Moment of Anticipation

To the Williams Community,

This day brings with it each year a sweet anticipation— three parts excitement, one part nerves—as the wave swells that will lift and propel us through another academic year.

Of course, the college was an exciting place to be over the summer, too, albeit a little calmer, with hundreds of students here doing research and working on campus and in the community. You can get a good sense of one of those many vibrant activities—student summer science research—in this newly produced video.

Special greetings go to those of you diving in here for the first time. Your ratio of excitement to gut check may be reversed. But don’t overly worry; you’ll get the hang of it, and there are many people on campus dedicated to helping you do just that.

Many of the satisfactions that we anticipate on this day before classes will be private ones—new skill in tackling a paper or problem set, leading a lively book discussion, fresh progress in research, tackling an administrative challenge, a breakthrough on the stage or the athletic field.

Others will be shared with the small group of entry, course, department, office, team, or club.

And some satisfactions we can all anticipate together in the year to come.

The biggest of those, quite literally, will be the completion of our dramatic new library. Designed to encourage our interactions not only with books and with new media but also with each other, Sawyer will soon advance the kinds of collaborative learning that are a growing part of Williams. You can follow the construction progress, through frequently updated photographs, here.

By the end of next summer we should see also, weather permitting, the renovation and enhancement of Weston Field. This renewal will enrich the experiences of participants in field hockey, football, lacrosse, and track and field, as well as in club, intramural, and recreational sports, and of their many spectators.

There’s also the transformation of Kellogg House. The new home of the Center for Environmental Studies and the Zilkha Center will become, most appropriately, a “living building,” using zero net energy and water, set amid a new orchard and garden.

It’ll be wonderful to watch all these projects come to life.

Something that I’m personally anticipating in the coming year is working with others at the college to explain more effectively how financially accessible a Williams education is. President Obama is the most recent of many leaders to bring public attention to the critical issue of college affordability. It’s certainly true that there are students who are effectively barred by price from some sectors of higher education. But the broad and growing misperception that this sad state of affairs applies to Williams and colleges like it can lead to poor educational choices and threatens to result in misguided policy.

The truth about Williams is just the opposite. Not only do more of our students receive financial aid than at any point in our history, but over the past 15 years, the median net price (comprehensive fee minus grant aid) paid by all aided students at Williams has actually decreased in real terms by almost 40%. Our situation confounds conventional wisdom on this subject, and we can’t expect people, even those in the Williams community, to figure it out on their own. Over the coming months you’ll see new efforts to explain how financially accessible Williams is, the systems that are in place to make it so, and what it takes in the way of resources to keep those systems strong. It’s important that we all understand this better.

Many other, equally important, subjects will be addressed on campus this year—too many to list here.

To remind us why we do all of this work, there’s our Convocation ceremony this Saturday. There we’ll formally begin the academic year and will be able to see firsthand the extraordinary effect that Williams has on the world through our alumni, as we confer Bicentennial Medals on six remarkable people who’ve gone on from here to be leaders in their fields and in their communities. These fields include independent filmmaking, government service, labor organizing, e-commerce, and the fight against global climate change.

So, the work that we do and that begins again now is not only exciting in itself, but also important to our world. My thanks go out to each of you for the vital role you play here. Best wishes for a terrific year to come.

Adam Falk