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Teach First Years to Sing “The Mountains”

To the JA’s for the class of 2021:

oakleyAt the 1989 Williams graduation ceremonies, then-President Francis Oakley had a problem. Light rain showers, which had threatened all morning, started midway through the event. Thinking that he should speed things along, and realizing that virtually no one knew the words to “The Mountains,” President Oakley proposed that the traditional singing be skipped.

A cry arose from all Ephs present, myself included. Although few knew the words, all wanted to sing the damn song. Sensing rebellion, President Oakley relented and led the assembled graduates and guests through a somewhat soaked rendition of the song that has marked Williams events for more than 100 years.

Similar scenes play themselves out at Williams gatherings around the country. At some of the Williams weddings that you will attend in the future, an attempt, albeit a weak one, will be made to sing “The Mountains.” At reunions, “The Mountains” will be sung, generally with the help of handy cards supplied by the Alumni Office. It is obvious that most graduates wish that they knew the words. It is equally obvious than almost all do not.

We have a collective action problem. Everyone (undergraduates and alumni alike) wishes that everyone knew the words — it would be wonderful to sing “The Mountains” at events ranging from basketball games to Mountain Day hikes to gatherings around the world. But there is no point in me learning the words since, even if I knew them, there would be no one else who did. Since no single individual has an incentive to learn the words, no one bothers to learn them. As Provost Dukes Love would be happy to explain, we are stuck at a sub-optimal equilibrium.

mountainsFortunately, you have the power to fix this. You could learn “The Mountains” together, as a group, during your JA orientation. You could then teach all the First Years during First Days. It will no doubt make for a nice entry bonding experience. All sorts of goofy ideas come to mind. How about a singing contest at the opening dinner, judged by President Falk, between the six different first year dorms with first prize being a pizza dinner later in the fall at the President’s House?

Unfortunately, it will not be enough to learn the song that evening. Periodically over the last dozen years, attempts have been made to teach the words at dinner or at the first class meeting in Chapin. Such efforts, worthy as they are, have always failed. My advice:

1) Learn all the words by heart at JA training. This is harder than it sounds. The song is longer and more complex than you think. Maybe sing it between every session? Maybe a contest between JAs from the 6 first year houses? If you don’t sing the song at least 20 times, you won’t know it by heart. Don’t be a Lord Jeff and settle for only the first and last verses. Learn all four.

2) Encourage the first years to learn the song before they come to Williams. There are few people more excited about all things Williams in August than incoming first years. Send them the lyrics. Send them videos of campus groups singing “The Mountains.” Tell them that, as an entry, you will be singing the song many times on that first day.

3) Carry through on that promise! Have your entry sing the song multiple times that day. Maybe the two JAs sing the song to the first student who arrives. Then, the three of you sing if for student number 2. And so on. When the last student arrives, the entire entry serenades him (and his family). Or maybe sing it as an entry before each event that first day.

4) There should be some target contest toward which this effort is nominally directed. I like the idea of a sing-off between the 6 first year dorms with President Falk as judge. But the actual details don’t matter much. What matters is singing the song over-and-over again before their first sunset as Ephs.

Will this process be dorky and weird and awkward? Of course it will! But that is OK. Dorkiness in the pursuit of community is no vice. And you and your first years will all be dorky together.

For scores of years, Ephs of goodwill have worked to create a better community for the students of Williams. It is a hard problem. How do you bring together young men and women from so many different places, with such a diversity of backgrounds and interests? Creating common, shared experiences — however arbitrary they may be — is a good place to start. Mountain Day works, not because there is anything particularly interesting about Stone Hill, but because we all climb it together.

Until a class of JAs decide as a group to learn the words themselves (by heart) during their training and then to teach it to all the First Years before the first evening’s events, “The Mountains” will remain a relic of a Williams that time has passed by.

But that is up to you. Once a tradition like this is started, it will go on forever. And you will be responsible for that. A hundred years from now the campus will look as different from today as today looks from 1917, but, if you seize this opportunity, Williams students and alumni will still be singing “The Mountains.”

Congratulations on being selected as a JA. It is a singular honor and responsibility.

