This is the New York you don’t see in the movies. This is the land of cattle-spotted hillsides and the brightest lights you’ll find are in the stadiums of local towns’ football fields. It’s country in every northern sense of the word–one way roads that sprawl through mountains, diners run by three generations, and locals who can trace their lineage back to a certain ship named after a seasonal flower.
Make no mistake; this is not a land without dreams. This is not a land without “big-city” aspirations. They just happen to be nestled between rolling green hills. Take a left or right, go forwards or backwards–it makes no difference. You’ll eventually find yourself at a cobblestone entrance with proud plaques proclaiming:
University: founded 1754
College: established 1858
Higher Learning: since 1923
There is a passion in this country, you see. A fervor. A history of unquenchable thirst for knowledge. And if you take right on Saxon Drive, go past the ruddy barn, and up the cracked asphalt–you’ll find a place deserving of a movie. You’ll find the embodiment of excitement, passion, creativity, and ambition. You’ll find Alfred University.
A comprehensive liberal arts college, Alfred University is tucked within mountains of Allegany County, New York. Once stepping foot on campus, one is bombarded with the Saxons’ purples and golds. Banners, athletics fields, and even the front sign declares Alfred University est. 1836 in rich violet and vibrant yellow. The color scheme may assault the eyes with a bit of tackiness, but considering the school has been around for 176 years, one realizes it’s a step towards physical modernization.
Many eastern upstate colleges continue to use the same foundations from first establishment. Alfred is no exception with cobblestone streets still wearing dark scuffs from the feet of students over the centuries. Learning minds have actively traipsed across this campus–the eroded stone can attest to that.
Although perhaps not as exciting as strutting down glitzy Broadway, Alfred hones its own thrilling beauty. Originally built into the towering hillside, views of a surrealistic world are guaranteed no matter which window you peer out of.
“It’s amazing here,” a Creative Writing summer camper breathes softly as she gazes out of such a window. Seated at an old varnished table, she peels the backs of her thighs off her wooden chair to get a better look. The sun has poured its evening light over the campus, languorously washing the streets and treetops in a honey gold, sweetening the hot atmosphere that is only intensified by writing on the third floor of Seidlin Hall.
The vintage air of Seidlin, a mixture of blackboard chalk and well-turned book pages, fills the noses of the camper and her six fellow writers. Beads of sweat stream down their spines as freely as creativity courses through their minds. The blistering heat is barely a second thought to the stories that they churn with their pentips.
In her redwine skirt, Professor Dr. Gray weaves around the table. It’s a wonder her black stilettos don’t snag on the aging carpet. Finally, she stops at the head of the table, “Are we ready?”
Damp and frazzled heads nod, energy sparking about the room, excitement shooting off posters of Austen, Emerson, and Orwell quotes. A beam of sunlight cuts through one of the cracked-open windows, creating something of a spotlight on one camper. She taps her pen on the oak for a-one, a-two, a-one-two-three-four,
“I’ll go!” Her hand shoots up, volunteering for first conferencing. This disturbance in the air causes a flurry of dust to fly and the sun reflects off each spec, making it seem as if a handful of glitter were just thrown into the air.
As she reads her story, an overdue breeze sweeps into the room, faintly teasing hairs plastered to the backs of necks. An abandoned piece of notebook paper flutters and, without the notice of an enraptured audience, is carried swiftly out the through the window.
Riding the midday wind, the paper floats past Alfred’s three-story library before settling on the sidewalk outside of the cavernous Ceramics building. It rests on a twig-littered path for the briefest of moments before a group of Art summer students scamper past.
“I can’t believe the professor took me seriously! I kid you not she said, ‘Taylor, with the work, I believe you can become an artist.’ ”
Nathalia Baum is a senior at St. Charles High School in Illinois, USA. She is an attendee of Alfred University’s summer writing program, the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio and the Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp. She is a teacher’s assistant in her school’s creative writing class and is a member of the National English Honours Society. She is fond of writers like Joan Didion, Tahereh Mafi, Laini Taylor, F. Scott Fitzgerald, J.K. Rowling and Jane Austen.