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Somerville

It’s 8:15, and I’m on the MBTA’s Red Line doing the morning-commute thing into Boston from Somerville, Mass. Half-asleep in my wrinkled business-casual clothes, I’m on autopilot, mouthing the conductor’s words: “Daaavis”…”Porter”…”Hahvahd”…”Doors open on the right.” I plug into my iPod, and the Deansmen’s “Fliptop Twister” transports me back to Bates, to my fourth-floor room in Adams where I can hear the Deansmen singing on Olin’s terrace.

Suddenly, one face among the morning commuters strikes a clear note in my head. The Patagonia jacket, the messy bun, the glasses — she was in one of my psychology classes. Jacky? Janet? Our eyes meet across the heads of other riders, and after two seconds of recognition we both look away.

I didn’t feel much like a Batesie that morning. Neither did she, apparently.

But why not? I always miss Bates during my morning commute. It starts with the small wish to enjoy just one more long breakfast in Commons with friends. That starts a domino effect, as I recall when the guy upstairs ate seven hot peppers on a dare during Junk Food Night at Commons, walks to Dairy Joy during Short Term with all my hallmates, and the happy feeling of finding a slip for a package in my mailbox.


Somerville is an incubator for young alums adjusting to the real world, says Swita Charansomboon ’04, standing in Davis Square near a familiar mass-transit symbol. Photograph by Phyllis Graber Jensen.When the Bates campus tips at graduation and spills 450 or so graduates into the real world, many young alums (not to mention grads from other NESCAC schools) end up about in and around Somerville. According to College records, around 150 so-called BOLD alums (Bobcats of the Last Decade) live in the three Somerville zip codes — probably more if you count the usual number of undocumented” young Batesies.

It’s small wonder that the “Batesies in Somerville” Facebook group says that you can’t go to a bar in Davis Square and not run into a Batesie.”

“The new post-Bates reality can make us question choices we made at Bates.”

If we chose to attend Bates for high-minded reasons, we choose to live in Somerville and similar neighborhoods for more prosaic ones, like cheap rent or access to the T and I-93. Like college admissions, there’s a legacy effect, too. For example, Sherika Blevins ’05 moved to Somerville because a Bates friend, now her current roommate, had preceded her, settling in Magoun Square.

Beyond convenience, Somerville is also an incubator, its comfortable, laid-back atmosphere helping young alums adjust to city life. “The typical Batesie is usually not the city type,” suggests Mihoko Maru ’05. “So it makes sense for us to live in Somerville. It has an off-campus housing feel, which I appreciate since I always lived in houses at Bates.”

Last night, as I walked down Holland Avenue toward Teele Square for a Bates gathering, I moved among Tufts students with backpacks and young professionals toting logoed messenger bags. Even the pace felt the same as walking the Quad.

Somerville is also where new challenges accelerate our sense of personal change (which is part of the reason we might feel ambivalent about our Batesie identity on the T). These common challenges are the same for everybody, says Blevins. “It’s hard to find a job, and the starting pay for college grads is pretty sad. It’s a hard, big dose of reality.”

The new post-Bates reality can make us question choices we made at Bates. A gathering at a friend’s house under the pretense of “catching up” might instead focus on feeling trapped in a job we took just to pay off student loans. Or we might envy business or engineering graduates from major universities who seem to have their entire careers mapped out. We fret about not choosing a job in our major field and losing touch with our passion — or we question whether it was our passion in the first place. We worry about running out of time to figure it all out. “Scared” is a word I hear a lot during our gatherings.

Katie Harris ’04 runs the Interlibrary Borrowing Office at MIT. “I had no idea what I wanted to do after Bates,” she says. “I only knew that I wanted to avoid working in a corporate atmosphere.” After a short stint in a bookstore, she found the MIT job. Now with a better sense of her strengths, she hopes to go to graduate school. “I can take what was a practical career move and infuse it with something I love, like studying art, cultures, and history,” she says.

Real-world pressures get personal, too. A college romance fails the test of distance, or good friends drift apart. “Sadly, it’s been very hard to stay in touch with those who moved elsewhere,” says Harris. ”Facebook helps, though.”

One recent grad talked about how his friendship with another grad tensed up after they shared an apartment. “We both needed to save money and we were friends at Bates, so I thought it would be more of the same fun. But we were on very different schedules, so we couldn’t hang out after work. It was just completely different from Bates.” They each found their own place after their lease expired.

Asked what they missed about Bates, these young alums listed a number of specifics — like running into friends at the library on late nights or adventures in Maine — that complement my own memories. Taken together, they create both a wistful longing for Bates community and a hope to find it in the real world.

“The Bates community gives students emotional well-being,” Maru says. At BU, where she just completed a one-year master’s program in psychology, “I really had to plan if I wanted to see people.” This contradiction — missing Bates, finding a bit of it in Somerville, yet needing to move on — fuels the conflicting emotions in recent grads who pass by each other in Somerville.

The future? The indie band Modest Mouse sings, “We’ll all float on OK.” And secretly, we suspect that when we eventually figure out what we really want to do, we will do better than OK.

A summa cum laude major in French and psychology, Swita Charanasomboon ’04 was a research analyst for McKinsey and Co. after graduation and is now studying at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.


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