Sarasota has always been a place people came to see. Sometimes they came for a week or two; sometimes they stayed for a lifetime. The summer of 1964 brought a different class of visitors — 100 young people from across the country. Though they stayed only a few years, this place they called home changed them in ways they are still realizing today. Fifty years later, members of the first Charter Class talked about their thrilling, chaotic and defining years here, revealing a series of shared themes and the enduring effects of their New College experience.
A sense of something special
It began, as so many Florida stories do, on the beach. With the Pei dormitories still rising from the field by the airport, the inaugural class had to live off-site, and the College backers — with support from the star-struck Sarasota community — lined up an alternative, the luxury Landmark Hotel on Lido Key.
Put a hundred young, brilliant, free-thinking teenagers in a beachfront hotel and you can predict the results. During the days, students read Rachel Carson books on the sands, and at night they swam in water teeming with bioluminescent algae. They chipped golf balls from fourth-floor rooms, out through patio doors and into the swimming pool. The bland, faux-chic artwork came off the walls, sometimes never to return, and the late Bill Thurston, who would become one of the greatest American mathematicians, reprogrammed the elevator buttons to send people to the wrong floors.
The Charter Class was a melting pot of students, because Dean of Admissions Robert Norwine had employed a savvy strategy. He and his recruiters courted top students from small towns, like Fay Clayton, from a farm in central New Jersey, and Esther Barazzone – “southern West Virginia via three years in Florida,” she said.
They targeted students from Chicago, the Midwest and the West, like John Cranor, Rachel Findley, Paul Hansma and Chuck Hamilton, who were off the radar of the Ivy League schools. And they appealed to offbeat students like Inge Fryklund, known to her northern Virginia high school counselors for cutting classes to attend sessions of Congress or climb the Washington Monument.
“I characterized New College as an intellectual candy store.” –John Cranor
As they came together, talking on the beaches and in the classrooms, the teenagers realized something special was happening. They may have come from widely diverse backgrounds, but they were united in a dedication to learning.
“We were so excited to meet each other — to know there are more people like us in the world,” said Inge Fryklund. “It didn’t feel all that unusual that people would spend hours and hours in the library or in the lab, or hours and hours just talking to each other.”
Some were daunted, at first, by the intellectual level of their fellow students. “They totally intimidated me, many of them,” Barazzone said. “They were brilliant, and pretty sophisticated, compared to me.”
Clayton hadn’t heard of many of the books they discussed, let alone the philosophy they debated. And then, there was the manner of speech. “One guy would frequently say, ‘I would conjecture,’” she said. “It was very impressive for a while, until I realized he was saying, ‘I am just guessing!’”
When their classes began, the community of ideas promised in that four-part, slip-covered brochure quickly came to life.
A typical class might be a lecture on “the nature of man” or “what is beauty.” A philosophy professor might start the discussion, then hand off to — or debate with — an anthropologist. After that, maybe a historian, or a psychologist.
“They demonstrated the integrity of ideas before us, and it was so exciting to watch,” Esther Barazzone said.
“We want to resolve ourselves. I can’t say now what I will be when I’m through here. I’m here to learn to think, and that is no easy task.” –Esther Barazzone
In science and math classes, the feeling was similar. Rachel Findley had been a top math student in high school, but now, as a member of an upper-level group lead by Prof. Bill Smith, felt challenged . “I felt like I’d been given the key to something I didn’t know about,” Findley said. “It was different, and I couldn’t even conceive of how different it was.”
Paul Hansma was one of just a few physics students. Classes were in a discussion format, and students had to present their solutions on the chalkboard — a method teachers employ today at University of California — Santa Barbara, where he has taught for 39 years. “It’s a good way to teach physics and to teach students to think on their feet,” he said. “And it kind of embarrasses you into doing your homework, so you’re on your toes.”
Renowned British historian Arnold Toynsbee was a visiting professor for the year. That was a major draw for John Cranor, at the time a history student, — but New College enticed him to study other fields as well.
“I characterized New College as an intellectual candy store,” he said. Cranor took a class in microbiology, out of pure curiosity, then one in art history and returned for three more, practically enough for an art history minor.
Chuck Hamilton found the faculty’s unorthodox, in-depth style immensely appealing. “The opportunity to take one book and spend four weeks on it was a real gift,” he said.
