Community is not an easy word to define. We each give our own meaning to the word. For some, it is a physical place with geographic boundaries while for others it focuses on work or play groups.
Still others find that relationships are the critical issue. All are correct, for we see community through our own set of lenses that correct, distort, recolor and change the relationships of objects and people.
How are the members selected for this community? What do we have to offer? Intellectual skill? Diversity? Enthusiasm? Fantastic personalities? A sizable bank account?
On April 15, 1995, we received a letter from a man many of us had not met, but only recognized as someone who would determine our fates for the next four years, congratulating us on our acceptance into Williams College as the members of the Class of 1999. I stared, my sister stared, and I think even my parents stared at the letter. We stared not only because we were shocked that I had gotten into college, but more specifically because of the purple signature of Tom Parker at the bottom of the page. After careful analysis, we concluded that it was a bona fide handwritten signature. That was our first impression of Williams College. I didn’t know if Mr. Parker, Director of Admission, personally signed all 500 or so acceptance letters and rejection letters or both or neither. Perhaps he did not sign them but possessed a fantastic rubber stamp.
I preferred to think that Williams operated under the principle of personal and individualized contact.
By participating in the Summer Science Program, I was fortunate to be able to check out the College before all the other students arrived at Williams. By the end of that summer I was in love with Williams. I can still recall my phone conversations with my parents about the freshness of the air here, the intelligence of my classmates, their confidence in knowing what they wanted to do with their lives, and especially, my amazement that cars stopped for me to cross Route 2 (this, of course, was before I knew that it was a state law for cars to do so).
Many of us believe that education is valuable when it is acquired in the classroom through a graded process of consumption, that the degree of success the individual enjoys in society depends on the amount of learning he has consumed, and that learning about the world is more valuable than learning from the world. However, our lives are not made up of what grades we received but of the events outside of the classroom: The friendships we made, a mentor saying “I believe in you,” all we did to give back to the community.
It was also the members of this community who made a big impression on me. People on the street acknowledged me and said “hi.” I still remember during my freshman year when a senior friend of mine, despite being sick with a flu, got out of bed and came to Baxter lounge to help me with a chemistry problem set. However, this Norman Rockwell-esque community was too good to last. Perhaps I was too naive during my first two years here and only saw the good. However, in these last two years, there seemed to be a greater trend of people showing less concern for the social consequences of their behavior. Lately Williams students seem to have less of a sense that anyone cares how they act than a greater sense of personal wellbeing. We have students who beat each other up; one student injured someone else who required 35 stitches on his face. Another attempted to break into a locked refrigerator because she knew there were drinks inside. This behavior should not be tolerated in this community.
Yet as of now, I still feel secure, feeling safe enough to know I can always return. A community has been created for us as a result of our taking care of those who take care of us. Williams has done that.
Although the world was not expected to fall into our laps, it was expected to be generous and to welcome us. After growing to maturity entirely within the educational system, leaving Williams is like leaving home for the first time – everybody does it, but the emptiness, the confusions of purposes (for some) and the sense that no one gives a damn, are felt. How we want to go back to the Williams sanctuary, with which we are familiar. Unfortunately, no matter how much we would like to avoid our departure, to be that super-senior whom underclassmen whisper about, that ghost haunting the Sawyer library corridors, Baxter mailroom or Goodrich, it is time to move on. No longer being the brightest, the most talented and the best class that Williams ever admitted (as we were reassured during our first day), it is time for us to bounce out of this commune and into a new one before we settle down.
Still, it is always nice to look back and know we can come back to this purple valley where we were once favored and given all the breaks.