Catching up with Lopez Graduates: Reese Hamilton

By Gretchen Wing.

As part of its “Where are they now?” series, the Lopez Island Community ScholarshipmFoundation (LICSF) is pleased, and somewhat awed, to report that Reese Hamilton, Lopez ’20, will graduate from Willamette University in August of 2024 with not one but three degrees: a Bachelor’s of Arts, and both a Bachelor’s and a Masters in Data Science. Hamilton might be majoring in Economics at the Salem, Oregon school, but his true skill seems to be adaptability.

Graduating from high school and starting a four-year university at the height of the pandemic was challenging enough, but Hamilton seems to have exceeded mere accommodation to constraints. The same day as this interview, Hamilton was to present his Capstone paper, a.k.a. the thesis for his Economics major. A thesis, at the end of junior year? “Yeah,” Hamilton says casually, “I already got into grad school, so I’m doing my thesis early.”

How did Hamilton manage to fit so much learning into just over three years? Taking advantage of Willamette’s “3 + 1” Masters program sounds simple in his explanation: “I did all my prerequisites last year, so all next year will be mix of grad/undergrad, then next summer will be my internship…” Hamilton’s matter-of-fact answer hints of an underlying approach like the Nike slogan: Just Do It.

Originally an Exercise/Health science major, Hamilton switched to Economics, then joined Willamette’s new Data Science program. The best part, Hamilton says, is the way the program vaults him straight into real work. His upcoming internship with the Carlton Business Association (in Carlton, a small town outside of Salem), which includes wineries, shops, a bakery and two farm-to-table restaurants, will involve data consultation for water usage.

Why did Hamilton choose Willamette in the first place? His golf skills played a role, but the university’s size also mattered. “Small schools are more appealing,” he says. “You can build relationships with your professors, and I couldn’t imagine myself being successful without that.” Salem’s location, with Portland, Eugene, Corvallis, Mt. Hood, and the coast “all within shouting distance,” was another draw, especially after Hamilton ended up quitting the golf team. “It was a seven-days-a-week time commitment, most of the year,” he reports, adding, “and I got what I wanted out of the experience.” Now, outside of class, he has more freedom to golf with friends, attend concerts or Blazers games, and explore the beauties of western Oregon. While many 2020 Freshmen either opted for, or were forced into remote learning,

Hamilton moved onto campus. He describes being masked everywhere, although roommates were allowed to choose about masking in-room. Most classes met on Zoom, even for on-campus students, and the cafeteria fed everyone with to-go boxes. “You’d go pick up your food, then eat outside,” Hamilton says, “but the weather was usually pretty bad,” so usually students ended up eating in their rooms. He thanks golf for allowing him to meet people, which was otherwise “pretty hard,” and he joined a fraternity at the end of freshman year. By sophomore year, he says, college life felt “semi-normal, so we could start doing active stuff together, and start really building relationships.”

Instead of complaining about the disruption of his once-in-a-lifetime college experience, Hamilton reflects with equanimity: “I understand how other people could’ve had a hard time with it, but I was of the mindset that we needed to be doing what we were doing.”

As for the shift from high school academics to college, Hamilton says, he didn’t “feel that well prepared, but it wasn’t hard to figure out.” He emphasizes that college classes “aren’t necessarily harder, but they are more time-consuming. They expect more. It’s not hard to get a B, but it’s really hard to get from a B to an A. But if you ask for help,” he adds, “you’ll get it.” He advises current Lopez students, “Be prepared for more work than you have now,” and take the hardest classes they can. “I took all of the hard stuff our school offered,” Hamilton says.

Asked if he has any other advice for future Lobo grads, Hamilton responds eagerly. “Put yourself in situations where you can develop leadership skills above all else.” That, he says, has been the real secret of his success. Now the President of his fraternity, Hamilton got a job leading Willamette’s Freshman Orientation next year, which involves hiring 60 other students, designing and running activities. His main feedback from employers, he says, has been about people skills: interviewing; self-marketing; communication. Employers “aren’t looking all that much at your course history, but at you: are you trustworthy, can you communicate?”

Given his can-do work ethic, Hamilton will probably walk right into the job of his choice, after graduation in 2024. He does hope to travel again, as he did with Lopez School—Greece, Peru, Nicaragua—but wherever he ends up, whatever is to be done, it seems likely that Reese Hamilton will just do it.