In all, it was the right environment for a collection of students who knew their capabilities but not what they wanted to do. As a young Barazzone told a local newspaper reporter when classes began:
“We are trying to see what we are and what we think. We are searching, we are flexible. We want to resolve ourselves. I can’t say now what I will be when I’m through here. I’m here to learn to think, and that is no easy task.”
The Commitment to Learning
As John Gustad, the College’s first dean, laid out in his guiding principles: “Each student is responsible, in the last analysis, for his own education.” The contract was the tangible expression of that principle. For fifty years now, students and their advisors have been negotiating that document — a plan each semester for courses to take and personal goals to meet.
It was the vehicle by which someone like Fryklund could explore her curiosity. Her area of concentration was experimental psychology and anthropology, but she also took Russian all three years. (New College’s initial curriculum was designed for students to complete their degrees in three longer academic years.)
“We kind of made it up as went along,” Fryklund said. “It was a great opportunity to explore whatever looked interesting.”
Hansma, too, took initiative in his education. When he came to New College, he brought with him a Van de Graaff generator and an accelerator tube he had built at home in Denver. On campus, he built another accelerator tube and a vacuum tube to use with it.
Chuck Hamilton was finding a guide in Laszlo Deme, an esteemed history professor and refugee from Hungary. “He was interesting and intellectually curious. He helped me develop,” Hamilton said. “He thought some of the stuff I came up with was off the wall—but it didn’t matter. I was developing a way of thinking.”
As their New College careers progressed, Barazzone and Clayton were no longer intimidated by colleagues or professors; Barazzone had taken to regularly challenging a few of them. And Clayton, advised by psychology professor David Gorfein, had launched an unusual and offbeat experiment for her thesis: To study nipple preference among kittens, she raised a litter of in her dorm room.
To look at dominance among kittens, she adopted a pregnant cat from a shelter, and then divided the resulting litter between the mother and a surrogate she built from materials including a heating pad, a clock (to replicate a heartbeat) and baby bottles.
The surrogate, perhaps predictably, didn’t work well, so Clayton had to set an alarm and get up every two hours for feeding — which her roommate Anna Navarro dutifully tolerated. “Anna is a saint!” Clayton said.
Rachel Findley and Bill Thurston, perhaps crossing paths with McClain, were in the library’s mathematics section, where they read night after night. Findley, who would marry Thurston in a few years, said that kind of independent work was crucial to his development as a mathematician.
“He was figuring it out on his own,” she said. “It gave him a unique way of looking at math that made a big difference when got to grad school. He already had a sense that he could figure things out.
“He developed a confidence, the ability to visualize things that he might not have gotten a program like MIT’s. In advanced math classes, it would have been given to him instead of him going out and getting it. He had to figure out how to learn it and see it on his own.”
As Thurston wrote, in his widely noted 1994 journal article “On Proof and Progress in Mathematics”:
My mathematical education was rather independent and idiosyncratic, where for a number of years I learned things on my own, developing personal mental models for how to think about mathematics. This has often been a big advantage for me in thinking about mathematics.
The Confidence to Leap
During the third year, Paul Goodman, a writer and intellectual opposed to the Vietnam War, came to campus to speak. Goodman instead read his poetry, leaving most of the students disappointed, even irate. Chuck Hamilton was an exception.
Leap forward seven years. Hamilton was in New York City. With no experience or training, he launched a publishing company. Among many other titles, he published three volumes of Goodman’s work, landing a review on the cover of the New York Times Book Review.
The lesson, Hamilton said, is that at New College, he and his friends developed an “entrepreneurial view of the world.” He could have gone the conventional route, he said, getting a job at a publishing company and trying to learn the business. But that might have put him a decades-long career treadmill, and he would never have published the Goodman books.
“Instead, I just did, and kept on going,” he said. “You need to get out there, take some conscious and considered risks, and take responsibility.”
Around the same time, John Cranor seemed to have it all figured out. After New College, he attended Harvard Business School. After a stint in the Army, he landed in the management track at the consumer giant General Foods.
Then he got a call from a corporate headhunter, asking if he’d consider a job with a Midwestern firm that made and sold ice scrapers. Its annual sales: $2.5 million, a fraction of General Mills’ total.