Regards,

David Kane ’88

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Remember the Tablecloth Colors

A Record op-ed:

I am frustrated by many of the ways in which the campus has changed, most particularly the sudden prominence of the well-intentioned but detrimental Office of Campus Life [OCL], which is locked in a stagnating cycle of its own design. By in effect naming itself “the decider” when it comes to student life, the campus life office has alienated the College’s best leaders. As a result of this rift, the office has become inwardly-focused, self-promotional and deeply resistant to constructive criticism. Student life is student-driven no longer.

No kidding. EphBlog has made this prediction over and over and over again. The more control that Williams students have over life at Williams, the better. The more people (intelligent and well-meaning though they may be) that are hired by the College to “help,” the less active students will be.

The main rational used by CUL in establishing OCL 14 years ago — All the other schools have one so it must be a good idea! — was stupid then and it is stupid now.

Writer Ainsley O’Connell tells a depressing tale. Anyone who cares about student life at Williams must read the whole thing.

When I arrived on campus, director of campus life Doug Bazuin and his staff were a distant idea, not a reality. Barb and Gail administered activities on campus, helping students schedule events from their fishbowl office at the heart of Baxter Hall. Linda Brown administered room draw, her maternal warmth and firmness easing the process. Tom McEvoy (who has since departed) and Jean Thorndike provided big-picture support and served as liaisons between students and administrators. When students were moved to champion a new policy or party idea, Tom and Jean were willing to listen, and often to lend moral and financial support. The execution fell to students, but this sense of responsibility fostered greater ownership.

Great stuff. One of the purposes of EphBlog is to capture this sort of testimony, the thanks of current students to the staff members that have done so much.

But those with long memories will note what a mockery this makes of the CUL’s discussion in 2001 of the lack of staff devoted to student life. Indeed, if there is any table which demonstrates the dishonesty/incompetence of CUL during those years it is this description Staffing at Comparable Institutions. Click on the link. Let’s take a tour. (The line for Williams (all zeroes in bold) is at the bottom.)

First, note how the JA system magically disappears. The “50 junior advisors” for Bates are listed under “Student Staff” but, at Williams, they have vanished. Second, the CUL pretends that Dean Dave Johnson ’71 does not exist. The countless hours that he spent (and spends) working with the JAs and First Years doesn’t matter. Yet you can be sure that one of the “3 Assistant Deans” at Emerson does exactly what Johnson does at Williams, although probably not as well. Third, the CUL erases all the work and commitment of people like Linda Brown and Tom McEvoy, as evoked so nicely by O’Connell.

None of this is surprising, of course. Morty decided in 2000 that there were certain things about Williams that he was going to change. By and large, he has changed them. He and (former) Dean of the College Nancy Roseman and (former) CUL Chair Will Dudley implemented Neighborhood Housing, the biggest change at Williams this century. It was a total failure and has now, thankfully, been removed. Schapiro, Roseman and Dudley went on, despite this disastrous own goal, to college Presidencies at Northwestern, Dickinson and Washington and Lee, promotions which doubled (even tripled) their Williams salaries.

O’Connell goes on:

I will not dispute that in 2003 Williams needed a stronger support system for students looking to launch new initiatives and throw events open to the campus. For many, extracurricular activities had become a burden, with unreasonably long hours spent planning and preparing events down to the last detail. Yet today, some of the best and most innovative groups on campus remain far-removed from campus life, driven by highly motivated and talented individuals. Take Williams Students Online, for example, or 91.9, the student radio station: Their success lies in their student leaders, who have been willing to commit their time to making sweeping changes that have transformed WSO and WCFM, respectively.

It may have been reasonable for O’Connell not to see, in 2003, how this would all work out, but she is naive in the extreme not to see now that this evolution was inevitable. How shall we explain it to her? Imagine a different paragraph.

I will not dispute that in 2003 Williams needed a stronger support system for students looking to launch new publications and manage current ones. For many, writing for and editing student publications had become a burden, with unreasonably long hours spent planning and preparing everything down to the last detail. Yet today, some of the best and most innovative groups on campus remain far-removed from the Office of Campus Publications, driven by highly motivated and talented individuals.

