NSF director, Shapiro address seniors

Williams College held its Fall Convocation for the class of 2001 this Saturday at 10 a.m. in Chapin Hall. Convocation was held in conjunction with the weekend’s festivities marking the dedication of the new Unified Science Center, with distinguished guests from across the sciences invited to speak and receive honorary degrees.

The ceremony was comprised of a series of speeches and performances as well as the conferring of the honorary degrees. The keynote speaker was Rita R. Colwell, director of the National Science Foundation. Her speech, “The Wellspring of Discovery,” resounded with that of Morton Owen Schapiro, president of the College, who urged seniors to take an interdisciplinary approach to the last year of their college careers.

Convocation ceremonies began at 9 a.m., when the seniors lined up on the north lawn of Morgan Hall. The procession, led by members of the Berkshire Highlanders on bagpipes and drums, began at 9:35 and made its way to Chapin Hall, where the Berkshire Brass Quintet played as the procession entered. James J. Mooney, special sheriff of Berkshire County, called the ceremony to order as seniors, faculty and graduate students took their seats. Richard Spalding, chaplain of the College, gave the Invocation, followed by the Concert Choir singing “The Battle of Jericho.”

Schapiro then welcomed the seniors and graduate students.

“You’ve worked hard,” Schapiro said. “Now you’ve made it – you’re seniors.”

He continued, delivering a message that was similar to the one he gave to first-years during First Days. He said that although first-years may feel like winners for being accepted by such a selective school, the coming four years allow students the chance to truly be winners by taking part in the myriad opportunities available at Williams.

Schapiro held up the seniors as role models for the freshmen. This coming year, he said, will be the last chance for seniors to get involved and take part in those activities they have always wanted to try, thereby showing others what a true liberal arts education is about.

Schapiro placed particular emphasis on the fact that Williams, as a liberal arts college, has only small divisions between the various disciplines taught, and that the infrastructure allowing the interaction between students and faculty is particularly good.

Following the president’s speech Nancy Roseman, dean of the college, introduced the new undergraduate members of Phi Beta Kappa, the oldest undergraduate honors organization in the United States.

The presentation of the Grosvenor Cup Award, an award given annually to the junior who has “best demonstrated concern for the college community and beyond through extensive dedicated service, and who has served with the utmost integrity and reliability,” came next. This year’s award went to Felton Booker ’01 for his participation in community life during his time at Williams.

Ami Parekh ’01 and Todd Rogers ’01, co-presidents of College Council, made remarks before the honorary degrees were conferred, reminiscing about the past three years and telling the seniors to take utmost advantage of their last year at Williams.

Schapiro then awarded eight honorary Doctor of Science degrees to scientists who have excelled in their fields: biologist and president of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Thomas R. Cech; astrophysicist Jocelyn Bell Burnell; computer scientist, statistician and political scientist Edward R. Tufte; geologist William B.F. Ryan ’61; computer programmer Donald E. Knuth; physicist Daniel Kleppner ’53; psychologist George A. Miller and biologist Rita R. Colwell.

Colwell’s speech followed the conferring of honorary degrees. It focused on the importance of merging disciplines, as she stressed her perspective that “how everything [science and humanities] comes together” is the most interesting part of science.

Through her research, particularly on the spread of cholera, she has “seen the power of meeting other disciplines more than halfway.” Colwell, who has saved thousands of lives a year as a result of working together with humanitarian organizations and scientists alike, believes that biocomplexity, her term for an interdisciplinary view of scientific and social interactions, is the key to science.

“Like overlapping kaleidoscopes, biological and physical sciences deepen each others’ hues” when scientists from those fields work together, she said. “And where disciplines meet, creativity thrives.”

The ceremony ended with a rendition of “The Mountains” and a benediction by Spalding.

In spite of the cloudy weather, an atmosphere of festivity still permeated the picnic that followed the ceremony, with students, faculty and alumni gathered on the lawn of Sawyer for hamburgers, cider and discussion.