Fred W. Thiele, Jr.
New York State Assemblyman, Southampton College Class of 1976
I grew up in Sag Harbor and graduated from Pierson High School in 1971. I was a good student, loved government and had thought about making it a career since I was 11 years old following Bobby Kennedy’s successful run for the U.S. Senate from New York.
In the fall of 1971, I packed my bags and headed to Cornell University, the first member of my family to ever go to college. I had a good freshman year. I took six of my 10 courses in political science, history and economics. I knew what I wanted to do and soaked up everything college had to offer. However, the road of life is seldom a straight line. Personal and family issues prevented me from returning to Cornell in the fall of 1972. I stayed in Sag Harbor, got a job working in a shoe store and wondered with fear and trepidation whether I would be able to fulfill my dreams. Regardless of what else was going on in my life, I was driven to move forward with my education.
To be honest, I had passed Southampton College a million times since 1963 and never thought about the place. I had bigger plans. However, in 1974 I was worried that I would never get back to college at all. I decided to visit the campus and talk with the head of the Political Science Department. I met Professor Roger Goldstein on a snowy Sunday afternoon in January. I applied, got the scholarship I needed, and suddenly I was a student again.
The small classes and personal attention were exactly what I needed while still attending to family issues. I met Professor Don Baker that very first semester. He became a mentor who kindled my interest in learning. He was the single most important influence in my college career. Soon, he had arranged an internship for me in the New York State Assembly in Albany. I graduated in 1976, worked my way through law school as an Assembly staffer and came home to Long Island to a very successful career in government. Twenty years later I returned to Albany and took the oath of office as the area’s State Assemblyman.
People often ask me why I am so passionate about the Southampton campus. Why do I fight so hard to make sure that the campus remains as a center of learning and opportunity? I remember being a confused 20 year old, uncertain about the future. I remember a college that gave me the opportunity to get back on track and pursue my dreams. What might have happened to me if the college wasn’t here? How many other young East Enders have had a similar experience?
The Southampton campus is a special place. It has rolling hills and tremendous views of the bay and ocean. There is our iconic symbol…the windmill. However, it is the memories of the people I met there on my own personal journey that stick with me: the students, the professor, and a college community that is quite unlike any other place. Many are friends and professional colleagues to this day. The campus is an integral part of the tapestry of East End life. It represents to me what education in general represents for our society — opportunity.