In other words, why isn’t it a good idea for Williams to create an Office of Campus Publications [OCP], with a Director of Campus Publications and a staff of Campus Publication Coordinators? After all, as the meltdown of the GUL in 2001 (?) and the Record‘s occasional inability to pick a single editor-in-chief demonstrates, students sometimes need help. They often make mistakes. Who could deny that having someone to “help” and “support” the Record (and GUL and Mad Cow) wouldn’t make those publications better? No one. Perhaps OCP would even have prevented the demise of Rumor and Scattershot.

But would the experience of the students writing those publications be better with a bunch of (intelligent, well-meaning) paid employees of the College hovering over them? No. That should be obvious to O’Connell. Writing for and editing the Record these last 4 years has probably taught her as much about life its own self as any aspect of her Williams education. If she had had a Doug Bazuin equivalent supervising her all this time, her experience would not have been as rich, her education not as meaningful.

As always, critics will claim that I am advocating that the College provide no help or support, that we abolish the Dean’s Office. No! Some support is good, just as some social engineering is desirable. But, on the margin, the contribution of the OCL is negative.

Vibrant means “long hours spent planning and preparing events down to the last detail.” This is exactly why student institutions like WCFM, WSO and others (Trivia? Rugby? Current students should tell us more) are so vibrant. O’Connell acts as if you can have a vibrant organization or community without time and trouble, sweat and tears. In fact, you can’t.


O’Connell writes as if vibrancy appears from nowhere, that someone just sprinkles magic pixy dust on WSO and WCFM. No. Vibrancy, community, innovation and almost everything else worth having in this imperfect life require “unreasonably long hours” and “preparing everything down to the last detail.” You don’t think that Ephs like Evan Miller at WSO and Matt Piven at WCFM sweat the details? Think again
.

Unfortunately, the Office of Campus Life and the Dean’s office, which oversees it, have not fostered this model. Instead, both offices have moved in the opposite direction, at times going so far as to render student involvement wholly superficial, as with the planning of this year’s Senior Week. The senior officers elected by the Class of 2006 do nothing more than choose tablecloth colors; it is assistant director of campus life Jess Gulley who runs the show. Hovering over student shoulders, the campus life staff of today is like a mother or father who wants to be your friend instead of your parent. The office should cast itself as an administrative support service, not the arbiter of cool.

Harsh! True? Current students should tell us. But note that this is not Gulley’s fault! I have no doubt that she is wonderful and hard-working, dedicated to making student life better. Each day, she wakes up and tries to figure out how to make this the best Senior Week ever. That is, after all, what the College is paying her to do. In that very act, of course, she decreases the scope of student control and involvement.

Back in the day, students handled almost all aspects of Senior Week. I still remember dancing the night away, in my dress whites, at Mount Hope Farm, the most beautiful Eph of all in my arms. No doubt this year’s seniors, 28 years younger than I, will have a fine time as well. Because of Gulley’s involvement, it may even be true that the events are better planned and organized. Yet everything that she does used to be done by students, hectically and less professionally, but still done by them.

The more that students do to run Williams, the better that Williams will be.


This is a revised version of a post from 2006.

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Questions about the 80’s II

Gargoyle is interested in Williams history and has passed along some questions about life at Williams is the mid-to-late 1980s. I will be posting (and answering) these questions. If you were around during this era, please chime in!

What were the major issues and topics of conversation that students at Williams were concerned with?

Issues and topics of conversation were, more or less, the same then as now. Consider some front page articles from the issues of the Williams Record from September 2016.

