Coakley speaks at ceremony

Garbed in caps and gowns and led by bagpipes and the High Sheriff of Berkshire County, the members of the Class of 2004 filed into Chapin Hall for Convocation on Saturday morning. After being organized on Morgan lawn by Class Marshalls Akilah Rogers ’04 and Adam Grogg ’04, the seniors crossed Main Street and processed across Baxter Lawn into Chapin. After an invocation by Rick Spalding, College Chaplain, President Schapiro made his opening remarks.

Convocation marks the official beginning of the academic year, and in saluting the Class of 2004, Schapiro reminded the seniors of the words of encouragement he had given them three years before when they began their time at the College. He spoke of the College’s continuing strides in bolstering the intimate academic atmosphere and encouraged them to take advantage of the special aspects of a Williams education.

“It isn’t over yet,” said Schapiro, in encouraging the seniors to be proactive. “It’s not too late, but Graduation Day will be upon us before you know it.”

In her talk, entitled “The Pursuit of Happiness in the New Millennium: What if the Hokey Pokey Really IS What It’s All About?,” speaker Martha Coakley ’75 addressed how seniors could channel their uncertainties and excitement about the future into activities that would lead to personal happiness.

After graduating from Williams, Coakley earned a law degree from the Boston University School of Law and worked at several law firms. She has spent the bulk of her legal career representing citizens of Middlesex County. She worked at the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office for nearly two decades in various capacities and has for many years specialized in the prosecution of child abusers. She was appointed chief of the Child Abuse Protection Unit in 1991 and resigned in 1997 to mount a successful campaign for District Attorney for the 54 towns comprising Middlesex County. As District Attorney, Coakley has earned accolades for her commitment to prevention, public safety and building a strong sense of community in the county.

Coakley began with a snapshot of her own mood following graduation.

“The world was my oyster, and most of my classmates were pretty optimistic about life,” she said. “[Since then] as District of Attorney of Middlesex County, I have become a little cynical, perhaps by seeing every day the seamy side of life.”

However, she highlighted the great importance of how the grief and rage of victims and their families could be harnessed to bring about a positive change in the community. She cited how families of abused children banded together to lobby for improved legislature and the less far-reaching but no less important effort by a family to have a traffic light and cross walk installed where their child had been run over by a car. In doing so, she emphasized how the ideals and emotions of uncertain college seniors could be used to make a difference in society.

“There’s still no cure for the common cold,” she said to the members of the Class of 2004 in emphasizing the challenges waiting to be tackled after graduation. “We have not solved all the problems my class thought we would, and probably created some more problems over the years. There are plenty of challenges that are left for you.”

In a speech filled with quotes from authors, philosophers and rock bands, Coakley emphasized the theme of finding happiness in facing challenges and overcoming them. “The people who are most happy are those whose pursuit of happiness is intimately enmeshed with doing something different and making a difference,” she said.

She exhorted the seniors to be aware of the many opportunities open to them and to take risks to achieve their objectives, and consequently their happiness.

“There are not too many opportunities that I had that I didn’t take,” she said.

During the course of the journey, she suggested, it is essential that the seniors take time to recognize what they are doing and how their character are developing.

“There is something that you can do well,” she said, that is important to recognize in order to be happy. She encouraged the seniors to “sail away from the safe harbor” in order to find their talents. Only then, she said, after discovering what they are good at, can they pursue their destiny and be happy.

In addition to citing her talent of oral argument, Coakley highlighted the importance of simple talents that lead to happiness. She stressed the necessity of laying a foundation that will lead to further social development, but also of being cognizant of one’s limits.

“We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that,” she said. “[So] be not afraid to reevaluate along the way. It’s hard to know who you are and where you’re going. But you’ve had a few good years at Williams to start building a road map.”

In addition to Coakley’s speech, Dean Roseman presented the students inducted into the Phi Beta Kappa academic honor society and announced Drew Newman ’04 as this year’s recipient of the Grosvenor Cup.

The Cup is awarded annually to a member of the senior class in recognition of outstanding service to the class and community. On campus, Newman has been instrumental in developing and implementing a plan to create All Campus-Entertainment (ACE), the College’s student-run comprehensive social planning organization. As an architect, counsel, and now President of ACE, Newman has overseen a radical expansion in the scope and number of social events held at the College. As a result of Newman’s work, said Dean Roseman in her speech, “I think it’s fair to say that generations of students will benefit from his vision.”

“I am incredibly honored to have received the Grosvenor Cup,” said Newman. “Williams continues to give me so much — incredible friendships, tons of knowledge, critical thinking and writing skills and real-world business experiences — that I try to give back as much as I can to our community.”

Chin Ho ’04 and Mike Henry ’04 also presented remarks about their appreciation of the strength and talent of the Williams community. The seniors then processed out of Chapin Hall and onto Sawyer Lawn for a campus-wide barbeque after the ceremony.

Students had varying reactions to the speeches.

“I thought it was a good reminder, in the midst of the confusion and excitement of the first few days of school, of where we are and what we’re doing here,” said Loren Silvertrust ’04. It was an opportunity to look beyond our friends and be motivated by individual talents and the class as a whole, and I found Martha Coakely’s speech appropriately inspiring. Overall, it was a pleasant albeit unnecessary diversion.”

“[F]or the most part the talks were light-hearted and enjoyable,” said Jesse Geller ’04. “Drew Newman’s name came up so many times, he seemed to be the focus of the ceremony. The featured speaker gave us the usual ‘I hope you dance’ spiel, which I could have sworn I heard before at my high school graduation, but this time with a hokey-pokey twist. I didn’t doze off once though, and even if there is no such thing as a free lunch, it was free to me, so I’m not complaining.”