He said yes, doubled sales in a year and positioned himself for his next job. At PepsiCo, he rose to chief executive officer of its subsidiary, the KFC restaurant chain.
Esther Barazzone, too, was breaking from what seemed like her path. Guided by two professors, George Mayer and Gresham Riley, she marched through her courses in philosophy and history, which made up her self-designed major in intellectual history. She was looking at graduate programs when they took her aside, she recalled, and essentially said, “You’ve come a long way, but you have a good deal farther to go. We think that you’d be helped by a Fulbright, an international experience before graduate school.”
So, she went on a Fulbright to Spain. That too changed her perspectives. She was planning on attending University of Pennsylvania on a full scholarship in American Studies and instead shifted to Columbia for European intellectual history.
When she taught her first class at Hamilton College, she threw out the chronological template and taught it as a discussion of ideas and concepts, just as she had been taught at New College.
A Commitment to Justice
New College was born in the 1960s. It was not so much a child of its times but of its students, who brought the generation’s belief in equality and justice with them to south Florida. But many Charter Class members, drawn from the more tranquil Midwest, had no experience with the issues of the times.
That changed for John Cranor on his bus trip from Kansas to New College.
“Here’s where my New College education began,” he said. “At 2 a.m. in a bus station in Tupelo, Mississippi. I got off the bus, go in, and see two things I’d never seen before. There were three restrooms, labeled ‘men,’ ‘women’ and ‘colored,’ and two drinking fountains, labeled ‘white’ and ‘colored.’”
Later, as they rolled across the middle of nowhere in Alabama, the bus stopped. A black woman stepped into the entry well of the bus, the doors closed and she stood there as the bus drove on.
Later the driver told Cranor that if the company knew, there’d be trouble, but they had an informal arrangement with the black community. If people waited at certain stops, the buses would pick them up and take them into town for a quarter.
For a kid who grew up in Kansas, it was an “eye-opening” experience. “And I never would have had it unless I went to New College,” he said.
“You need to get out there, take some conscious and considered risks, and take responsibility.” –Chuck Hamilton
The experience stayed with him. Decades later, PepsiCo told its division presidents the company would donate $1 million to the colleges of their choice, on their behalf. Cranor, consulting with New College about its needs, agreed that some of the money would go to the completion of the arts center. The rest, he requested, would fund a scholarship program for African-American students.
Rachel Findley, too, felt sheltered from the racial division. Growing up in Illinois, she was unsure what she would find in Florida. “I was a little nervous about going south of the Mason-Dixon line,” she said. “I was already an advocate for civil rights and I was a little anxious.”
She was soon comforted by the southerners she met. “Even though they had southern accents, they had pretty reasonable points of view.”
Many, in fact, shared her passion for activism. In spring 1965, she and classmates Sarah Dean and Gordon Jarrell went to Alabama for a civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery.
After organizers’ plans unraveled, they joined a group of Tuskegee University students in front of the state capital. They ended up trapped, with a line of white counter-protesters on one side and state troopers on the other. When violence seemed imminent, city police swept in and arrested Findley and the other protesters.
Charter Class members’ commitment to equality took different forms. Fay Clayton tutored black students who pioneers in the newly integrated Sarasota schools. (She and friends also took more subversive action, painting over the “white” and “colored” signs on gas station restrooms.
Ray McClain, after transferring from New College, became an attorney and handled civil rights, labor and public interest cases in South Carolina. Chuck Hamilton, before starting his publishing company, taught in public schools in what was called Spanish Harlem.
Hamilton and his classmates would keep improving their world, transforming themselves time after time, as the world saw fit.
Esther Barazzone eventually found out what she would be. The first-year from a small town became the president of a college, Chatham University, in 1992. Over those two decades, she led major changes, including the addition of graduate programs, the development of the first net carbon-zero campus in the world, and the creation of an award-winning program in international education.
Recently, she directed another fundamental reinvention of the college. Chatham, a women’s college in its undergraduate program for 145 years, will admit men starting in 2015.
Chatham had a rich history, but despite the expanded academic programs, it faced declining undergraduate enrollment (even as the graduate programs quadrupled overall enrollment) as demand for single-sex education fell. Barazzone relied on a guiding principle based on what she learned in her Charter Class years: “What if this institution didn’t exist, but the raw materials did?”
