Arriving at Williams three years ago, I had a solid plan for my desired college life: deep conversations lasting to the wee hours on Kant, Plato and Hobbes, lasting understanding from the political science department on the workings of politics and a stunning social life of dorm parties and weekend outings, anchored by my participation in one of our fine a capella groups. But Williams had other plans for my life.
My deep conversations mostly morphed into Project Runway in the common room as I procrastinated from my Kant reading. Understanding of the comparatively simple politics of Williams’ own governance has been difficult (ignoring the national stupidity, which I have only found to be predictable in its irrationality). My social life as a frosh was slow and arduous until I gradually found and fell in with the friends I hold dear today.
Instead, the best parts of Williams have come as a complete surprise. Last year’s “Mountain Day Miracle” of wondrous, blue-sky weather emerged from a forecast of Siberian doom. The drama on the soccer field as I commentate for our fabulously successful women’s soccer team (just three losses in three years!) continues to captivate me, even though that particular job never occurred to me until a daily message announcement. My joy in ringing Thompson Chapel’s bells to the tunes of Lady Gaga, the Beatles and our own Washington Gladden’s “The Mountains” was also unexpected; I never went inside Thompson Chapel until First Days.
They say that we’re the best college in America, but those rankings are based on numbers: class sizes, student-faculty ratios, percentage of alums in corporate boardrooms and admissions stats. None of these can provide the elusive quality of happiness. This op-ed won’t do that either – my own path to joy here has been in working to improve Williams through changes to Grab n’ Go bags, the Student Activities Resource Center and the Honor Committee, because I somehow enjoy writing long white papers about college policy. I have managed most of this work without being elected to anything save two committees and in fact have never served on College Council. The title of “student” carries more weight here than you might realize. Others of us find joy atop the stage, on the field or within the lab, and each class at Williams is selected to have gifts in all of these contexts and more. We are chosen for our differences, just as much as for our similarly high SAT scores and GPAs.
Instead, the factor that has and will unite us (the same factor that has led to at least 2384 Ephs marrying each other, according to the Alumni Office) is this: We enjoy a common experience in Williamstown. We share ridiculously cold Septembers and disgustingly slushy Aprils. We hunker down for midterms and exams and then take a break to high-five the Springstreakers as they come through the carrels. We go to Goodrich to dance and party despite knowing all too well about the insanity, heat and ridiculousness we’ll find there. And while we all have a different set of experiences, enough are held in common that I think there’s a true “Williams Community” to be found deep within this campus’s veritable petri dish of ideas and energy.
However, some of us cannot claim Williams so easily, in part because of the differences we bring. The New England architecture is familiar to some and strange to others of us, and formal dinners at the President’s House can either be as familiar as a debutante ball or as intimidating as an interrogation from Dave Boyer. Some of us can’t believe how conservative everyone seems to be, while others feel constricted by political correctness. And I could shrug off my $450 bill for books at Water Street, while friends not on aid struggled to justify spending so much on books. But despite these differences and drama, which were here before us and will likely remain even after we pass through Hopkins Gate in cap and gown, our time together does build bonds.
It’s why the homes and streets around this school are filled with alums who came back to the Purple Valley for their retirement. It’s why I keep finding out that people I know here are related to each other. And it’s why so many of us will return every five years to try on Williamstown once more, with so many parties in so many places that I think Security and the Williamstown Police Department essentially give up for one night.
I go to Williams, and all of y’all do as well. Whatever your path to joy within the Purple Valley might be, I wish you luck as you seek it, and peace in those moments where happiness seems impossible to find. I expected a perfect college life but found a mixed bag. Going into an amazing senior year, I wouldn’t have had it any other way.