Seniors, Faculty Convocate
Minority Students Preview Science Courses
Student Rental Disturbs Neighbors
College Council Discussed Ways to Recruit Minority Faculty
Baker Like Mass MoCA
Falk Appoints Cook to Head Race Relations Board
Department Chairmen Stress Minority Recruitment Efforts
Tauber Chairs IPECS, New Department for Innovative, Interdisciplinary Courses
Council Reorganizes Freshmen Council

Oh, wait. Did I claim that these were the front page Record articles for September 2016? My mistake! Those were the front page Record articles for September 1987. (I made two switches: replace (then president) “Oakley” with “Falk” and (then governor) “Dukakis” with “Baker.”) Careful readers might have been suspicious about some of these headlines. We now use “chairs” instead of “chairmen.” We now talk about “diversity” instead of “race” or “minority.” Professor Kurt Tauber (bless his Marxist heart!) is long retired and Professor Tim Cook, sadly, passed away several years ago.

But, to me, the amazing thing is the constancy of the issues/topics that concerned the Williams community, then and now. Indeed, with minor word changes, each of these titles could be a Record article today. We were obsessed with race in the 1980s. Williams is obsessed with diversity today. Affirmative action — admitting students and hiring faculty with worse qualifications because of the color of their skin — was controversial then, just as it is today. The general liberalism of Williams students has, if anything, grown over time. There was an active Garfield Republican Club in the 1980s, not so today.

Of course, many other issues/topics are different. The biggest single issue at Williams during this era, as we discussed yesterday, involved apartheid in South Africa and the College’s response to it, especially in terms of divesting the endowment from companies doing business there. There was a “shanty town” on Chapin Lawn, at least for a several months and maybe longer. An impressive display of white crosses in the same location, to illustrate the fatalities associated with apartheid, was a major event one year. Concerns about nuclear winter were common, with movies like The Day After highlighting the dangers of conflict with the Soviet Union.

Yet, looking back, the political disputes then and now are more similar than they are different. The major changes have been technological. For example, how much porn does the typical (male?) Williams student consume each week? Thirty years ago, pornography was vanishingly rare. There must have been (male?) students with copies of Playboy and Penthouse, but I never knew of them. My avante-garde theatre major roommates rented a porn video once and, on at least one occasion, Images showed something along the lines of Lady Chatterly’s Lover, but the modal Williams student viewed almost no pornography while at Williams.

Similar changes have come in all sorts of communications technologies. Back then, the typical Greylock suite had a single phone line, shared by 4 or even 6 students. Non-local calls were so expensive that, at the end of each month, roommates would look at the bill and specify (and pay for) the calls they had each made. Finding out a fact as simple as, did the Dodgers win last night, was non-trivial.

Some students had TVs but channels were limited and reception poor. Cable only became available in some dorms, and then only in the common areas, in the later 1980s.

Summary: A transcript of a Williams college class from thirty years ago, especially something in the sciences or humanities, is very similar (98%?) to today’s transcript. A practice session for the soccer team or the Springstreeters is also more-or-less the same. But the entertainments students consume, the communications they employ and the computer devices they use are all radically different.

How would our reader who were at Williams in the 1980s answer this question? What about readers from other eras?

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Questions from the 80’s I

Gargoyle is interested in Williams history and has passed along some questions about life at Williams is the mid-to-late 1980s. I will be posting (and answering) these questions. If you were around during this era, please chime in!

What was happening politically/socially outside of Williams? What were students thinking about aside from school (elections, political events, scandals, etc.)?

Nothing was different and everything was different.

Then and now, US Presidents (Reagan/Trump) had received virtually zero votes from Williams faculty members and very few votes from students. Both were widely derided as intellectually vacuous buffoons. Then as now, Russia was considered to be a key international competitor. Then as now, there were vociferous debates over taxes and the size of the federal government. Politics was, more or less, the same then as it is now, perhaps the same as it ever was. Students were concerned, to a certain extent, with these issues, but they were also mainly interested in their classes, their activities and their friends. The outside world touched Williams, but not deeply.

From my imperfect memory, one of the most important political issue — in terms of what Williams students/faculty talked and argued about — was apartheid in South Africa. Divestment by the endowment from companies that did business in South Africa was one of the major sources of conflict between students and the trustees. (The closest parallel today would be divestment from companies which contribute to climate change.)

Many of the social debates of that era have echoes today. Read this history (pdf) of “Black Williams,” especially pages 67ff for details. Affirmative action was a lightning rod for debate, both in admissions and faculty hiring. Abortion was controversial, although student opinion was overwhelmingly pro-choice.

