutatorians Vladimira Mircheva, left, and Christine Bave.
Katie Schmidt is excited and it is only partially because she learned in the middle of Senior Week that she is number one in the Class of 2001.

     The valedictorian is pretty sure there is an adventure in her future somewhere, and while she has no plans beyond waitressing this summer in Portsmouth, NH, near her home, she is eager to apply her (boundless) energies and (considerable) talents to the uncertainties that await her.

     "It's all a shock right now, coming back from Hilton Head," says Schmidt, freshly returned from the traditional post-finals road trip.

     Schmidt, who created her own major -- "It had to be under the rubric of social sciences but it's really philosophy and cultural studies" -- graduated with a 4.07 grade point average over her four years. The customized concentration grew out of Schmidt's wide-ranging interests and research she first did in London with Professor of Political Science Joe Wagner.

     "I ended up doing research on obscure philosophers in the back of a British bookstore. Professor Wagner and I were talking about my interests and I wanted to challenge myself and feel I was leaving having done all that I wanted."

     That meant taking four philosophy courses this year, still minoring in English and working tirelessly on various studio art projects.

     "I've taken the most advantage I can of the liberal arts experience," says Schmidt. "My parents and friends think I'm just a little crazy."

     Maybe it's just the inexhaustible spirit, buoyed by a hint of manic tenacity. Consider, for instance, a recent photography project. Schmidt's "96 sculptures made from kitchen utensils between 8:15 and 9:15 a.m." was a testament to the creative process.

     "The assignment was to create a series that says something about yourself and how you look at the world. It turned into this obsessive compulsive project. When I set myself a task, I follow through. No matter how hard, it gets done. I have this inhuman capacity to concentrate."

     Schmidt hardly sees herself as a library-bound grind, however, and her CV supports that self-assessment. Katie has been a Link for three years, following her desire to develop leadership skills and be "directly involved in student life." She sees being a Link as her "entrée into other activities" and feels being in charge of 20 first-years "whips you into shape pretty quickly."

     Volunteerism extended beyond campus, too. Schmidt was a ballroom dance teaching assistant that connects to her helping establish, with Will Robinson '01, Friends of Madison Lane. Katie helped recruit students to visit the senior citizen apartment complex in the village where everyone played bingo for bananas once a week.

     It was there Schmidt met Hank Von Mechow, who teaches dance at Colgate and in Hamilton.

     "It's been really exciting because I didn't know how to dance before. I would have to learn all the Latin moves on the sly before the big group arrived."

     Topping the list of extracurricular activities has been Schmidt's rejuvenation of Active Arts. She helped curate two large exhibitions that entailed coming up with the concepts for the shows and finding the artists to create work along the themes.

     "I'm very interested in how text alters a work." To explore that curiosity, Schmidt conceived of a show of portraits with direct address statements on Velcro, such as "I'm afraid of aliens," "I have a Ph.D." and "You lie about being a vegetarian." Attendees were able to re-label the work and, through their interaction, recreate the show.

     "Art and creative work is where I belong. I can use everything I've learned to inform the work I do," says Schmidt, whose opinion was solidified by the process of applying for a Rhodes Scholarship.

     Schmidt filled out applications, wrote her proposal and "got wrapped up in the whole idea of creating this narrative about yourself and trying to convince strangers what you want to do."

     Her state-level interview was a home run, but the grilling at the regional was another story.

     "They just killed me. I hated having to justify myself in front of people who were grilling me."

     Not winning has been liberating and allowed Schmidt to exercise her imagination while having time to enjoy the people -- her professors and friends -- who have come to mean so much to her.

     "I'm a driven person, but I don't have any place to go right now," says Katie Schmidt, who then reflects on all that has happened during her remarkable career at the place that felt like hers from the very beginning -- and she twinkles with possibility.

     "I guess I have a million places to go."

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