Dr. Linda Berger Hellmich ‘82

Dr. Linda Berger Hellmich ‘82 profile fun

I arrived on campus in the Fall of 1978. Attending school 1200 miles away from home was appealing and terrifying; I wanted to be completely free of past social expectations and limits, to stretch myself in ways not previously required. Socially, I’d had a great high school experience, but I wanted something different. I was one of the “smart kids” but did not have much academic confidence and wanted the small classrooms and nurturing faculty advertised in Lawrence’s literature.

My official arrival was pre-dated by an accepted student’s campus visit, when I was hosted by a gregarious, funny, warm junior who made a lasting impression and solidified my choice to come to Lawrence. Because of this visit I chose to live in Ormsby, and to this day feel this was an incredible blessing. Most of my long-standing Lawrence friendships were made in Ormsby Hall during my first year. As eager as I was to start at Lawrence, I also cried as I watched my parents pull away, irrationally feeling abandoned. I was a walking contradiction: scared, happy, anxious, excited, overwhelmed.

I was bused 7 miles to an inner-city high school that did not offer much academic rigor; my high school was often beset by violence and openly misogynistic limitations. I was dissuaded from Calculus by male teachers, my high school counselor never discussed college with me despite very high ACT and SAT scores, when I asked to be placed in advanced English, I was dismissed without consideration by the male department head. I had never heard of a syllabus or been forced to learn how to manage time effectively. Early on I realized I had many gaps in basic knowledge because of my academic background. I started Lawrence with a genuine terror of failing.

My first advisor was a female chemistry professor who was simultaneously brilliant, kind, compassionate and challenging. This was my first exposure to a woman like this. She expressed confidence in me, and a seed of confidence began to grow in myself. I had my setbacks that first term – I still remember the feeling of panic when I learned at dinner that the first Bio midterm was the following morning. This resulted in my first “all-nighter,” an all too familiar event my first year at Lawrence, but I also learned why and how to use the syllabus, an important life-long lesson. Mostly I learned that I had the capacity to learn on my own, that I did not need information spoon-fed to be regurgitated on a multiple-choice exam, and that I needed to take responsibility for what I learned while also absorbing the knowledge from my professors.

It took several more academic terms to learn how to balance social and academic demands, but through trial and error this eventually happened. As a result of my Lawrence experience, I found my doctoral studies relatively easy. I was well prepared both with knowledge and with a skill set for being a successful student.

I learned to take advantage of what Lawrence offered and to give back to Lawrence, experiences that proved rewarding both during my school days and throughout my lifetime. My exposure to music through the Conservatory was new and amazing. I was a lab tutor for Dr. LaMarca – his trust in me bolstered my academic confidence considerably. I tutored peers through the campus academic support office. I helped plan social activities both in my dorm and on a broader campus level. I did volunteer cancer drives. I participated as a diver on the Men’s (!!) swim team.  I studied off-campus in London, an experience that forever changed me. I was a dorm Counselor (now probably called an RA) my senior year, placed again in my beloved Ormsby Hall. I learned a lot from being part of a staff with a common mission, and from mentoring my residents, watching them gain confidence as people and academicians, soothing them through hangovers and heartaches, and instigating water fights in the communal bathroom.

Lawrence University forever changed my life, and I am eternally grateful I came to this school. I feel both obligated and blessed to be able to support others who are starting their college journeys.