If I were to re-phrase you question, I would add “technologically” to your duo of “politically/socially.” Political and social issues today would have seemed very familiar to a student transported forwarded from 1987. Technologically, the world is a very different place.

How would our reader who were at Williams in the 1980s answer this question? What about readers from other eras?

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Fall in Love

What is the real purpose of Winter Study, especially for male undergraduates?

The real purpose of Winter Study is to fall in love.

You will never, ever, be surrounded by as many smart, pretty, eligible women as you are right now. Life after college is, comparatively, a wasteland. Of course, as you pass into the great beyond, you will meet other women, but they are unlikely to be as wonderful, physically and mentally, as the Eph women you are blessed to know now. More importantly, the best of them will choose mates sooner rather than latter. Exiting Williams without a serious girlfriend is not necessarily a one-way ticket to permanent bachelorhood (as several of my co-bloggers can attest), but it is not the smart way to play the odds. The odds favor love now.

It isn’t that your classes and papers, your theses and sports teams, are unimportant. But finding a soulmate to grow old with, someone to bear your children and ease your suffering, someone to give your life meaning and your work purpose — this is a much more important task than raising that GPA enough to make magna cum laude.

So, stop reading this blog and ask out that cute girl from across the quad. I did the same 29 years ago and have counted my blessings ever since.

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Ghosts of EphBlog Past

A comment earlier in the month provides me with an excuse to repeat-and-revise this essay from 12 (!) years ago . . .

An anonymous comment in the thread of presidential searches provides occasion for me to give my view on EphBlog’s past, present and future. Come join me in navel study . . . Dickensesque it will not be.

Here are portions of the comment, with my thoughts interspersed.

Alright, permit me to offer another perspective that may clarify Todd’s frustration.

Essentially, DDF has admitted that he’s interested in a particular market anomaly — the relative overcompensation of a specialized type of employee in an extremely complex market. That’s fine, and if this were PresidentialCompensationblog.com, or HigherEducationFinanceblog.com, his perseveration might be suitable or even admirable. But that’s not the case — this is supposed to be a blog about all things Williams, and currently there seems to be a bit of digression.

I have heard this same complaint many times before. Some didn’t like it when EphBlog was too much NigaleianBlog.com or BarnardVistaBlog.com
or MGRHSFunding.Blog or EphBlogBlog.com or DDFsRandomThoughtsBlog.com or whatever. Soon I will be getting complaints about EphBlog being too much CGCLBlog.com.

Now, like any writer, I appreciate feedback. I am curious to know what other people think. I hope that people enjoy EphBlog, both all the postings/comments taken together and my own contributions. But, it should be clear by now that I often become very interested in a small aspect of “all things Eph” and pursue that aspect in mind-numbing detail. Few can compete with me in the category of dead-horse-beating. When I tilt at these windmills, and I plan on tilting for years to come, I try to segregate my posts, clearly stating the topic and leaving much of the commentary below the jump so that only readers truly interested need be bothered. If you don’t want to read any more of my posts about presidential compensation, well, I have a solution: Don’t read them.

Yet the commentator misses the point when he opines about what EphBlog is “supposed to be”. It is not for him alone to define what EphBlog is “supposed to be” — nor is it for me or Eph ’20 or Dick Swart ’56 or Professor Steve Miler or any other author/commentator/reader. EphBlog is a collective effort. It is “supposed to be” whatever we make of it.

Now, of course, we do have an official EphBlog motto — “all things Eph” — which provides a three word summary about how many of us think about EphBlog. The motto should be interpreted as broadly as possible. We are interested in anything and everything related to any Eph. Of course, there is a sense in which this is impossibly broad. Since Ephs are everywhere and involved in everything, it would be hard to come up with a topic that was not Eph-related somehow. But we do try to always have a “hook” — some connection, however tenuous, to something that another Eph has written or done.

The best way to understand what “all things Eph” means in the context of EphBlog is to look at the body of posts over the last year or so. The range of topics that we have covered is representative, I think, of what “all things Eph” means to us as a collective. I predict that 2017 will see a similar collection of posts and comments. Adjust your bookmarks accordingly.

