Weekend events celebrate closing of Williams Campaign

This weekend, trustees, donors, alumni and other friends of the College descended on campus to celebrate the closing of the Williams Campaign, one of the most concrete successes of President Schapiro’s tenure. Since its launch in 2003, the campaign has raised $500.2 million to go towards academics, student life and facilities. The events celebrating the closing included seven panels about the College’s current culture and future prospects, as well as celebratory dinners and a formal dedication of the South Academic Building as Schapiro Hall.

Roughly 180 attendees, including trustees, members of the Executive Commitatee of the Society of Alumni, alumni, parents and campaign contributors arrived on Friday. The weekend began with cocktails, dinner and a talk with Williams parent and Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist and author Thomas Friedman. Steve Birrell, vice president for Alumni Relations and the event’s organizer, cited the talk as the weekend’s keynote discussion. Friedman and Schapiro brought to the forefront questions about the College’s future in an evolving world, while Greg Avis ’80, chair of the Trustee Executive Committee, moderated.

“We want this to be a participatory experience for all involved,” Birrell said before the weekend began. “The idea is that the panels will stimulate discussion and give-and-take amongst those attending.”
In this spirit of interaction, Saturday’s schedule revolved around series of panel discussions. The panels included “Brave New Worlds in the Arts,” “Navigating Turbulent Financial Markets,” “The Role of Faith in a Secular College,” “Athletics at Williams and Beyond,” “Emerging Demographics,” “The Future of Liberal Arts” and “Global Citizenry.” Professors, parents and trustees made up the bulk of the panelists. “The topics were chosen because they represent significant issues confronting Williams as it looks ahead,” Birrell said. “We selected the panelists because of the expertise and experience that each would bring to the particular topic at hand.”

The panel on financial markets was perhaps the most timely; though the Campaign raised $100.2 million more than its original goal, this weekend’s celebration came at a time when the College is making 15 percent cuts to all manager’s budgets and reducing spending from the endowment by 17 percent for the next fiscal year. Chief Investment Officer Collette Chilton moderated, and special guests included Rich Hollander, Williams parent and founder of Fridson Investment Advisors. Jimmy Lee ’75, vice chairman of J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. and member of the Non-Marketable Assets Advisory Committee also served, along with trustees Joe Rice ’54 and Sarah Williamson ’84.

One current student, Shayla Williams ’09, participated on a panel. Williams, co-chair of both the Black Student Union and Claiming Williams day, spoke for the Emerging Demographics panel.
Though not an official part of the event program, the South Academic Building dedication commemorated Schapiro in an appropriate gesture for a weekend celebrating the campaign that he spearheaded. A modest group of trustees and donors gathered to watch the unveiling of the plaque that marks the building as Schapiro Hall.

The events concluded on Saturday night with cocktails and dinner at the ’62 Center, and according to Birrell, the celebration achieved its goals. “The combination of intellectual stimulation, serious engagement with issues of import to Williams’ future and just plain fun seemed to resonate well,” he said. Both the quality of the discussions and the prominent leaders who attended spoke to the event’s success. One hundred percent of the trustees came for the occasion, and the pertinent panels provided apt venues for them to connect with other participants.

The interactive nature of the weekend highlighted the crossroads at which the College finds itself. “It is customary to celebrate the conclusion of a successful multi-year fundraising campaign, but Morty wanted us to do something more than just simply have a victory party,” Birrell said. “His vision was to look beyond the campaign to examine the issue which will challenge Williams in the time ahead.”