my student experience

Cultivating a New Life in New Hampshire

Married couple Zachary and Marianne Lamas, both 21, will graduate this spring, Zac with a degree in biology and Marianne with a degree in psychology. While most of their classmates sleep on-campus and eat at the dining hall, Zac and Marianne live on his grandparents' Raccoon Ridge Farm in nearby Salisbury, N.H., and dine on meals made of ingredients the family grew themselves: rabbit, carrots, tomatoes, onions, herbs, mushrooms and peppers, for example. He is deeply attached to the land and what it can produce; she is a black belt in Tae Kwon Do who loves the martial arts.

Theirs is an accelerated love story that left friends shaking their heads in wonder, but giving their blessing nonetheless. Zac, from Connecticut, and Marianne, from Fremont, California, met the summer before their senior year of high school.

Zac had flown west to stay with an aunt and take summer Latin classes at the University of California, Berkeley. He got a job maintaining a Web site for a consignment shop and met Marianne's mother, an artist, when she dropped by to sell some pieces. Zac made quite an impression. “You just have to meet this Zac,” Marianne's mother told her daughter. “You have to know that there are people like him in the world.” Feeling a bit sorry for the guy with no friends in California, Marianne agreed to meet him.

“When I first met her, I thought she was 14, and I kept wondering why her mom was introducing us,” says Zac. “I thought she was rather odd, actually. Then later I saw her driving a car and realized she was my age, and it was wonderful.”

“Yeah, he thought I was 14, and I didn't think he was anything special, so that's our funny story; we weren't really impressed with each other,” laughs Marianne. “But then we started talking online and decided to hang out, and then it was like we were both just hit on the head. We were 17, but we both pretty much just knew.”

Zac finished high school in Connecticut, returning to California in November and again in April to attend Marianne's prom. The six months apart were “grueling torture,” but by then they knew they wanted the same things: a family, to live in a rural area, and each other.

Marianne, graduating from a high school where people cried if they got anything below an A, wasn't sure what she wanted to do about college, but she rejected the idea of attending a state university because she “wasn't ready to go out and have an apartment.” Instead, she attended a community college in her hometown for a year to take care of general education requirements.

Zac skipped his own graduation and moved to California in May to attend DeAnza College, a community college serving the San Francisco area. Zac's job coaching a swim team offered enough financial security that he proposed in January, and after their June wedding, Marianne joined Zac at DeAnza.

“DeAnza was actually great because the students were generally older, but those who were our age were living on their own,” says Zac. “It was more like a teacher-adult relationship than the teacher-student one here at Colby-Sawyer.”

Though Zac's two-year degree is in German, an environmental studies class he took at DeAnza turned his interest toward biology. After many discussions and a lot of soul searching, the couple decided to head east. Marianne had never left California, but once the decision was made, she dove into researching their options.

“I was the one who found Colby-Sawyer,” Marianne says. “I was looking for colleges in New Hampshire and when I told Zac about Colby-Sawyer, he was so relieved. It was close enough to his grandparents that we could accept their invitation to live with them, but I wanted to make sure this was a college I actually wanted to go to—and it fit. Colby-Sawyer has good psychology and biology departments, and I thought it was really neat that it was small because I've had classes with hundreds of kids. I really wondered what it would be like to be right there with the professor. It turns out I've really liked that about Colby-Sawyer.”

There was at least one moment of doubt, as Zac recalls. One day last winter, their first together in New Hampshire, the Lamases arrived on campus in an intense snow storm with high winds. Zac hopped out of the car and rushed off to class, only to be stopped in his tracks by Marianne's dismayed scream of “Where did you bring me?”

“The wind was just howling at her, it was so cold,” Zac says, bemused. “She was still standing by the car, paralyzed by the cold.”

“We didn't visit before applying. We were just going on blind faith, but everything really has turned out well,” says Marianne. “The application process was very easy; Colby-Sawyer is really on top of things. And I love New Hampshire. It's so nice here.”

While Zac would like professors to appreciate more that not all Colby-Sawyer students live on campus, and laments the 30 units of credits he lost in the transfer, he appreciates the open labs that make it easy to get work done and the support he's had from professors regarding his agricultural interests.

“What do I want in life?” Zac asks. “To lie in a hammock and watch my kids play in the yard. I see farming as the best way to be able to do that. I have relatives who make big salaries, but they're always working. We're mortal, so I value time. I love husbandry; right now we have a cow, six pigs, too many chickens and rabbits. Ultimately, we'd like 60 acres, though the right one acre would be enough to handle our farmer's market produce and the smaller animals in the beginning. We'll see. The classes I've taken here at Colby-Sawyer have been very helpful, and my grandfather is a wealth of knowledge. I talk to him and get a second education—usually by me messing up and him showing me how to do it.”

While Zac pursues his dream of a family farm, Marianne is contemplating a career as a guidance counselor, a decision she hopes her internship at Kearsarge Regional High School this spring will help her make.

While Colby-Sawyer may have started out as a means to an end, with its convenient location and the right departments for the Lamases' interests, Marianne says it's become more than that.

“The culture of the place is really neat,” she says. “The people are really nice to be around, and the professors are great—it's turned out that I like it a lot. Some of the classes I've taken have really changed my life, and I didn't expect that. I think it's so neat that I have my own academic advisor who teaches in my major. It's great that the professors have so much time for you. At the bigger schools, if you have a question you're pretty much out of luck. You're not going to get to talk to the professor. I want to learn from the real deal, someone who has experience, not a teaching assistant who's a year older than me. And experience is what the professors here have, which is awesome.”

  • Kate Dunlop Seamans