I am thankful to say that at Williams, more than in society at large, we place value on the importance of individual and original thought and creativity. The importance of original thought – creating something out of nothing – lies not in the final product of the creative process but in the experience itself. When we create, we affirm individuality. Creation proves once again that society’s version of individuation – choosing between predetermined political arguments, the hair styles of film stars, different brands of the same product, the genres of music churned out by megacorporations – cannot measure up to one’s value as an individual. The feeling derived from the experience of creating is a reminder of one’s innate difference from society. It has the opposite effect of consumption, which is the identification of one’s needs and wants with those of society.
While most of us here tend to drive towards creation, it is especially easy to exist at Williams as purely a consumer – precisely because we are such a vibrant, active, creative student body. Regardless of what each person does as an individual, there will always be countless others in event-planning clubs, student groups, the College administration and clubs that will create things for everyone else to consume. You can sit back and relax, because at the end of the day ACE will always plan First Fridays, Cap & Bells will continue to turn out theater productions, music groups will perform for you, a cappella will sing to you, Kusika will dance and drum for you, WOC will organize hikes for you and neighborhoods will provide programming for you. WCMA and the Clark will bring you art; Dining Services will prepare your food and College Council will solve your problems. In short, “more servants wait on man than he’ll take notice of.”
A million forces encourage people to be consumers rather than creators. The forces want to tell people what they are, what is best for them and what they want and need in life. The omnipresent forces of government, media and corporate wealth desire people to agree with them based not on their own experiences but based on arguments that, through focus panels, surveys and manipulation by experts have been scientifically designed to convince. They want you to have automatic, robotic reactions to certain words, ideas and images. They want people to buy their pre-packaged products and ideologies. They reproduce that which already exists.
Thus in a world where everything is provided for us, we run the risk of becoming pure consumers. Many outside of the purple bubble already are. I’d like to caution you against consumption. Creativity and originality are skills that die with disuse; if you do not exercise your ability to create, I guarantee that you will lose it. If you live your life by absorbing the pre-created products and styles, ideas and ideologies and hopes and fears of others, your imagination will certainly die. Along with it, your ability to be critical will also die. Along with that, your existence as separate from society will no longer exist.
There is a reason I’ve chosen to write this now. Williams is in the terrific position that it is in today because in the past it turned out graduates who used their originality and creativity to make it to the top of their respective fields: entrepreneurs, playwrights, artists, politicians, diplomats. Since the de-regulation of the banking industry from Reagan to Clinton, however, our best minds have gone primarily into banking. Banking, unlike starting a business, is unrelated to the ability to create. Instead, it invests money in those that already do.
It is difficult work. It promotes a consumer mentality and kills the creative heart. Yet it is where our best and brightest choose to go. Somehow, our most creative young people, who spend so much of their time creating things for one another at Williams, choose in large numbers to enter a field that promises to stifle their originality.
I hope you take this as an encouragement, as you look for internships and jobs, to start thinking outside of the box. Apply to places beyond the same old consultancies and i-banking firms. Look at non-profits and cultural gigs. Consider your happiness, as well as your paycheck. Apply for travel fellowships. You can also get really wild: Write out a grant proposal and spend a half-year making a movie. Take a risk.
If you haven’t gotten involved creatively on campus, do so now. Act in a show. Write for the sketchbook. Plan a party. Start a group. Write an op-ed for the Record. Post on WSO. Join the photo club. Make a piece of art. Write a short story.
Each of us is an individual in many unique ways. I hope we remember to express it.