On the morning of Monday, Feb. 24, I walked into the Alumni Relations Office and passed the office door of my colleague, Leila Derstine, who leads the Williams Alumni Travel Study program. She didn’t look happy; I asked what was wrong. Her one-word answer: “Coronavirus.” That weekend, outbreak clusters in Italy had surfaced, including the country’s first death. Leila knew that her work would likely never be the same again. Over the coming weeks, the rest of society, including our broader Williams family, would come to realize our lives were forever altered.
On Wednesday, March 4, Alumni Relations held a Speed Networking event in New York City. It was the last in-person event we’ll sponsor for the foreseeable future. This video from the evening serves as a reminder of the world we’ve left behind and one we hope to return to someday, changed for the better in weathering our collective challenge.
Our work in Alumni Relations can be explained most simply as keeping alumni connected to each other and to their college. There are many ways we do that, most of which involve collaboration with alumni volunteers, who are essential partners in execution of events and engagement opportunities. In-person opportunities abound, whether on-campus or off. So how do we stay connected when we can’t physically be together? This is a central question of our time and one our office is responsible for answering for Williams and its alumni.
The short answer will come as no surprise. Digital and virtual is front and center. That ranges from supporting alumni generated content and platforms for distribution to creating large-scale programming opportunities that leverage the knowledge and expertise in the Williams family. Alumni Relations has had to be nimble and deploy our human resources in ways we couldn’t have imagined two months ago. Like many in these times, our team has stepped up and I’ve never been more proud of a group of people.
There is, however, no replacement for people being together. The Class of 2020 made that clear when responding to survey questions related to their “Commencement.” While they will become Williams graduates and formally join the Society of Alumni on June 7, the closure they seek to their time in Williamstown will come when they can gather together again someday. We can’t wait for that moment.
To all undergrads, know that alumni are thinking about you. Even as they navigate their new reality, personally and professionally, they are here for you and lament what is being lost in your Williams experience. The Society of Alumni will celebrate its bicentennial in 2021, and we look forward to providing you with even more tangible examples of what is gained from being part of this community, too.
Finally, on behalf of everyone on the Alumni Relations team and across the division of the Office of College Relations, I share this message with all who want to be together on campus right now but can’t: We miss you. Every person contributes to the collective whole of this community. Thanks for doing your part in these times of distance — our many reunions will be all the sweeter.
Brooks Foehl ’88 is the director of Alumni Relations.