“At New College you really learned to problem-solve, to not be guided by the way things were in the past,” she said. “The way I’ve led change was to never be guided primarily by tradition. It would always reassert itself, so focus on trying to find the best idea to move forward.”
Her classmates, too, refused to be guided by their past. Even as he continued to write on his favorite topic, the history of anarchy movements in America, Chuck Hamilton went on to get a master’s degree in business administration.
From there, he worked as executive director of the J.M. Kaplan Fund and the Clark Foundation, then retired to work as a philanthropic consultant. Then he learned that Bessemer Trust, a privately held wealth manager, needed someone to reinvigorate its philanthropic advisory division. Hamilton responded, and insisted that he would only work half-time. He got the job.
“There’s something about the New College experience, in terms of being independent, being on our own but not being kowtowed to, that has given me a subtle internal confidence in myself,” he said.
Fay Clayton became a mother shortly after graduation, then a Montessori teacher in Chicago. She went to law school at night, and graduated first in her class., She worked for several law firms before joining friends and forming their own boutique firm, Robinson, Curley & Clayton. In one case, she worked with a young Chicago attorney named Barack Obama.
At New College, she said, psychology was a hard science, and it made her into “a scientist of sorts,” and that serves her well now. “As a lawyer, it helps me separate the ‘BS’ from the facts,” she said, laughing. More seriously, she said, it gave her the tools to attack problems – “and if that didn’t work, how to change gears.”
Teaching for 39 years at one college sounds at first like the epitome of stability, but Hansma’s career has been anything but.
He began his career in the field of low-temperature physics and superconductivity, but switched to surface physics, and then to the development of scanning tunneling microscopes.
But his most notable work may be in the discovery of the importance of a protein in bones that prevents fractures, and the development of a device that measures that protein. A Mayo Clinic study used the device in a study of fractures in diabetes patients. He now works part-time for the University and a company producing the device and other instruments.
“Relative to other people — I know in physics,” he said, ‘I do have a certain fearlessness about research, which is a little surprising, because I do tend to fear.”
Hansma then apologized for keeping his conversation short, because he needed to complete a project on a brain-computer interface system.
And when Nimbus reached Inge Fryklund, she was hastily packing a bag and trying to keep the weight down. She was flying to Afghanistan the next morning.
Serving as an election observer for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe was just the latest iteration in a career of finding ways to make things work better. She married a classmate, Ray Bennett, just before graduation, and completed her doctorate in psychology by age 26.
“The way I’ve led change was to never be guided primarily by tradition. It would always reassert itself, so focus on trying to find the best idea to move forward.” –Esther Barazzon
She left a major law firm that wouldn’t accept her being both a mother and an attorney, and worked for the Cook County State’s Attorney as a prosecutor. In her last case as a practicing attorney, Holland v. Illinois (1989), she argued before the U.S. Supreme Court, and won. She took questions from her former law professor, Justice Antonin Scalia.
While working for Cook County, she would regularly pester her boss, State’s Attorney Richard M. Daley, with memos about how certain systems would run better. Daley would tell her to go ahead, she recalled, and when he was elected mayor of Chicago, he drafted her to serve as the city’s parking administrator. Then, as a consultant, she helped the Chicago Election Commission develop a computerized signature comparison system to comply with the Motor Voter Act.
All of her jobs have been “to figure out logically how something is supposed to work, and why isn’t it,” she said. “I lose interest when something is working well.”
That led to her work for overseas. It began in 2001, when her sister was unable to go on an election observer mission to Kosovo. Fryklund called the State Department, which, said it was desperate and would send her if she could send her resume within an hour. A week later she was in Kosovo.
Since then, she has worked in Tajikistan, in Iraq with the U.S. Agency for International Development, and in Afghanistan with USAID, the United Nations, U.S. Army and the U.S. Marine Corps for roughly five of the last 10 years. She has worked with the Afghan court system and the mayor of Kandahar and as an adviser to the military on Afghan legal and governance issues.
So if she suffers from jet lag, she knows where to place the blame. “New College has given me a willingness to go and do whatever is looking interesting at the moment, and not worrying about how it works out.”