“Oh, you’re a townie? That’s nice. Do you live at home?”
“So you didn’t want to go far from home, then?”
“Is it some kind of requirement in your family to go to Olaf?”
Aware of all the assumptions like these that come with being a townie, I was not happy when I realized I was destined for St. Olaf. I panicked a week before Decision Day and felt that my anxiety merited a five-hour drive to Lawrence University that very weekend. The moment I stepped onto the campus at Lawrence, I knew I was going to St. Olaf.
Instead of feeling the relief I expected upon reaching my college decision, frustration and anger descended. My numerous cousins and siblings who attended or do attend St. Olaf would be considered “double legacy” students, with a long and glorious tradition that dates back through my mother’s side of the family. Needless to say, my family is intimately connected with St. Olaf, a relationship that my siblings and I wished to sever. All three of us were determined to find an equivalent of St. Olaf elsewhere – away from our family members that live in Northfield and make their way to campus often.
But our motivation to attend a college other than St. Olaf did not come only from family history. The atmosphere at Northfield High School surrounding “townies” is profoundly negative. Parents and students alike seem to look down on future Oles, thinking they “settle” for St. Olaf because of its proximity to their comfortable lives.
According to St. Olaf alumna Ruthie Neuger, admissions interviewer and head softball coach, the Admissions office receives about 60 applications from Northfield High School students per year, of which they accept about one third though this varies by year. Come Decision Day, anywhere between 15 and 30 townies will deposit. Currently, about 60 students on the Hill are townies.
All in all, I can wholeheartedly echo the sentiments of Stina Nesbit ’15, Rachel Dahlen ’13, Evan Quinnell ’14 and many other townies at St. Olaf. Others may think your college search was incomplete, that you want to stay close to home, that you aren’t independent enough to live outside the safety net of your hometown and so on. Despite these stereotypes, it’s important to keep the big picture in mind: Don’t choose St. Olaf because it’s in your town, but at the same time, don’t reject it simply because it’s in your town.
Class year: 2014
Relationship with St. Olaf: Both parents are alumni, as is his sister Emily Quinnell ’11. Evan Quinnell came to football games as a kid.
Major: Political science with a management studies concentration
Details of college search: Was never set on St. Olaf, but didn’t write it off. Wanted a small school with a strong sense of community and toured schools in the MIAC, always comparing schools to St. Olaf, for better or for worse.
A large portion of your high school class went to St. Olaf. What is it like when you see them? “Well, for example, when I see Adam Hadro ’14 also a townie around campus, I see him as an individual. I don’t define him by who he was in high school. It’s like he has matured into a more sophisticated version of himself. I also played football in my first year, so I had a whole network of people before the first week even began. It was a new environment because no one else from Northfield played football.”
Class year: 2015
Relationship with St. Olaf: Father coaches women’s tennis, sister Kate ’12 is an alumna, grew up in and on campus
Major: Psychology with a neuroscience concentration.
Details of college search: Deferred attendance after acceptance to St. Olaf to spend a year in Italy through Rotary International Youth Exchange
Were there any deterrents to attending St. Olaf? “You can make Olaf as close or far away as you want. I happen to live fairly close to school, but you do have a choice about how often you contact your parents or when you go home. Even with my dad working on campus, I don’t always see him around. Also, my core group of friends from Northfield High School – six of us – all went to St. Olaf, with three studying abroad on Rotary after high school. I don’t think that was a disadvantage because we all ended up developing into different people, despite having known each other since elementary school.”
Class year: 2013
Relationship with St. Olaf: Mother, father and grandmother are alumni. Mother is a professor of social work and family studies.
Major: Economics, interested in attending graduate school for hospital administration
Details of college search: Looked everywhere she could in order to not choose Olaf. She applied to difficult schools out of state, wanted to find St. Olaf somewhere else; compared schools she visited to St. Olaf and finally realized where she wanted to be.
How do your parents handle having you at school in town? “I think we both realized that I needed separation from them when I first left. In the first months that I was here, I didn’t contact them at all, except to say, ‘I’m alive and I’m having fun!’ I stayed on campus all the time and didn’t venture into Northfield very much. My parents wanted me to leave Northfield in the summer since I was here all year. I went to the International Summer School at the University of Oslo after my first year, interned at Mayo Clinic in Rochester after my sophomore year and lived in Minneapolis after my junior year. Now I’m more comfortable coming home for dinner and chatting with my parents because I know what it is like to live on my own.”