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40 T/D/Y #19: College

As I was saying, I only applied to one college during senior year, wasn’t accepted, and spent the following year working full-time at Bradlees department store and hating it. Around February 1989, there was an article in the local paper about a nearby college I’d never heard of, the Thomas More Institute of Liberal Arts. It sounded pretty neat: the college focused on just three majors, Literature, Political Science, and Philosophy (or “stories, crime, and Truth” as my future college friend Conrad would later characterize them); the courses involved a lot of reading and writing, both things I excelled at; it was founded by Catholic laity, meaning it wasn’t owned or run by the Church but had a strong Catholic orientation; and the school’s program included sending the whole sophomore class to Rome for a semester. So I cut out the article and saved it for future consideration.

The following August, I got in trouble at work and finally decided I should apply for college somewhere. I intended to apply to UNH, but I also remembered the article on Thomas More, wondering where exactly that school was located. I pulled out the article and checked it, and exclaimed, “There’s no college at the end of Manchester Street! There’s just an old farmhouse there!” Supposedly this college was just a couple miles away from my home, down a back road I’d bicycled many times. So I hopped in my car, drove down there, and walked in the farmhouse a bit hesitantly, telling a girl I found at a desk that I was looking for information about the college. She brought out Dr. Sampo, the school’s president, who was delighted to meet me and gave me a tour of the campus, which included the farmhouse as the admin building, a dormitory, the original barn as the current library, classrooms, and cafeteria, and a new building under construction to become the new library and classrooms. Dr. Sampo explained that because the school was small, it had rolling admissions, and there was just enough time for me to get an application in and be accepted to start that autumn.

The next day, the school’s dean, Dr. Virginia Arbery, called me from the hospital, where she was preparing to deliver her… seventh or eighth child, I don’t recall, and talked to me about the admissions process and application. Over the next couple days I worked on the application, and the entrance essay was the hardest one I’d ever had to write, about education and the nature of heroism. (I’m annoyed that I’m forgetting the phrasing of the question; it was tough though.) I must have done a decent job, because a couple Sundays later, I found myself back on campus for the opening of the school year.

During that opening reception, Dr. Sampo mentioned that the bookstore would be open later and I’d need to get my books; there may have also been a mention of reading assignments, but if so I didn’t take notice of it. Because the school was so close, I was going to save money by living at home—which made me the school’s first commuting student, and possibly the first local student, oddly enough—so I didn’t stay for dinner in the cafeteria that evening.

The next morning, I decided that since the weather was still nice and the school was close, I should ride my bicycle rather than drive. That was a mistake, because the road was a little hilly, and I left late enough that I had to rush to be on time for the first class, Humanities.

I should explain here that one unique facet of the college was that the curriculum centered around the Humanities course, which the whole school took together in one class, and which ran in a four-year cycle from the ancient to the modern era. It just so happened that the cycle was back at the beginning, so as a freshman I would be starting with the ancients, while the seniors in that same class would have started with the medieval period three years ago, and having worked through to the modern era, were just now going to be studying the works of the ancient era.

So I stumbled in to the classroom, hot and sweaty, dropping into a desk just as the professor was putting his books down and telling the class to take out a sheet of paper for the quiz. Quiz?!? I turned in a panic to ask one of the students what was going on, and learned that the reading assignment had been announced at dinner the night before and posted on the bulletin board, which I’d missed since I didn’t live there. Very alarmed, I asked what the reading assignment was on, and the student replied that it was the first three books of The Iliad. “Oh, I know that!” I exclaimed. Quiz grade: 100%.

And that was how I came to be a student at the Thomas More Institute of Liberal Arts.

I later learned that the main point of the morning Humanities quiz was to ensure the students were keeping up with the reading, but that most of the professors did count the quiz grades as part of the overall final grade, so it did matter a bit that I was able to pass it.

I should also explain that during my spring sophomore semester, the school gained accreditation from the New England Association of Schools & Colleges, and in recognition of that decided to change the school’s name from Thomas More Institute to College. (Actually, looking at the NEASC site, Thomas More must have been given the “candidacy for accreditation” status, or something like that, I don’t recall for certain. The NEASC site lists Thomas More’s year of accreditation as 1996, which would have been five years after the school changed its name, and the site says a school must progress to accreditation within five years after reaching candidacy.)

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