I don’t even know where to begin.
I found Chester my freshman year of High School. I knew what I wanted to study, even then. One of my friends pointed it out to me and I looked into it quickly, but walked away. I didn’t want to go to such a small school, especially one that seems so competitive.
I brushed it off, but my junior year, my parents had me start really looking into schools and Chester came up again. It soon became one of my top three schools. My dad brought me to visit Chester, as well as the University of Maine, Farmington, because my third option was in Ohio and not easily accessible.
My dad and I got in the car and drove from the south eastern coast of Connecticut and when we got here, I took one look at the school and knew that this was where I wanted to be. My third choice school became my first choice with one glance.
I visited UMF the next day, looked at my dad, and he saw from the look on my face that I didn’t belong anywhere else but Chester.
I was terrified to apply at first, because I was afraid that I wouldn’t be accepted anywhere due to my grades in high school. I had low grades and I barely passed each year. My parents didn’t believe in me, that I would never be able to make it into any school and would be forced to go to community college. But when I finally applied, I couldn’t breathe.
I got the letter just a few days after my birthday. I took it into my room to read it alone, and when I read the first line, I broke. I was crying because I was able to go to the school of my dreams.
When I got on campus at the end of August, I knew I was home. I may only be at the end of my freshman year, but I don’t want to go anywhere else. This is the only place I have found a real un-biological family that I would do anything for.
I haven’t really said anything during this time because I haven’t really known where I stand. Someone might hear that and jump to the conclusion that I hate Chester, that I’m not supportive, or that I just plain don’t care. That’s not true though, I love Chester College. Not for it’s dilapidated buildings or the petty attitudes that arise because of such artists living in such close proximity, those things we will forget about five years from now.
I love Chester because I feel like I matter here. It’s size comes with problems but it also gives us an advantage that other schools don’t have. Our school and teachers care about us. We aren’t a faceless student body who represent a number among thousands, we are each important and remembered. I know every face on campus and can tell you what I like and don’t like about their art or writing, because I’ve seen and read it for myself. And they can do the same for me and we all make each other better this way. But I haven’t said any of this before because I’m realistic to a fault. I also know that if Chester closes down I will keep writing and keep making art. That’s not something that money or a school can give and take from you. It’s in me, it’s in all of us. Chester has made me better at writing than anyone else could have but it’s not the end point, it’s just the beginning.
So I guess what I really want is for other students to have their beginnings here too. I don’t have money or time to give like others do but I’ll always have my words and that’s because of Chester. I’ll always have the stories it has given me.
The first question I’m always asked is how did I find out about such a small school tucked away in such a small area in New Hampshire when I live two and half hours away in Connecticut? It sounds really simple, but it’s much more. I received a flyer in the mail about the school at the beginning of my senior year of high school. At this point, I was starting to get discouraged that I couldn’t find a school that was right for me as well as one that provided the major I desired. This one flyer came in the mail and I looked at it just like each one previous but this one caught me right away and I actually sat down, read it all the way through and more than once at that. I remember begging my mom to take me to the open house in October and we both were so happy that I was really excited about a school even before I got there.
When we arrived, we already liked what we saw. The small size and the homey feel each building had. The presentation before any kind of tours occurred was so motivating and made me feel like I could belong here and be an active contributing student, not just a person roll called by a number. The faculty and staff we met that day were all so kind. I knew I needed to be here.
Applying was such a wonderful and rewarding process. I had help from a really great admission counselor, Chris Sumner, who answered every single question I could have possibly had and he made sure I was on the right track in the whole process. His guidance throughout the whole thing just reinforced my motivation to become a part of this school.
Now that I am a student here, a sophomore finishing up my 4th semester at the college, I cannot be more happy with the choice I made to attend here. I’ve already learned so much in not just my major, but I have learned a lot about myself and that would have never been possible if I didn’t go here and meet the people I have met in the past two years.
This school means too much to me to see it just close its doors. It’s provided so much for me in only two years and for several other people who have attended here and work here as well. I’ll stand by it always.
I first heard about Chester my junior year of high school. Aside from the fact that it was a liberal arts school, I didn’t know much else. A friend that currently attends Chester College, Sam Verba, told me about Chester when she received her acceptance letter.
From there I began my search online. Then throughout my senior year, Sam told me about Chester and how much she loved the school. She was partly or the majority of the reason I decided to attend Chester.
At first I was highly skeptical.Then as the year progressed, I found myself slowing falling in love with the 144-student college. For once I had felt like I was accepted for who I was and the things that I was interested in.
