Dear Class of 2009,

Merry Christmas! I hope that this year has been a rewarding and renewing one for you and your loved ones.

For the December edition of our Class Newsletter, I'd like to share with you the words I received from a couple of our classmates from Westmont. Vanassa Hamra and Mike Bennett have graciously agreed to give us an update about their lives since their time at Westmont. A huge thanks goes out to them for their contribution!

Vanassa Hamra

I was bitten. Bitten hard by the travel bug. In my Westmont years (I'm still reeling a little bit to think undergraduate is behind me) I participated in three study abroad programs. I had been to Europe and Africa, and Asia or South America was next on my list. After graduation, I worked at the local YMCA as a summer sports camp counselor. As the months fell away like leaves on a tree, I wondered, "What's next?" In early August, a friend and recent alumni, Emily Minor, visited Santa Barbara. She too was bitten by the travel bug and instead of fighting the itch started planning a trip. Come October, she and her backpack were heading to Thailand and New Zealand. The prospect of Thailand had always been simmering on my mind's back burner. My uncle and aunt permanently lived in Central Thailand working at a Seventh Day Adventist International University, and they always urged our family to come visit any time. We were watching a meteor shower up at Gibraltor when Emily filled me in on the details. She would spend a month in Thailand and the following two working on a farm in New Zealand. Laying side by side as we watched meteors flash and vanish almost instantaneously, she said "I think you should come to Thailand." It was just two weeks until my final paycheck, and it didn't take me long to agree. In my experience, it's decisions that stir up both fear and excitement that are usually the best ones.

I gladly put my job search on pause, which felt more like a Sisyphusian endeavor than a task possible to complete. It was when I stopped searching and religiously checking Craigslist that I did, however, stumble upon an internship for a local online marketing company. I was surprised and thrilled when they told me I could complete their 3 month internship around my travel schedule. The details of the trip fell into a pretty perfect puzzle fit. My aunt and uncle would pick us up from the Bangkok Airport, and we would spend a week with them followed by meeting up with Brandon Woods and his friend Tyler, who were also traveling through Asia for non profit work. We would stop in Chiang Mai for a week, and then the four of us would travel to Cambodia to see Angkor Wat, one of the world's wonders. We'd part ways, and Emily and I would finish our Thai tour by digging our toes in the sands of the South for a few days. (And yes, the beaches of Thailand are as beautiful as you have imagined or seen.) I can't summarize the trip in a sentence or two except to say, the more I travel, the more I realize how little I know and how much I want to learn. I've now been back longer than I was gone. Though difficult, the job search doesn't seem quite as daunting, or for that matter, defining. I'm interested in pursuing the things I love. At the suggestion of a friend, I've enrolled in some online creative writing courses through Stanford's Continuing Studies Programs and in January will begin assistant coaching for Santa Barbara Volleyball Club. When people ask me some variation of "What's next?", I don't have a definitive answer but I'll stand behind my earnest and honest reply: "I don't know, but I'm figuring it out."

Rainer Maria Rilke puts it best: "You are so young, so much before all beginning, and I would like to beg you, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer." Amen.

Mike Bennett

After graduating in May, I worked alongside Dr. Warren Rogers of the physics department and another graduate, Michael Gardner, to rebuild some of the physics equipment that was destroyed in the Tea Fire. Michael and I got to put our degrees to work in the exciting field of ... carpentry. Yes, we spent our summer designing and building a wooden frame to house the new Cosmic Muon Detection Array, which is now proudly on display in the temporary physics building.

Of course, we did have a hand in assembling and setting up the detectors themselves, as well as the opportunity to play with oodles of expensive nuclear physics equipment and write some of the code that controls the whole setup as well. All in all, it was a great summer for learning about my field and putting the analytical thinking skills we picked up in the classroom to work in the lab.

Since the summer I've been working as a tutor, helping pre-med students pass their physics course, and getting my affairs in order to apply to graduate study. I'm currently applying to schools with a mind to get into astrophysics or quantum gravitational theory research - unless something more exciting presents itself! If it all goes according to plan, I'll be in a Ph.D. program next fall and who knows? Maybe someday one of my students will be writing this three-paragraph summary about his or her post-grad plans.

Cheers, Westmont,

Again, thank you Vanassa and Mike for your contributions!

Merry Christmas and may God bless all you fellow Westmont Graduates. I hope to see you again soon.
If you'd like to be included in a future edition of our class newsletter, email to get in touch with me.

Carolyn Joens

P.S. Have you moved lately? Started a new job? Gotten married? Update your profile on Westmont's Alumni Directory and stay in touch with your classmates!