To the entire Williams community,
A presidency can pass in the blink of an eye.
It was the fall of 2010, but it seems just yesterday that I stood in Chapin Hall at Convocation to deliver my inaugural address. I’d already been on the job for almost half a year, but still it felt like the beginning. What surprises and challenges lay ahead of us? What should we be mindful to preserve, and what would we need to change? What forces from beyond the Purple Valley would affect us, and how would we, in turn, aspire to affect the world?
Not easy questions to answer, to be sure. The sage Yogi Berra once said, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” As all new presidents are compelled to, I still did my imperfect best to deliver on the promise of a vision. But the most important observation I made then, one in which I believe just as deeply today, is that the choices about where to go would not be mine alone. “This day is not about an individual person,” I said, “but about a college.”
And almost a decade later, I’m indeed proud of what we, this college, have accomplished.
We’ve reinvigorated our campus landscape, from the new Sawyer Library and the Class of ’66 Environmental Center to the renovated Chapin and Weston Halls, with the additions to the science center soon to join them.
We’ve started new programs like the Center for Learning in Action, which every day strengthens our relationship to our surrounding communities and deepens our students’ engagement with people throughout the Berkshires and beyond.
We’ve strived to welcome to Williams people from an ever-wider array of backgrounds and identities. Living and learning in a diverse community fosters imagination, empathy, open-mindedness and respect, all characteristics needed now more urgently than ever. And we’ve made strides in keeping membership in this community affordable to students and their families. Leaders don’t usually brag about increasing expenditures. But I’m proud of the more than $50 million in aid we provide to Williams students every year, expressing as it does our deep commitment to expanding educational opportunity.
There’s of course plenty left for the next president to work on, and they’ll do so in collaboration with our entire community: a convocation and sometimes a cacophony of many voices, many aspirations, and many efforts. Let us remember that our most important work, our hardest work, requires every one of us and is by its nature never fully done.
While it’s not my job to set the agenda for my successor, that agenda will surely include continuing to hire and support one of this country’s great teaching faculties. It will surely include continuing to open Williams to students drawn from every part of our society, and to provide everyone who is here the fullest opportunity to thrive. And it will surely include continuing to care for the natural and built environment that is the home for the remarkable work that students, staff, and faculty do: alone, with each other, and, increasingly, in partnership with our alumni.
Back in 2010, I closed my inaugural address by saying, “We love the Williams that we know and have known, but we will love even more the Williams that we create.” I love the Williams we, together, have created, and I hope that you do, too. Now will begin a new phase of its creation. I’ll be following Williams’s ongoing evolution from elsewhere, but will do so with pride, affection and gratitude for all that we’ve achieved in these past eight years.
President and Professor of Physics