Graduation day, for many Whitman students, is not the end of living and working in Walla Walla or at Whitman. Every year some alumni stay in, or return to, Walla Walla.
“When my class graduated people made a Facebook group for the people that were staying and I’d say it’s about 20 to 30 that stayed from my class for the first bit,” alumnus Arie Knops, class of 2017, said. “Now I would guess people from my class is closer to 15 after a year.”
While some of the alumni who remain in Walla Walla get jobs in town, others find positions on campus. Knops has worked in Annual Giving with the Alumni Department since graduation.
Alumnus Brian Glickman, class of 2016, also works on campus. He’s starting his third year as Resident Director for Jewett Hall.
“I haven’t really left Jewett,” Glickman said. “I was a first year here, an SA here, an RA here and now the RD here.”
Glickman decided to stay because of the Whitman community, including friends who stayed after graduation as well as the town itself.
“I’ve very much come to love Walla Walla; I come from LA, and it’s just kinda monstrous in my eyes … way too much traffic, way too many people and it just feels a lot less homey than Walla Walla,” Glickman said.
Alumnus Hannah Bartman, class of 2016, is also from Los Angeles. While she considered returning to the city after completing an internship in North Carolina, she wanted the tighter community of a small town.
“I really felt like Walla Walla was the pace I needed right now,” Bartman said.
A year and a half ago she moved back and took a job at a restaurant in town. Now she works at the Walla Walla Foundry, a facility that helps artists with casting and other aspects of sculpture.
“I stayed [in Walla Walla] because I had a chance to grow in the area that I wanted to grow in professionally, which is the art world,” Bartman said. “I was about to leave until I had that opportunity.”
As an Art and Sociology major, working at the Foundry introduced Bartman to new side of the art world: production. It also exposed her to a variety of artists who cast their works at the Foundry.
“It’s crazy; it’s one of the biggest foundries in the nation, and I’ve got to meet with some of the artists that I really looked up to and studied when I was here,” Bartman said. “And nobody knows it’s in this tiny town.”
While Bartman returned to Walla Walla, other alumni never leave. Knops and Glickman both took their first jobs at Whitman.
“I had worked at Whitman while I was a student and enjoyed the experiences I had with that, so I thought Whitman might be a good place to work,” Knops said. “And then I also knew that there was a good group of my friends that would still be in Walla Walla, so was able to have a bit of a social crutch … in my post grad life.”
Getting away from campus and seeing Walla Walla outside of the school year can also influence a student’s decision to leave or stay.
“I was more inclined to stay after having spent a summer here,” Knops said. “You get a little more involved with Walla Walla and get to see it as opposed to just the Whitman bubble.”
Even off campus, there are still plenty of Whitties in Walla Walla.
“I’d say most of my social scene is still Whitman alumni, for better or for worse,” Knops said. “And then … when you go to a winery or go somewhere, there are a lot of people who work in town who are Whitman alums, I think students would be surprised.”
Beyond the Whitman connections, the size of Walla Walla fosters close friendships. Bartman started an art collective called “The Barn” last year and. through this gallery, studio and performance space she met a lot of local artists. The Barn is no longer in operation, but Bartman is starting a new collective called “The Alder Roots Collective.” Like The Barn, The Alder Roots Collective looks for vacant spaces in Walla Walla and tries to repurpose them as places for younger artists to connect and show their work. Bartman is also planning a mural on the side of a building on Third and Alder Street after asking the owner for permission.
“You can do that here [if] you know who owns the buildings,” Bartman said. “It’s a town based on friendships, which is really great.”