I became a member of SGA as the Freshman Class Representative because not only did I want to be a voice of the student body, but because I wanted to play a part in the advancement of the college as a whole. Now it seems as though I need to take that role a step further. As a member of the Chester Community, it is my responsibility to fight for something that I hold dear to my heart and stand up from what is true.
Chester College of New England is the only place where I’ve felt accepted in a school environment. I love the school, the staff, and the students. We are all unique and we fit together. We’re a bunch of misfits, but that works for us. We compliment each other equally. And while we may not see eye to eye with everyone on campus (I know that I do not), we are all willing to push that aside and stand up for our school. But the thing is, Chester College is more than just an institution or community. Chester College is a home and a family; just like family, we all have disagreements, but when it comes down to the knitty gritty we will stand shoulder to shoulder and fight for what we love together, as one.
chester is a unique little place
you fall sideways into it
and you fall in love with it
I want to tell you my story…and I’m typing this from my office as we speak. I found Chester via a postcard that wasn’t even addressed to me. It was actually sent to an amazing friend of mine who was on the path to become a Harvard graduate and a Jesuit priest. The next morning he handed me this precious card and it was like getting your letter for Hogwarts. I don’t know why but when I held that little card in my hand I felt connected to it. So I did what any teenager who felt guided by the fates at hand would do and called to schedule a campus visit.
I remember my first visit to Chester this little school in what seemed to be the middle of nowhere. Time has its own way of passing at Chester. I loved the small town feel and how everyone seemed to know each other and my heart leapt at the thought of an all arts school. It felt like the great equalizer to me no more high school clicks no more “art nerds”. We were all art nerds!
Chester helped bring out the most in my personality and I honestly think without the guidance I received from my professors I would be a very different person. It was one of my professors who pushed me towards performance art, who encouraged me to create crazy costumes, to throw my personality into the mix and honestly to finally be myself. I had the courage to parade around campus for a project clad in nothing but bra’s sewn together as an outfit.
Now I use that creativity, courage and personality working at EF Education. My job is honestly amazing. I’m a jet setting, around the clock working, Skype calling five different countries a day, disco planning certified event planner. I maneuver six coach buses filled with teens in and out of JFK and Logan airport in a matter of moments. I have no fear to get up and make a fool of myself teaching students our disco dance of the summer. I love being on the go and having the ability to be so creative in my job. It’s up to me to help create a memorable summer for my European and Asian students who are experiencing the US for the first time. And who better to show them our country than a slightly crazy Chester grad. I love this school with all my heart. Help me keep it alive…because it helped change me.
chester is a unique little place
you fall sideways into it
and you fall in love with it
Chester College of New England became another home to me when I began attending in 2005, and has remained an ever-welcoming resource and haven since I graduated in 2009. Its programs are personal, and many members of its administration and faculty take a genuine interest in the development of students as both creatives and individuals. This, more than anything else, is what makes Chester such a special place. Those students who are willing to push themselves and their work are often delighted to discover that they have their own pack of teacher fans eagerly gathered around to offer support and guidance to their journey.
My own memories of being a student at Chester College are divided evenly between developing as a creative artist and those of becoming a young professional. I share many of the experiences that alumni of Chester will happily recount—learning from brilliant and inspirational professors, freely exploring untypical methods of creation, and coming under the thrilling possession of fresh and meaningful ideas again, and again, and again. Even beyond that, though, Chester College provided me opportunities to take on new and greater responsibilities, to work closely with college Administrators while a peer tutor and Resident Assistant, and to practice many of the communication and leadership skills I would later find invaluable in my search for a rewarding career.
Following my graduation, I chose to enter national service as an AmeriCorps*VISTA member for two years. During that time, I held positions as Special Programs Coordinator at a New Hampshire based small business incubator and as an AmeriCorps*VISTA Leader at Families in Transition, Southern New Hampshire’s largest homeless services provider. Both jobs proved to be very challenging, and often required me to leave my comfort zone in order to develop programs and bring resources to people in need. By teaching me how to communicate effectively, creatively problem solve, and comfortably adopt leadership responsibilities, Chester College really prepared me to set a high bar for myself, productively and ethically, at an early-point in my career. Having completed the AmeriCorps*VISTA program, I now work as the Outreach Coordinator at an animal shelter in Enfield, NH. I am blessed that I have the opportunity to constantly combine my creative skills in the design of marketing advertisements, videos, and social media that all support pets in need. Our Executive Director regularly gives me room to explore my own ideas and often lets me know how happy she is with the caliber and creativity of my work—just what Chester prepared me for!
