Relishing our time in the Berkshires

Students will wake up to chiming bells announcing Mountain Day one Friday morning this October. Many will gather on Baxter Lawn and depart for Stony Ledge, taking part in a tradition that dates back to the earliest days of our 208-year-old College.

And though the event offers the campus a brief respite from the demands and rigors of the academic year, Mountain Day is something much more significant. It gives the Williams community a chance to gather and come together to experience something that defines this bucolic corner of New England. Such collective action is something we rarely engage in, and we should use it as a starting point for sustaining a greater shared interest in and appreciation for this unique region in which we spend such a substantial and formative period of our lives.

The Berkshires are a special place replete with distinctive landmarks and cultural opportunities. At the same time, they are an area of intense socioeconomic disparity. In our backyard we have both picturesque mountains and struggling post-industrial towns. We have both unsurpassed cultural venues and severely polluted sites. We have both historical landmarks and forgotten attractions. We live in a complicated and fascinating area, yet rarely do we offer ourselves the occasion to explore it, immerse ourselves in it and engage it.

With busy schedules and countless on-campus events, we often forget about the environment in which we live. In many cases, the surrounding area seems irrelevant to our day-to-day existence, as we move in and out of dormitories and classrooms. Yet Williams is certainly more than just a scattered array of buildings. Williams is part of a greater community that enlivens and depends on it.

The Mountain Day celebration is a chance for us to move beyond the confines of the campus and start to realize the full potential of our extended community. While Mountain Day affords us a chance to enjoy the serenity of the Greylock Range on just one Friday afternoon this month, we must continually seek out opportunities to connect to this, our home away from home.

We should soak up the cultural opportunities and participate in community redevelopment. We should be active citizens of our larger Berkshire community. From around the world, we come to this tiny village in Western Massachusetts, and bring an immense amount of diversity—in our varied backgrounds, experiences and talents—to the Berkshires. Not only can we learn from this region, but we can bring so much to it as well.

We should all accept the challenge to embrace this place and experience its defining aspects. No student should leave here without visiting the top of a mountain or the Hancock Shaker Village; without spending time at the Clark or MASS MoCA; without getting donuts at Neville’s or a burger at Jack’s.

Moreover, Williams should more fully recognize its role in helping students experience this area. Service learning programs, sponsored trips to local community celebrations and historical landmarks should be embraced by an institution that in many ways defines this region.

The College provides a van service to local stores, such as Stop & Shop and Wal-Mart. But students can all too easily lose out on the color and flavor of Main Street, North Adams or Four Corners in Bennington; likewise, students should make time to reach the top of Mount Greylock and read Herman Melville’s words engraved on a stone next to the Appalachian Trail as well as clamber through the autumn corn maze at the Apple Barn. The College and students alike need to embrace the cultural jewels in our region, including Tanglewood and Jacob’s Pillow.

We spend four years of our lives in this valley but often we struggle to learn about and appreciate its unique places and identities. If more of us ventured out into our Berkshire surroundings – from Great Barrington to Bennington – Williams students would not only gain a greater appreciation for this beautiful place where we live for four years, but add a valuable degree of diversity to this rural environment.

Williams is lucky to be situated in such a unique area of the country and yet students can reside here for four years without realizing that the Berkshires should be as integral a part of their Williams education as their classes.