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Volume 41. No. 2.
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 Class of '08 profile
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First-year students bring a range of experiences to the campus
Doing Their Own Thing

By Jill Walker Robinson

Each fall, Dean of Admissions Bruce Poch welcomes the entering class with highlights of
some of the remarkable accomplishments of members of the College’s newest class, then
sends the new first-years forth on a scavenger hunt —to mingle and find each other. His
motive is to get students to see that “they’re not all of the same experience.”

The Class of ’08, as usual, had a diversity of experiences before arriving at Pomona.
Here are four new students whose stories indicate that they are already well on their
way to discovering the passions that may shape their lives.

Breaking the Mold
Catie Camacho ’08 smiles as she recalls the speech that won her the title of 2002
Minnesota State Speech Champion in informative speaking. Called “Molding a Success,” it
was a whimsical speech on America’s most famous dessert, Jell-O. With fascinating
tidbits about the size of the mold measuring a person’s wealth centuries ago and
anthropologists judging immigrant assimilation based on whether Jell-O turns up at
potlucks, the speech had heart.

“I wanted something I could be proud of,” says Camacho of Hudson, Wisconsin. “It’s kind
of embarrassing when you tell someone you won on Jell-O.”

The next year, she went for a more meaningful topic—“something real,” she says of her
original oratory speech on a the N-word, titled a “Most Troublesome Word.”
Unfortunately, she placed fifth that year, perhaps because of the controversial topic.
For her senior year, Camacho said she “couldn’t go down like that.” She needed a winner. She chose the 1992 AIDS speeches. Elizabeth Glaser, who was diagnosed
with AIDS due to a blood transfusion, spoke before the Democratic National Convention.
Mary Fisher, who contracted the disease from her husband, addressed the Republican
Convention. Prior to these speeches, Camacho contends, AIDS was considered a gay man’s
disease, though it had already crossed economic and racial lines.

“While neither speech has led to a cure, both ultimately succeeded in their attempts to
issue calls to action,” Camacho said in her eight-minute speech.
She was named the 2004 Minnesota State Speech Champion.

For Love of the Game
Like so many American boys, Eric Thompson ’08 of Mercer Island, Washington, has been
playing baseball since age 5. After all, wearing a glove and throwing a baseball is a
national pastime.

“We think it’s a uniquely American thing, but it’s not,” says Thompson, who trekked to
Cuba for love of the game at age 13.

Thompson went with his baseball team from the Sandy Koufax League. It was the team
manager’s idea, his attempt to “normalize relationships” and create some sort of
legacy, says Thompson. The team held fundraisers and found sponsors to raise funds for
the trip.

“There was a feeling in the back of my mind: You’re going to Cuba. It’s communist.
Fidel Castro is a bad guy,” says Thompson, who learned more than he ever imagined from
the trip. He hopes to go back someday.

“It was funny to compare the teams going into the games,” says Thompson. “We’re out
there doing our methodical drills and playing catch. They were playing pepper, one
person at bat warming up the team, with no helmets. By our standards, it’s totally
unsafe. But they were having the time of their lives.”

The Americans brought baseball equipment—bats, gloves, helmets—to the Cuban baseball
players, who were playing with old leather gloves that were falling apart. They played
in a stadium of dilapidated concrete with patches of grass, says Thompson, remembering
the goat behind the centerfield wall. “Yet, there wasn’t a depressed attitude,”
remembers Thompson. “The conditions didn’t affect their attitude.”

They loved the game too.

Playing With Fire
Peter Freudenberger ’08 remembers getting wrenches on his second birthday. “I was
always the weird little kid,” he says. “While other kids were playing on the swing, I’d
be trying to figure out how to take it apart.”

Freudenberger, who grew up in Canberra, Australia, always loved to tinker. By the sixth
grade, he found a hobby that captured his interest—pyrotechnics.

“I always loved watching fireworks,” he says, “and if I liked something, I wanted to
figure it out.” His dad, a scientist, encouraged him. “I was always brought up to think
outside the box,” says Freudenberger, who taught himself the chemistry needed to make
fireworks. “I was never told I couldn’t do something because I wasn’t old enough.”

Of course, in the United States, making fireworks could land him in prison, as the
materials needed are on the terrorist watch list. “There’s not really much difference
between making a bomb and fireworks,” says Freudenberger, who has taken a hiatus from
his hobby since coming to Pomona. “One is designed to amuse; the other to destroy
things.”

Back at home, finding the materials to make fountains—his fireworks of choice—was part
of the fun. He’d visit sewing shops for the cardboard tubes used to make the base of
the fountain, find iron brake pads in junkyards to create yellow and orange sparks.
Aluminum, which he found in paint, created the white and silver colors. Then, he’d need
charcoal, sulfur and fertilizer to make gunpowder.

“I’ve still got my fingers,” says Freuden¬berger, when asked about the hazards of using
such perilous materials.

The skull and crossbones on the box he carried into his going-away party might have
freaked out some, but Freudenberger was known for his firework shows. Fountains
sprouting beautiful colors in the air surrounded the backyard for his farewell show.
“When I see them go off, I think back through all that has gone into them,” says
Freudenberger.

Combating Inequities
Naqiya Hussain ’08 broke cultural rules in Karachi, Pakistan, when she
visited the shantytown where her family’s maid lived. As a volunteer intern with
Lawyers for Human Rights, she handed out pamphlets about women’s rights.

“A woman there was being abused by her husband,” says Hussain. “She went on to get a
divorce. Her mother came to my house, saying ‘You ruined my family.’”

The ramifications of being a divorced woman in Pakistan is, in some cases, unbearable.
“A lot of women will stay in abusive situations rather than deal with the social
stigma,” says Hussain. Some abused women commit suicide. “These women have no hope,”
she says.

Hussain was in the ninth grade when she was first introduced to some of the injustices
in Pakistani society, like the abuse inflicted on women and children and the inequity
of laws protecting them. “I was unaware of all these horrible things. No one would talk
about them,” she says. “It was taboo.”

As part of an independent project in an English class, she and other classmates began
interviewing lawyers and human rights activists. They organized a panel discussion that
aired on Pakistan Television. About 70 students from area schools attended.

Hussain had researched legislation, discovering some shocking insights. Though marriage
certificates allowed women to ask for a divorce; the law forbids women from seeking a
divorce. If a woman reports a rape, she must have multiple witnesses and faces jail
should the accused be found not guilty.

“We had hoped it would move people to do something,” Hussain said of the television
show, “but it didn’t.”

If nothing else, it opened the doors for conversation. A weekly show on Islamic law and
women’s issues now airs on Pakistan Television. Hussain continues to work on behalf of
human rights at home.

“A lot of it has to do with education,” she says, fully intending to return home after
college and continue assisting those who need help.
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by Pomona College
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