Chester College and the amazing people who make it run will always be invaluable to me. I often return to the campus to re-immerse myself in the new waves of talent as Senior students exhibit their best work, and to pick professors’ brains with my own art-related questions as I prepare my own work for gallery shows throughout New England. I still create art, always will, and expect to continue experiencing overwhelming bursts of drunken happiness when a new idea for an art project suddenly erupts into being where before there was nothing.
I am a shy person. Painfully so. Growing up, I was never the kid who went away to camp, I was never the kid who went on over-night field trips. Heck, I was rarely even the kid who would manage to spend the entire night away at a friend’s house for a sleep over. I was content to stay at home with my sketch books and imaginary worlds. So when I grew up and it came time to go off to college, I was terrified.
But let’s rewind a bit. I’m getting ahead of myself. Chester has a way of doing that to you- making your brain work at speeds your fingers on the keyboard can’t keep up with. Thoughts that come too fast and impassioned for your slow, feeble, fleshy mouth to make words of. It’s exciting. And again, I’m getting way ahead.
Growing up, I wanted to be an artist. I wanted to tell stories and make something beautiful. Maybe that’s where a shy girl finds her voice; make something beautiful and people will listen. Make something beautiful and people will be inspired, swayed to love. I wanted to paint, draw, make prints, write stories, sway people to love. I took every art class I could in high school- so much so that my art teacher had to make some independent study time for me, because I ran out of elective choices. I took creative writing classes, English classes, devouring literature and looking for ways to bring the two together.
When I started looking for colleges, though, I’d find myself both excited by the art programs they’d offer and discouraged by the segregation of the visual and literary arts. Not to mention, I was terrified of being lost in the vast sea of students these large institutions had to offer.
The first exposure I had to colleges was at a college fair held at my high school. I brought my art portfolio with me, and gathered my courage, and tried to sell it. And none of the representatives gave it a second glance. They weren’t interested in giving the arts much attention. Then I came to Deb’s table. Deb was representing Chester College, and she immediately poured over my portfolio, gave me her thoughts, encouragement, critique, and she got excited. I got excited with her. I was sold.
I applied to Chester and a few other art schools (only on the chance that I wouldn’t get in to Chester College – I’d have been crushed, but I had to have a fall-back, I guess. I didn’t really want to think about it.). On my first interview with one of the other colleges, my interviewer was pushy and confrontational, accusing me of being full of myself, telling me not to expect to be “the art star” in HER institution. I left feeling small and insignificant. I might have cried. I’m not sure.
But then, I went to Chester. I had my interview, I took the tour. I spoke with the professors. I spoke with the students. I think the girl giving the tour had hair the color of a hibiscus flower. Gorgeous. The buildings were all charming and warm and full of character and life. The professors were all so impassioned about their departments I didn’t know where to start, and they were interested in me, not as a number, but as a person. I left knowing, This is home. I HAVE to get in. I just HAVE to. And I did. And that’s when my life really began.
All that time I spent in childhood, afraid to leave home? Out the window. I arrived at Chester for my first night in the dorms expecting to freak out, not sleep, feel homesick. Never happened. It was instantly home. I met friends there that I consider family, and it didn’t take long for that family to form.
A year in to my time there, the Interdisciplinary Arts department was born, and I found my place in the universe. I learned to break down the boundaries between media and discipline, to tell my stories in the most organic way possible. The way they wanted to be told. I was able to take writing classes to inform my art, and philosophy to inform my writing, and art history to give it all context and tooth. I came away with an education more solid and lasting because nothing existed in a vacuum. Everything is a cause and an effect and that’s magical.
I went into Chester College a shy girl interested in art and stories. I left a whole new person: confident, knowledgeable, interested, involved. I run a literary journal now, and I never feel so at home and so fulfilled as when I’m working on it. Without Chester, I never would have had the courage to jump in and start it, let alone the knowledge of where to even begin. And don’t even get me started on how amazing it is to realize I’ve lost an entire day working in my studio in what feels like the blink of an eye.
I couldn’t even begin to tell you all the amazing stories I have from that place, but I can tell you this: you wouldn’t believe them all. But I lived them, and I still do, and it’s like living the dream every day. Chester College wasn’t just a school, but a home. And it taught me art and writing and philosophy and art history, but it also taught me that art is a revolution of love, and critical, creative thought is at its heart.
I have faith that this school will survive, because how can something that powerful do anything but?
I came to Chester College as a non-traditional student. I was in my late 20s, married with kids, and had already published a book. I had a handful of college credits from a variety of other colleges and I thought it was about time that I finally finish my degree. During my time at Chester College, among sixty skillion other events big and small, I was pregnant and gave birth to my third child, ran my own business, published several books, and my father died. In short I had a million perfectly reasonable reasons to not continue my education. In a larger school I would have been lost in the shuffle and simply wandered away. But Chester College is not a large school and I wasn’t a faceless number.
