The power of Previews

It’s the best part of any movie: The previews, mini-glimpses into the future, are exciting two-minute distillations of movies not worth seeing otherwise. You get the funniest jokes, the biggest explosions, the most dramatic tears and screams.

But Previews at Williams are something else entirely.

I had the experience the other day of picking up a package from the mailroom, and the girl behind the counter who I vaguely recognized stopped me and said, “You gave my tour when I was here at Previews.”

There are about five or six members of the first-year class with whom I’ve had this experience – the most memorable of which involved a first-year walking up to me as I was working in Paresky and saying, “Are you Chris Fox? You were my tour guide.” I tell this story not for my ego (though it doesn’t hurt that the majority of these “recruits” are girls), but when I was talking with Assistant Director of Admission Sulgi Lim this week, she reminded me that those five or six students are about one percent of the first-year class. President Emeritus Schapiro used to say that as a potential student, you should want to be your tour guide or be with your tour guide, and oftentimes we think of ourselves and our role as that of ambassadors to the outside world or as the face of the College. We are often reminded of how we represent community, but we rarely think about how we actively build it.

Previews is a kind of time-traveling moment, a portal into the future of Williams College, and we have the chance to build our community. This doesn’t mean doing anything differently, but just continuing to take an interest in those students who have taken an interest in Williams and in us.

I was here for admitted students weekend four years ago, and I don’t remember who my tour guide was. I remember how rainy and gross it was. I remember the Jamboree in Goodrich. I remember seeing Frosh Revue do their version of “What’s My Age Again” and laughing. I remember spending hours in Paresky. Most of all, I remember realizing that everyone here was happy to be here and wanted me to be happy to be here too.
It’s the reason why I’m here. It’s the reason why I still love this place.

So whether you’re leading a tour, waving to a tour or your work is being interrupted by a tour, you are a part of the community these students will see, and you could be the thing that makes them decide that they want to be a part of our Williams family.

If everyone is responsible for one percent of the first-year class, then we should give 100 percent of ourselves for each of those one percents: It adds up and it continues, and we are able to create the kind of campus that as seniors we can not only comfortably leave behind but also be excited to come back to.

Of those five or six first-years I toured, two are my close friends. One of them is now a tour guide.

So whether you see this as a responsibility or an opportunity, for the next class of Williams students this is the first of many moments together. The best thing we can do is be our best, because the people who see that and embrace that will be the same people who will love Williams and make it a better place.

So on Monday I had a long conversation with a prospective student named Lauren from New Hampshire about my experience at a school this small with such a talented student body. She asked me if I ever felt like I needed to go out and find more people, like 2000 was just not enough. I told her that I’ve never felt the need for more people, just more time with the incredible people I’ve found here. Williams has a human endowment from its student body that extends far beyond our various rankings and financial measurements.

It’s easy to think about tour guides as people who try to sell the best version of the school, who tell everyone that they should come to Williams. But what I saw at Previews the first time, and what I have continued to preach in the four years since, is this: “I can tell you to come to Williams as much as I want because I love it here, but really my advice is to find a place where you will be as happy for four years as I have been here.” This is how I end all my tours, and in the last few weeks I’ve found myself actually getting a little misty-eyed as I say it.

Reminding ourselves why we chose Williams, that the movie is as good as the preview, is the benefit of Previews for those of us who are already here. Remembering the anxiety and the joy, we can see ourselves in these prospective students, see the future of our school and even guess how their story turns out or even lines up with our own. Previews is a chance to review our experience, reflect on how we have grown in college and even guide some future students along that path we all have traveled, tour guide or not.

Chris Fox ’11 is an English and psychology major. He lives in Poker Flats.

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