In May of 2003, I graduated from UMass Amherst with a degree in history. Since that time, I have often thought of Amherst and longed to return. For this reason, I jumped at the chance when asked to attend a history department student-alumni dinner. This April I returned to UMass after my nearly 16-year absence.
To provide a little background, I was born and raised in Central Wyoming and, at the age of 22, I set out on a journey to the unknown. I had never been past the Mississippi River when I packed all my things—and loaded up my young family—into a U-Haul truck and drove the 2,000 miles east to Amherst. I have so many fond memories of being in Western Massachusetts—it is a place where I grew intellectually and into adulthood. Amherst was a wonderful place for me to call “home” for a few years as part of my young life.
This April, after the passage of so much time, I was anxious, and a bit nervous, as I made my way up I-91 from Hartford to Amherst. Driving into town, I took a tour down memory lane. I went by the apartments in South Amherst that I lived in as a student. I went to the park where my young daughter would play. I drove through the Hampshire College campus, which my younger brother briefly attended. And I made my way to the campus where I’d spent most my time while living in Amherst. Parts of the campus were the same as they had been when I was a student. I made the trip up to the W.E.B. DuBois library stacks where I’d spent countless hours studying. It looked unchanged. Other parts of the campus were hardly recognizable. The campus has grown and expanded substantially in the past 15 years.
As for the most important part of my visit, I was privileged to meet current history students and discuss with them their plans, goals, and dreams. What an impressive group of young people! I was struck by their personal stories. Many had overcome substantial obstacles to get to, and excel, at UMass. I was impressed with their character and drive.
In addition to the students, I was privileged enough to get to visit with some of my favorite professors when returning. It was heartening to see that the thoughtful, dedicated, and engaged professors are still shaping the way the young UMass graduates will think about and approach the problems we face in today’s world and political climate. All of this reinforced for me the vital importance of keeping quality public education accessible in our country. It also reminded me of how fortunate I was to have had UMass shape me as a young adult.
To all those who have the opportunity to go back and visit our alma mater, I would strongly encourage them to do so. It was a remarkably rewarding experience. I will not let another 16 years pass before returning.
Ian Sandefer (’03) is a trial lawyer who provides personal injury and criminal defense representation throughout Wyoming.