Pete Bakker-Arkema ’17 already said his hardest goodbye at Carleton.
The Ann Arbor, Mich. native and four-year varsity basketball player finished his on-court career in late February. As he entered the locker room following a heartbreaking playoff loss to Bethel, Bakker-Arkema made eye contact with assistant coach Ryan Kershaw. Instantly, they lost it.
“That was a hard moment for me. I was so overwhelmed,” Bakker-Arkema says.
“Coach Kershaw is the type of guy who really cares about who you are outside of sports. I could come to him with any little problem about life, school, family—anything. And he was so sad. It was the first time I ever saw him cry.”
Bakker-Arkema also found himself coming to grips with the end of his competitive sports career—“22 years and it’s over, just like that.” Yet even though playing college basketball fulfilled a lifelong dream, sports didn’t define his Carleton tenure. Before he arrived in Northfield, Bakker-Arkema made sure of that.
“I didn’t want to feel like a basketball player going to college and just be friends with athletes,” says Bakker-Arkema, also a team captain for two years. “While I love the players on my team, love the coaches, I also wanted to feel like I was part of the entire campus.
“A couple weeks ago, my cousin Alex visited, and we were walking down a hall. I was saying ‘hi’ to everyone, and he said, ‘Wow, you know everyone on campus!’ Beyond that, I feel like I’ve actually had a deep conversation with the majority of those same people. That’s been my favorite aspect of Carleton, the connections. That’s what I wanted when I came here.”
Four years at Carleton have inevitably shaped Bakker-Arkema. Likewise, his presence on campus helped shape Carleton.
In a series of interviews with senior students, we asked Bakker-Arkema (economics) to reflect on life as a Carl and the road to graduation.
HOW I GOT TO CARLETON
“I knew I wanted to play basketball after high school, so I started looking at smaller schools. There was a camp at Macalester I was about to attend, and I had a cousin (Julia ‘14) at Carleton. She said, ‘If you’re in the area, you have to come visit. Carleton checks off every box you’re looking for.’ (Julia) has always been considered the smartest person in the family, so it got me thinking, ‘Hey, maybe I should go to Carleton?’
“When I eventually came back to campus for Accepted Student Days, I said that I wanted to stay with a regular student, not a basketball player. It’s kind of weird to know this already in high school, but as much as I wanted to play a sport in college, I didn’t want that to be the thing that defined me at Carleton. I ended up going to a square dance in West Gym—coincidentally, where the basketball court is—with the student that (hosted) me. And it was a blast. I had so much fun. I knew if I could be an athlete and still go square dancing on campus, then it had to be the right fit.”
MY TURNING POINT
“Honestly, my turning point was just getting here. Being able to go to a school and play basketball, be an RA (resident assistant), work in the Career Center, be in Chess Club, try Nordic skiing, create all these friendships—it’s what I had been waiting for. To me, your time in college is special. Your responsibility for four years is to learn. And that’s so cool to me. Once I got in, I felt my mindset change already.
“I took a class called Economics of the Public Sector (Econ: 270), and it was one of those moments that really defined Carleton to me. Our professor (Jenny Bourne) said, ‘OK, this is what I’m going to do: I’ll teach you as much as I can in the first five weeks, and then I’ll give a test. For the next five weeks, you can do any research project in the real world that’s related to what you just learned’. … and to hear that, I just think it’s very liberal arts. She cared that we learned the concepts in class and applied them to the real world. To me, that’s really knowing the material.”
NOW THAT I’M ABOUT TO LEAVE
“I was picking up my cap and gown, and in the corner I saw that they were selling diploma frames. Seeing the diploma in a frame kind of hit me, ‘Hey, I’m going to have that from Carleton.’ All the hard work, everything that I’ve been through, is reaching an endpoint here.
“I think I’m ready to move on. I didn’t always feel that way. I was having such an amazing time during my first three years, I didn’t think I would ever want to leave. But that next step is sinking in. You’re saying goodbyes already, seeing other people get ready to leave. It’s becoming easier.
“What I tell myself—and what I tell my friends who are worried about where we end up after here—is there’s more about Carleton that has yet to show itself. Some of my best friends down the road could potentially be people I don’t even know at Carleton. We could end up living in the same city, and maybe because we said ‘hi’ on campus a few times, we’ll meet up and become really good friends. I think Carleton’s culture of friendliness will continue to follow me.”