Elm View: Small Town, Big City Connections

Wintertime in Chestertown is even quieter than usual. After the flurry of holiday activity, it’s surreal returning to the stillness of life on the Chester River. Even Friday nights and Saturday mornings, usually crowded with party-happy students and farmers market shoppers, are strangely silent downtown.

But Chestertown was wrenched out of hibernation two weeks ago to celebrate the life and legacy of one of its most famous residents.

Richard Ben Cramer was a frequent Washington College guest, an honorary member of the college community. He spoke at commencement in 2001 and visited for the “Anatomy of an Election” lecture series last semester. He also happened to be a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and the author of one of the most influential books of the 20th century.

And he lived right here in Chestertown.

This isn’t the most exciting college town in America. It’s not famous for its night life, and tourists mostly come for the Colonial history and antique stores. Let’s be honest: we’re sometimes jealous of those city students who spend their afternoons in chic hipster cafes and their evenings bar hopping in glitzy party-wear (or at least that’s what we imagine they do all the time). And on a more realistic level, it’s tempting to envy those city students for their connections. After all, it must be exhilarating to walk from class to an internship at a Smithsonian museum or Washington Post, especially when you might just happen to snag a business card from your favorite CEO or politician on the way (again, because that must be what city life is like, right?).

For us, tucked away at a liberal arts college on the Eastern Shore, making those invaluable connections seems, comparatively, impossible. We have to trek across the bridge if we want an internship or job in DC, Annapolis or Baltimore. For those of us ambitious enough to take that initiative, it means sacrificing entire days of our academic week, not to mention gas money and energy.

But as tempting as it is to gripe and moan about how few opportunities we have out here in Chestertown, Cramer’s legacy should serve as an important reminder: We’re surrounded by incredible people. Making connections with the innovative and succesful men and women in the community is every bit as valuable as forging relationships with big names in Annapolis or DC. There are innovative, inspiring people working right in our backyard.

One of the advantages of learning in such a small community is that making these connections is as simple as striking up a conversation with someone at Play it Again Sam. Cramer’s death was announced in newspapers nationwide, but he was just as friendly and welcoming as anyone you might meet in Chestertown. You probably saw him walking his poodle, Alex, once or twice through town, in fact. And his version of making professional connections wasn’t through a LinkedIn account or passing out his card; he simply invited people over to his house to chat.

Chestertown isn’t the bustling metropolis many seniors where many seniors expect to make their living later this year. But the state flag was lowered in honor of one of sleepy little Chestertown’s residents earlier this month, and that doesn’t happen every day.

So forge those relationships while you can. Take advantage of the contacts you can make during your stay in Chestertown, because in many cases, you won’t just be making connections: You’ll be making lifelong friends.

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