When Jackie Moore ’05, executive director of institutional advancement, asked me to help read and edit the stories collected for Northland’s oral history book, I had no idea how many great memories they would trigger. So many of us have similar stories of finding “home” at Northland, a purpose in life, and lifelong friends. As I read story after story, I found myself connected to Northanders past and present. I wove some of the quotes that stood out to me with my own memories, and I hope they bring you back to your own days at Northland.
“I went to a very large high school. My graduating class was over five hundred students, so I was just a number. I wanted a more personable college experience.”
—Karen Jean Smart Shatney ’71
I also went to a large high school (four thousand students!), but this was after going to a tiny Catholic kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school with a core group of forty kids. It was terrifying. And I found out pretty quickly that I preferred a smaller learning environment. In high school, I felt like I kind of blended in with the proverbial woodwork, just one of many. I still had the outlet of Girl Scouts, though, a community I could feel at home in and one that continued to foster my love of the natural world. Girl Scouts taught me how to co-exist in nature; high school taught me I wouldn’t thrive in a large college environment. I was also desperate to get away (far away!) from home, and Northland came calling. Literally.
After I took my SAT and expressed an interest in studying forestry, I got a postcard from Northland. Soon after, I began receiving calls from Northland students, who answered all my questions. I didn’t have the money to visit campus in advance, so in August 1990, I packed my huge suitcase, sent boxes in advance of my arrival, and lugged a backpack, boombox, and my pillow onto a plane, excited to get to Ashland and begin my college adventure.
“I was definitely excited because we started [with] the Outdoor Orientation program and were able to meet people on backpacking trips before we started classes, and that was really cool.”
—Michael Sinclair ’16
I signed up for Outdoor Orientation (OO), too. Flying into Minneapolis, I was amazed at how green it was. And driving north into Duluth, coming around the hill and seeing Lake Superior for the first time? The beauty stunned me. It still does.
On my OO trip, I met others who were just as in love with the natural world as me, kids who wanted to talk about current events and protest what was wrong with the world. I chose to take the combination backpacking/kayaking/rock climbing trip because I wanted to try EVERYTHING. We did a midnight paddle on Lake 3, and I found myself alone, paddling for shore with a sky full of stars. I thought to myself, I should be scared, but I felt such peace—I knew I was right where I needed to be.
When I got to Memorial Hall, I met my roommate, Maureen Parks ’94, for the first time. We had exchanged letters before we arrived, so she knew I had a dual-cassette deck boombox, and I knew we liked the same music (Sting, the Smithereens, Peter Gabriel). Her mom was there and immediately became my adopted mom.
“Northland made me conscious of my role in the environment.”
—Patricia Bosma ’60
I had planned on being a forestry major, but was quickly reminded that college algebra and chemistry were not my strong suits. I could write a well-thought-out essay, though! Michele Small, who taught my freshman composition course, spoke to me one afternoon when I had come to her for advice. “Why not be an English major?,” she asked. And I thought, “Why not?” I loved reading and writing. I was writing for Drifts, sending poems to Mosaic, and planning to take a literature course for my humanities credit. The pieces all started to fit.
Being an English major didn’t mean I didn’t get immersed in the environment. Classes like Third World Literature required us to think critically about what colonialism has done to the people and land in other countries. Environmental Essay Writing asked us to take issues and think of solutions. A futurism course showed us the possibilities of what could happen to our world with technology and science leading the way.
“At any other school I would have been a fish out of water, but I fit right in at Northland.”
—Anders Gurda ’07
During my four years at Northland, I became myself. Instead of cliques of jocks, geeks, or rich kids, we were all a little weird, fun, and open. We knew each other, what our interests were, and we held each other up. We partied at off-campus houses, studied in the basement of the library, worked, ate, and learned together. Together, we mourned our classmates Bradley Poore, Daniel Hallberg, Elise Ketelaar, and Scott Brady when they died in an accident returning from a Grateful Dead concert in Chicago in 1994, just months before graduation. We were a family. And, throughout our lives, we’ve remained a family.
“Northland was a special place where humans loved each other.”
—Melissa Marron ’11
I went on to graduate school and became a writing professor. I teach my students about climate change, feminism, systemic issues, and racism. I challenge them to do what they can to make the world a better place. I don’t teach at Northland, but I carry it with me. And my students are better for it.