On Sept. 25, the College and the community joined together in celebrating both the induction of Adam Falk, the College’s 17th president, and the Fall Convocation exercises for the Class of 2011.
The two ceremonies have always been held separately but were unified this year on the instruction of President Falk, according to Jeff Strait, College Marshal and chair of the induction committee. “Adam wanted Induction to celebrate Williams College and not be entirely about him,” Strait said. “What better way than to also honor the achievements of the senior class and the accomplishments of the bicentennial medalists?”
Members of the Class of 2011, graduate students from the Center for Developmental Economics and the College’s graduate program in art history and faculty marched up Chapin steps and down the aisle of the hall in their academic robes to the strains of the Mucho Macho Moocow Marching Band. The senior class wore purple and gold ribbons to honor the memories of classmates Henry Lo ’11 and Jamie Neal ’11, both of whom passed away during their time at the College.
In addition to honoring the entire graduating class in its final year, the Convocation ceremonies incorporated the formal introduction of the seniors who were elected to Phi Beta Kappa at the end of their junior year, composing the top five percent of the class.
Dean Bolton also awarded the Grosvenor Cup to Will Slack ’11 for his dedication to service and the College community. Among his many commitments, Slack has served the College through participation on various committees – spending a notable four years on the Honor Committee – but also through leadership encompassing clubs, jobs and outreach groups from the Roosevelt Institution to The Feast to Concert Choir.
Bicentennial medals were awarded to five alumni of the College for their accomplishments in fields ranging from physics to art: William Eddy ’49, Daniel Kleppner ’53, William Spriggs ’77, Joshua Kraft ’89 and Camille Utterback ’92. The medal recipients spoke at a panel discussion Saturday morning.
Kleppner also delivered the Convocation address, titled “Epiphanies at Williams.” Kleppner, who is the Lester Wolfe Professor Emeritus of Physics at MIT and co-director of the MIT-Harvard Center for Ultracold Atoms, pioneered the study of Rydberg atoms and received the National Medal of Science in 2006.
Jim Kolesar, assistant to the president for Public Affairs, noted that Kleppner’s speech synthesized the two functions of the ceremony. “[Convocation and Induction] seemed to fit well together, and of course the bicentennial medalists are a reminder of why Williams College exists. It was great that we had Dan Kleppner to fulfill both roles as a bicentennial medalist and in reflecting on Williams from a physicist’s point of view: how [the College] affected his own life and career and what it might mean for a scientist to serve as president,” Kolesar said. “We hope the ceremony built some community and deepened people’s understanding of the institution.”
Eddy has worked with the Peace Corps and as an environmental ed-ucator and advocate, raising awareness to preserve natural habitats in Africa, Central America, the Caribbean, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka.
Spriggs was awarded his bicentennial medal for his work in public policy. The former chair of the healthcare trust for Ford Motor Company’s United Auto Workers retirees, he is the assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Labor and a professor of economics at Howard University.
After building a national model for boys and girls clubs in Chelsea, Mass., Kraft now serves as the president and CEO of the Boys and Girls Club of Boston and is striving to increase the number of youths served by the organization from 16,000 to 32,000.
A 2009 MacArthur Fellow, Utterback was named among the top 100 innovators under 35 by Technology Review for her artwork centering on interactive installation.
Immediately following Kleppner’s address, Greggory Avis ’80, chairman of the Board of Trustees, introduced the students, staff, faculty, alumni and community members who delivered separate speeches welcoming Falk to the Purple Bubble.
College Council co-presidents Ifiok Inyang ’11 and Emanuel Yekutiel ’11 outlined changes to the College over the years – many of which were prompted by student concern – and urged Falk to include students as active members of the campus community.
Danielle Gonzalez, employment manager in the Office of Human Resources, spoke on behalf of staff at the College, and Eiko Maruko Siniawer ’77, an associate professor of history, spoke on behalf of the faculty.
The other speakers were Christopher F. Giglio ’89, president of the Society of Alumni, and Peter Fohlin, the town manager of Williamstown.
After Avis performed the induction rites, Falk took to the podium for his first time as president of the College.
“This day is not about an individual person but about a college,” he said. Falk spoke on the role of education at the core of a college’s existence. He praised the work of Robert Gaudino in advocating “uncomfortable learning” and that of Morty Schapiro, the 16th president of the College, for promoting and expanding the tutorial program.
Falk also acknowledged the endeavors of the College’s 700-some staff members, noting that staff members “are all educators themselves.” His speech also touched on historic student accomplishments, including the 1806 Haystack Prayer Meeting, in which five Williams students catalyzed the modern missionary movement.
“We aim to prepare students for service to the world … in a community committed to education by example,” Falk said.
He spoke about the changing definition of public good and said that one of the greatest accomplishments of the College is “its opening to the world” in terms of becoming diversified over the last several decades.
Falk drew on examples of former presidents’ philosophies, including John Sawyer’s inclusion of students, even “dissenters,” and Mark Hopkins’ desire for students to achieve not only excellence but balance within their lives.
Towards the close of his address, Falk outlined three key goals he would like to see the College achieve during his presidency: to become “a national leader on innovative and effective teaching,” to “develop a deeper understanding of what it means for Williams to be an international community” and to continue to welcome diversity and inclusion and journey “on a path to the rich, vibrant community to which we aspire.
“We love the Williams that we know and have known, but we will love even more the Williams that we create,” Falk said. “Let us join together, now and in the years to come, to bring that Williams forth.”
Falk’s induction stretched the weekend of Convocation from including a single ceremony to being a full three days of events. The full program included an all-campus picnic, Convocation and gala on Saturday.
Strait commended members of the induction committee for their dedication and hard work and furthermore attributed the success of the celebrations to a larger campus effort. “Dining Services pulled out all the stops for this event, which they did extraordinarily well,” he said. “The students took a lot of initiative [in special events planning], and [Academic Program Coordinator] Carrie Green also spent a lot of time working out the details of the weekend.
“Since we don’t do induction very often, there’s been a complete change in the personnel and the people involved in planning since last time so we were starting from scratch,” Strait continued, “but everything seemed to work out just great.”
Jerusa Contee ’11, a student on the induction committee, was excited to be involved in planning the weekend. “We’ve been planning since last Winter Study, so it was great to see that everything went so well,” she said. “This was an important event that students needed to be a part of.”
During the ceremonies in Chapin Hall, Chaplain Rick Spalding delivered the invocation and led a moment of silence for Lo and Neal, before Dean Bolton gave a short speech of welcome.
A trio of Aspen Jordan ’11, Chaz Lee ’11 and Rob Pasternak ’11 performed “Rain” with Jordan and Lee providing vocals on this original composition by Pasternak on piano.
Johannes Wilson ’11 and Candace Gibson ’11 served as class marshals.
Additional reporting by Kaitlin Butler