The day before graduating we held a rehearsal of the ceremony. As I walked across the stage Laura Ives grabbed my hand, indicated the other faculty who were at the graduation rehearsal, and said “We are all so proud of you.” I felt bewildered to be on that stage, just a day away from getting a college degree, but Dean Ives made it seem as if she never had a doubt I’d make it there. During my many ups and downs the faith the faculty at Chester College had in me kept me going even when I lacked that same faith in myself.
A common theme you see in stories about Chester College is that it’s a family. And that’s not just something people say. My kids know the name of every professor I ever had there, for that matter all the professors can name my children. Heck, some of them could even tell you the names of my dogs. My children are young, and college is a long ways off for them, but I hope that when the time comes they find a creative environment like Chester College to embrace them and help them through the tumultuous times in their own lives.
Renee Mallett holds a BA in creative writing from Chester College of New England. She is the author of several books, all available or forthcoming from Schiffer Publishing. Renee Mallett covers arts and entertainment for CBS Boston and Examiner.com. “Swarmed,” a novella she wrote as part of her Chester College senior project, will be published this fall by Starling River Press.
I wrote this appropriation of Anetevka from fiddler on the roof just before I graduated. It’s no work of brilliance. I just replaced a few lyrics. But at the time it aptly summed my feelings.
A little bit of this, a little bit of that.
A barn, a field, a pine, a dorm.
Someone should have set a match to this place years ago.
A bench, a hammock.
So, what’s a printing press? Or a library?
People who pass through Chester don’t even know they’ve been here.
A real cold shower. A piece of Al’s cake.
What do we leave? Nothing much.
Underfed, overworked Chester college.
Where else could creativity be so sweet?
Intimate, obstinate Chester College
Where I know everyone I meet.
Soon I’ll be a stranger in a strange new place,
Searching for an old familiar face
From Chester college.
I belong in Chester,
Tumble-down, work-a-day Chester college.
Dear little village, little town of mine
A home is greater than the sum of its parts. It is not just things. It is people and memories and lesson that some how congeals into a single place. The most important things I learned in life where not learned in a class room, but I did learn them at Chester. I learned that kindness is always greater than the reputation. That cynicism only gets in the way of truly enjoying life. That I do not have to be anything but myself and to expect otherwise of me was foolish on the expectors part.
I dealt with difficult people. And I learned. I dealt with wonderful people. And I learned. I learned from example from my professors not just how to make art but how to be an adult. Chester’s small and tight knit community gave me a place to really grow as a person and not just learn how to party. Almost everyday I was challenged either by my peers or by the professors to define myself by my principles. I was encouraged to find what I believed in and to stick to it. To make an opinion and understand. I was made to know that a high caliber person should be defined by what they believe in and not just by what they like.
Where would I be if Nanette thrush hadn’t argued me into submission about modern art? Where would I be if I never read the rigveda outside at sun set? Where would I be If Monica Billson had never assigned Lolita? And where would I be if she had never understood how difficult and personal that assignment was? Where would I be without Chris Anderson’s under spoken encouragement or Jay Bordage’s quiet fatherly disapproval? I would not be the women I am today. Plain and simple.
Its not for everyone. The school demands a certain willingness to attempt to master the self and to begin to understand other people. But you grow. I came to Chester a confused young woman who got in too many fights in high school and was terrified of letting anything good inside. I left Chester sure of one thing and that was myself and that I was full of good things. It wasn’t always rainbows, ( life never is,) but I was never alone. Art comes from inside; the people and the places you let in are what describes both the caliber of your character and the quality of your art. For any one to sing this bad appropriation of Antevka as anything but a metaphor for Chester college is a shame.
Chester is home. There is no other way to describe it for me. I am a senior creative writing major and Chester College is my salvation.
I grew up in a suburb of Boston. It was loud and messy. Chaos. That isn’t who I am. I couldn’t show my potential in a place like that, nor could I really do anything creative. Chester to me is creativity. It’s the opportunity to get away from my past and live for writing. I breathe for this school.
The teachers here are the most amazing people I have ever met. They inspire and guide, they take time out of their lives to help anyone who needs it. I don’t know how these people do it, but each and every one of them are role models. I aspire to be just like them.
I wrote a book. I never thought I could complete a project, and yet through Chester I was able to focus and form an idea that I was willing to see completed. There were times that I wanted to burn everything I owned, but the whole community of Chester made me push through. I wouldn’t be here, I wouldn’t be a writer if it weren’t for Chester. This school won’t die. I won’t let it.