Since 1954, the University of Rhode Island’s Memorial Union has been a constant fixture on campus and steady piece of student life. But for exactly half of its 60-year tenure, that has been thanks to an equally consistent man at the helm.
As a graduate student in 1980, Bruce Hamilton applied for the job of Assistant Director of Student Involvement, but it was five years later that he would take the role that he has maintained for the last 30 years. Following commencement this spring, Hamilton will be retiring as director of the Memorial Union.
If you ask Hamilton what has kept him here, the answer is quick and unequivocal. “The students,” he says, as if the thought requires no further explanation.
Hamilton, who says he has never gone home bored, credits the student leaders he works with every day in the Union with keeping him young. “I think the students challenge you,” he said, “…you get a lot of energy out of working with and seeing people grow.”
“I think what he does, he does with the students in mind,” said Maureen McDermott, the current assistant director of student involvement. McDermott was hired by Hamilton during his first year with the university.
According to McDermott, Hamilton and his staff have a great deal more of a connection with students than most university administrators. “We all do but I think he does in particular, really, takes the time to get to know the students.”
“I love to teach,” Hamilton said. “When you see a student leader take something on their own and really grasp onto it and take it as their own, it’s really phenomenal … When you watch them grab that and accomplish something, and then you hear back from your peers, ‘Wow, these guys have it together,’ that’s refreshing.”
“For me personally, it’s very strange to think in five weeks he’s gone,” McDermott said.
“I haven’t really come to grips with it,” said Hamilton, “in the sense that come Monday morning, June 2, when I don’t have to wake up at 6 o’clock in the morning and bop down Shermantown Road and come to the University of Rhode Island’s Memorial Union, that’ll be a little strange.”
Hamilton says that, beyond his interests in traveling and spending more time with family and friends, he hopes to volunteer some of his newfound time to at-risk high school students, furthering the same values that have kept him at the University of Rhode Island.
“There are some basic things you can show people,” he said, “and I think the most important piece of all is you might be interested in them.”
Hamilton’s staff will be facing major changes with his departure, as well. “It’s going to be weird,” McDermott said, crediting Hamilton as always being a positive leader and great supervisor. Although the process has yet to begin, McDermott notes that a new director will be a change. “They’re not going to be Bruce.”
Even though his next few weeks will be less about reflection, and more about finishing this year’s work, preparing for a commencement and getting ready for yet another incoming class, Hamilton says he’s taken time to look back.
“So you know time’s going by you but it isn’t until you get to a point like this where you go, ‘this has really been a long time.’”