by John D. Hubbard
When Katherine Wiley was in high school and people asked about her college plans she would say, "I'm applying here, here, here, here and here. And Colgate, but I don't think I'm going to Colgate."
Then in March of her senior year Katherine received an invitation to the university's April Visit Day. "The way Colgate did the acceptance process really turned me on. The other colleges seemed distant," says Katherine, who came away from her campus trip impressed with the students she met. "I felt they were intelligent people I'd like to know."
During her visit Katherine was exposed to many facets of college life, and one of the strongest impressions she carried home with her was of "good academic departments with faculty who cared about students."
Katherine decided last spring to attend Colgate, to join the Class of 2000, one of 729 first-year students who arrived in August and began the process of figuring out college and making the university their own.
Born and raised in the Adirondack village of Saranac Lake, Katherine Wiley is the daughter of educators. Her father Kenneth is a professor at North Country Community College and her mother Patricia is a librarian. Brother Casey, a high school sophomore, rounds out the family that lives, fittingly enough, on Academy Street.
"I'd rather read a book than climb a mountain," says Katherine, who, nonetheless, has climbed plenty of mountains and, especially this summer, spent a goodly amount of time on the lakes that surround Saranac.
In fact, she worked at the Lakeview Deli making sandwiches and wondering with her friends what college would be like.
"I feel as if we spent a lot of time holding on but also looking ahead," says Katherine.
The deli experience became the grist for one of Katherine's application essays in which she describes the workers as sandwich stuffing, decrying the fate of lettuce, while the bosses are the bread. She concludes, "I am thankful for my deli experience; it provided me with the ingredients I need to create my bread. And hey, at one time or another everyone should experience what it's like being a vegetable."
"It was a different sort of summer trying to balance time," says Katherine,
who wanted to be home -- the Wileys are a close family -- but also felt the tug
of friendships. Through it all she looked to mid-August and the beginning of
her Colgate experience.|
Wiley had signed up for Outdoor Education's Wilderness Adventure, and as the family headed south to campus Katherine was more focused on the canoe trip she was about to make rather than college.
The canoers actually went back north to paddle across Saranac Lake and other waters familiar to Wiley. It was a relaxed trip with plenty of time for the first-years to question the upperclass leaders about what lay in store.
"I was confident Colgate was great academically and that people were nice," says Katherine, who wondered, as many others did, what it would be like socially. With the party school tag on her mind, Katherine says, "So much of college is outside the classroom. It was a big concern of mine."
What she has discovered has been personally reassuring. "Yes, there are definitely parties but there are other options and many, many people to take part in those options. I'm more someone who likes to hang out with small groups of friends and do various things. The social life is fulfilling and growing more so. The reputation hasn't been a problem."
Once the canoe trip ended (and the adventurers showered), orientation began. Four full days were underway.
Wilderness Adventure had supplied Katherine with a cadre of friends and made the transition easier but there were even more people to meet, more names to forget and issues to discuss.
"...once a month, my father comes home with shorter hair and more than any other barber could give him, a piece of the past...
"Orientation was long and really really busy. We kept going from thing to
thing to thing so that by Sunday we were looking forward to classes." Despite
the hectic schedule, the opening days had an easiness about them. With
basically just first-years on campus it was simple to meet people and the
atmosphere was especially friendly.|
The advent of classes changed everything. Suddenly, Katherine felt overwhelmed. The work piled up with each class and the day from the previous week when she waited in line an hour to buy books seemed luxurious. "Oh my God," thought Katherine. "I'm never going to be able to do this."
Life has improved since that first, shocking week. Katherine uses the weekends to catch up when needed and even gets ahead on occasion. The load is still heavy but she has adjusted, and even smiles, faintly, at the memory of her initiation.
Family urged Katherine to explore college beyond academics, to take advantage of opportunities, to develop as a person. Katherine is conscious of maintaining a balance. "It really is a rigorous academic program. You can see yourself getting stuck in the library, but you have to take time for the fun things." Still, her classes provide the framework for her days and weeks.
For Katherine the biggest surprise of college life is "just how different
academics are from high school. My classes are so interrelated here. The
women's history course deals with a lot of feminist topics and we've just
started reading Virginia Wolff in The Challenge of Modernity. In psychology we
are discussing gender differences -- if there are differences at all -- and if
there are, how they are born. We've also been talking about the feminine
characters in Uncle Tom's Cabin. That's just one example. In high
school, as I remember, none of my classes ever overlapped."|
After classes, Katherine is "trying to spread out." She is taking introduction to ballet for physical education credit and is playing club volleyball. She takes advantage of the weekly Living Writers' readings and terms them "wonderful." She would like to work backstage in the theater.
Katherine is also contemplating writing for the Maroon-News, getting involved in the Sidekick program and volunteering for Habitat for Humanity. She is also discovering first-years sometimes have to wait their turn.
After four weeks, though, Katherine feels "very comfortable here, very settled. The month seems to have gone quickly but it's also like I've been here a long time.
"I feel I'm learning a lot in all aspects of my life. I think it's good for me to be in this contained society. Saranac Lake seems a lot bigger now though."
An Alumni Memorial Scholar, Katherine feels the added comfort of being at a college that wants her. She has a sense of Colgate's history and, while she doesn't yet feel a part of it, she is aware of it and is, she admits with a smile, "sort of proud of it.
"Thirteen men. It's nice to imagine the professors and students building the buildings and the boys from long ago studying here." She lives in East Hall, where the past is alive.
Being a college student -- even with the overload, the flood of new friends and adjusting to life without parents -- didn't really hit Katherine until an admission tour passed through her dorm. "I'm not the one applying anymore," she thought. "I'm here."
Being here has also meant looking ahead. When she does, Katherine sees a major in English, the junior year abroad, then graduation, followed by a PhD. "I'd like to be a writer some day. I hope."
The hope is underway. "Before you come to college everyone acts as if it is this totally magical place where everyone is so happy. It took me a couple of weeks. Colgate is great but it's real life, too, with good times and bad times.
"Once I realized that, I started being happier," says Katherine Wiley from the Class of 2000.