More than money trees

Last week, Herb Allen ’62 saw fit to submit an opinion to the Record addressing Jiz Lee’s event (“Minding our reputation,” May 2) – clearly a topic of much campus interest and discussion on campus. Unfortunately, much of the student response seemed to follow this line: “It’s just an overreaction by an out-of-touch alum. Screw that.”

An out-of-touch alum? “Geez,” I thought. “I wonder if that’s what students would say about me if I’d written in.” Probably I’d be safer, given that my own time on campus was less than one full year ago. But what about in 30 years? Would I, and my opinion, suddenly be deemed irrelevant, even inappropriate and pushy?

Williams is lucky to have alumni who are so dedicated to the College and take a great deal of interest. The strength of this multi-generational community is increasingly one of my favorite things about this place. Alumni dedication to our college and their desire to see it thrive is what allows for most of what we love about this place. And after we leave Williams, this network can make the world feel a whole lot less lonely. I didn’t understand that 11 months ago.

The weekend after commencement is reunion weekend – this year the Class of 2007 will return, along with the Class of 2002, Class of 1997 and so on. At what point would we start to label a class year as officially too old to matter? The roads around Williamstown are cluttered with alumni who traveled the world and then came home to the Purple Valley. For instance, some of them are Williams professors with gravestones already waiting in the college cemetery; Bruce Grinnell ’62, who submitted the petition ending fraternities, still has his office on Spring Street.

The student population turns over so quickly that our collective undergraduate memory sometimes resembles that of small children, but petulantly rejecting the ideas of alums as “out of touch” gives a stronger impression of headstrong teenagers absorbed in their own needs. Students at the College who feel lost or out of place can always find graduates who felt the same and who have had years to think of what they wished they had known as students. We don’t have to blaze a new trail every four years.

I sincerely hope that when the current students who have pushed for new policies or heightened attention to campus issues graduate, they will stay interested and informed. Whether the issue is sexual assault or the hook-up culture or housing improvements or funding transparency, progress is made because students care about this place and fight for their and their peers’ interests.

It is easy to be confident that you will continue to fight for these issues. During my own years on campus I saw many a student stand up and voice his opinion about campus policies. These were not selfish pleas. They were about making the entire college a better, safer, more enjoyable place – a place we were proud to be members of. Students advocated constantly for future students, for programs that wouldn’t take effect until we were long gone ourselves.

We should be able to expect that same sincere selflessness from them as alumni. To think less of them is to think less of ourselves.

I am certain that many of you will keep a close eye on the College, call your on-campus contacts for details and discuss the actions of your college with fellow alums. This is a wonderful thing.

And maybe you’ll feel so strongly that you’ll write in to the college, which you hold so dear and that is such a huge part of your own identity, with concerns. Or maybe with congratulations or with encouragement to go further and bigger! And I hope no student dismisses you as “an out-of-touch alum” who doesn’t deserve a voice, who isn’t a true member of the family.

Disagreements may be fierce, but there is no good reason that alums shouldn’t be encouraged to voice their opinions and get involved with campus issues about which they care deeply. To claim otherwise strikes me as extremely superior, hurtful and downright callous behavior by Williams students who, in just a few years, will join the ranks of alumni themselves.

In about a month another class will trade being students of the College for being  alumni of the College, and that will be a truly awesome day. But there will be an odd feeling of breakage as new students prepare to take your place on campus and all the physical signs point to you not having ownership of this place anymore: no room, no kitchen, no swipe access. Your Williams Students Online (WSO) login will mysteriously stop working one day and you will know this stage is over.

But don’t fret too much – a new family is seeking to find you and welcome you in. They don’t have a campus and can’t offer you a room, but they are a kind of family, bound together by their interest in a very special place. Notice I didn’t say “love” for a special place (talk about cliché, right?), because many of them find their passion in wanting to change and improve the College. Mike Dively ’61 himself is a great example of that. Many of you will be similarly inspired, to protect, improve and support this place.

So an early welcome to 2012. And the rest of you: Be warned, it doesn’t last forever.


Cameron Nutting ’11 lives in Strasburg, V.A.

One comment

  1. Yes, in theory, you are right…. But what if those who called herb out of touch actually read what he wrote, and actually, like way deep down feel as if he is out of touch… Surely its possible for some alumni to be out of touch, isn’t it? And isn’t it ok to disagree with an alum, even if he donates money? Oh and also, how are you even beginning to know what much of the student response was? From Virginia? Really? From reading wso? And regarding whether or not students would call you, the author of the op-ed, out of touch, were you to write in, did it not ever occur to you that it might depend on What You Write?

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