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Complete Interview with Gary Hirshberg:
Name: Gary Hirshberg
Company: Stonyfield Farm
High School Name: Derryfield School
What classes influenced you most?
Ecology (where we studied the pollution in the Merrimack River and where I really figured out that we had taken a wrong turn in our relationship to the planet) and also US History where we studied the conditions that led us into the Vietnam War.
Did you attend prep school, if yes where and did it make a difference for you? Explain.
Yes, Derryfield School.
Campuses attended, degrees and years received.
Hampshire College, Amherst, MA, BA in Environmental Studies 1976
What was your major? How did you choose that major? How does your major relate to your job today?
Environmental Studies. My career today was completely and absolutely determined by what I studied in college. As a high school student in the late 60's and early 70's and as a college student in the equally tumultuous '70's, I was not only learning to "question authority" and rethink our overall approach to nature and the planet, but I was equally engaged and inspired to work on alternative "out of the box" solutions.
When did you start thinking about college?
My junior year in high school (1970-71).
Who inspired you to go/supported you while you attended college?
My parents of course, but also several of my high school professors, especially the contemporary history professor who got me reading and digesting the news from differing points of view.
What was your greatest challenge associated with going to college?
My college was unique in that we had no grades, requirements, credits or structure. Instead, we progressed through a series of "contracts" and assignments agreed upon with committees of tough faculty members who insisted on interdisciplinary rigor. So the tough part was that I had to get off my butt and not only do the work, but also define the agenda. So it was all about being self-directed and self-disciplined. It was rigorous and taught me that you can do anything to which you apply yourself which was excellent training for being an entrepreneur where one basically does the same thing.
What was the best part about going to college?
Being pushed to think deeply about problems and not just take the easy and superficial solution, and also learning how to write and edit.
Do you currently participate in any alumni events? Are you still connected to the campus(es)?
Yes, I serve on various ad hoc committees for my college and currently am chairing a task force of successful CEO's who are helping the college to look at its overall strategy.
What was your first summer job?
Carpenter's Assistant for a home builder when I was 13. I basically did all the dirty work, crawled around attics putting in insulation and cleaning up after everyone...the work none of the adults wanted to do.
What was your first job out of college?
Faculty Associate in Environmental Studies where I taught a course entitled Introduction to the Polar Environment, (basically a course on climate change).
What advice would you offer to an 8th grader thinking about whether it is possible /important to go to college?
Everything is possible and nothing is impossible. Willpower and determination are the most important (and often most unappreciated) ingredients for success.
Offer a few words of advice to high school students considering whether or not to go to college. Based on your own experience, describe the impact college will have on his/her life.
College is one of the greatest gifts, luxuries and privileges one can obtain in life. The best thing about college is not the facts you learn, but the confidence you can get that you can learn HOW to learn. Success in life depends on being able to assimilate new information and come to reasoned judgments. College affords one the opportunity to learn how to learn, sharpen one's thinking, and polish your ability to communicate and express yourself. It is truly essential for becoming a successful adult.
What advice would you offer to a college student about choosing a major?
Follow your heart. It is not WHAT you learn that is important...it is the confidence and self-discipline that comes from applying yourself to problem solving. This is truly a life skill.
What advice would you offer to a recent college grad about his/her job search?
Be persistent. Don't take "no" for an answer. Dust yourself off, learn what didn't work that time and try again.