A traveler driving northeast through New Mexico’s Pecos Wilderness feels the rutted road go from bad to worse on the way to tiny Montezuma (pop. 200). A bar, a post office, scattered trailers and tract houses tick by. Then an apparition looms above the stark landscape: a “castle” built 97 years ago as a resort hotel. Once a spa for the rich, who enjoyed the local mineral baths, it became a Baptist school, a Roman Catholic seminary, and then for 10 years was abandoned. But now the place is alive again. Britain’s Prince Charles and American millionaire Armand Hammer are scheduled to come to Montezuma this week, not to take the waters, but to open the U.S. branch of a unique international learning program, the United World College.
The two-year, coed New Mexico school, called the Armand Hammer United World College of the American West, has 102 students from 48 lands as distant as Ecuador, Egypt and Senegal. Hammer, the 84-year-old chairman of Occidental Petroleum, spent $6 million to acquire and prepare the 110-acre campus. Prince Charles, titular head of the school in his role as president of the United World College’s international council, is to dedicate it to the late Lord Mountbatten, his great uncle and UWC predecessor, who had opened similar colleges in Singapore, Canada and Swaziland. The UWC’s philosophy, says Theodore Lockwood, the U.S. school’s director, “sounds very idealistic today. But the notion, very simply, was that if men could understand and talk to one another without snarling, it might be a slightly better world.”
The UWC grew out of the ideas of Kurt Hahn, an anti-Nazi educator who was expelled from Germany and went to Britain just after Adolf Hitler came to power. A believer in demanding physical activity and teamwork as well as in academic excellence, Hahn helped start Scotland’s Gordonstoun, the rigorous secondary school that Charles attended, and was a co-founder of the original Outward Bound survival program. In 1962 he also started the Atlantic College in Wales, a two-year school that became the UWC model; today it has 350 students, drawn from 60 countries and ranging in age from 16 to 19. Mountbatten was intrigued by Hahn’s notion that brotherhood could be instilled in potential high achievers of many nationalities and set up the UWC network to foster the idea. Selection committees in 40 countries spot student candidates: bright youths with the drive to be leaders.
Despite successes elsewhere—a new UWC branch opened near Trieste, Italy this year, and others are planned in Venezuela and India—Mountbatten failed to raise enough money for a campus in the U.S. Then, in 1979, Charles invited Hammer, an old friend, to Buckingham Palace for a performance by Atlantic College student actors. “To see all those races and nationalities together, laughing and cooperating, was very impressive,” Hammer recalls. When Mountbatten spoke of his “impossible dream” for a U.S. campus, Hammer decided to make it possible.
He chose the Montezuma site (“I took one look and said, ‘This is it.’ It was so American”) and supervised the search committee that found the school’s director. Lockwood, 58, retired last year as head of Trinity College in Connecticut. His new school, like other UWC colleges, gets most of its applicants from the organization’s selection committees. It offers an “international baccalaureate degree” for a course of study roughly equivalent to that found in the final years of a U.S. high school and in freshman year at a liberal arts college. Character-building wilderness experience is emphasized: Students are expected to spend two afternoons a week mountaineering or assisting the National Park Service. They also spend two afternoons in community service, working in regional high schools or at the local mental hospital.
The tuition ($8,500 this year) is high, but 80 percent of the students are on scholarship. All are highly motivated. One is Andre Kandy-Noayragije, 18, from Africa’s Republic of Burundi, who was referred to Lockwood by a U.N. refugee commission. “This boy had lost his entire family,” says Lockwood. “Lou, my wife, burst into tears when she read his application. He was accepted, got as far as Brussels, and lost all his possessions. Yet he made it here. That’s the kind of adventurous spirit I think Mountbatten had in mind.”