What is EphBlog “supposed to be”? As the founder of EphBlog, allow me to state authoritatively the answer: EphBlog is supposed to be whatever the community of Eph authors, commentators and readers wants it to be. If you want it to be something else, then join us and contribute. To the extent that you’d like to remain anonymous, we are happy to have anonymous authors, include me. EphBlog is supposed to be whatever you make of it.

Granted, I’m not being completely fair, because DDF has located his interest in the more general question of ‘What were the qualities of the presidential search a few years back, and what can we learn from it?’ Honestly, I don’t find this question especially compelling, and my guess is that many ephblog readers wouldn’t either.

I don’t care. Really.

Now that may seem harsh, and I do value people’s comments and we all have something to add to the conversation and I am a sensitive guy and blah, blah, blah. But . . .

I am not writing for you. I am writing for me. Even more, I am writing for my father, class of ’58. Now the topic of Ephs and their fathers is not one that I want to dwell on today, but I spent about as much time on EphBlog in the summer of 2003 as I do now, even though we had very few readers then. Yet I knew that my dad was one. As long as he reads, I will write. Feel free to join us on the trip.

I would argue that the real problem is that more germaine issues are being ignored. I can name a couple really quickly — the issue of race relations on campus and the paucity of minority faculty; the degree of involvement of Williams students in activist causes and the local community; and, as one studly dude recently posted on the WSO forums, the federal cuts to Pell grants and what Williams’ reaction might be.

As a good economist, DDF might say, if you don’t like what I’m doing, go found EphraimBlog.com and do it your way.

Calling me an economist is like asking me if I was in the Navy: they are fighting words. ;-)

More importantly, this is not what I say. I agree with you that all those topics are interesting. I think that someone should write about them, either at EphBlog or elsewhere. If anyone did write about them, I would be eager to read what she has to say and to comment on it.

But if you think that “more germaine issues are being ignored,” I am afraid that you are missing the point. EphBlog, as a collective effort, doesn’t ignore anything. We don’t have a morning editorial meeting at which agendas are discussed, assignments given and plans made. If you think that that Eph student activism is interesting, then write about it. Whatever you write, I will post. Just don’t tell me what to write about.

That’s fine — but I would argue that as someone who has founded ephblog as a specifically *public* forum, you have a bit of a responsibility to at least attempt to reflect the interests of the larger Eph community, and not pursue your own vanity projects. This isn’t Kaneblog, it’s Ephblog. Kaneblog would be fine, but don’t use Ephblog as a facade for it.

I have zero, zip, zilch “responsibility to at least attempt to reflect the interests of the larger Eph community.” Even thinking about the issue in this way is mostly unhelpful.

  1. Does the “larger Eph community” include the thousands and thousands of Ephs who do not read EphBlog and have no interest in doing so? Morty Schapiro, to cite just one example, does not read blogs (and more power to him). Why should EphBlog attempt to reflect Morty’s interests?
  2. To the extent that the “larger Eph community” means the current (and potential future) readers of EphBlog, I would argue that we are doing a pretty good job of interest-representation. How else would you explain our increased readership? Someone’s “interests” are being represented quite well, thank you very much.
  3. Perhaps you really mean to claim that I should “attempt to reflect” your interests. I am afraid that we are just going to have to agree to disagree on that one.

I don’t mean to be too hard on this anonymous commentator. He (or someone at his IP address) has said many interesting and sensible things in the past. We probably agree about much more than the tenor of my rant might suggest.

But the days before Christmas are a time for summing up and looking forward. The above is my view on what EphBlog has been. Everyone else can decide for themselves what EphBlog will be in 2017. My own hope is that it will be less blog and more discussion, less of my writing and more of everyone else’s. Time will tell all.

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A Deafening Silence

Since war came to the West on September 11, 2001, only a handful of Ephs have read these words. Are you among them?

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My Home Is in the Valley Amid the Hills

Each morning I watch the sunlight drifting down through the pines, scattering the clouds from the mountain sides, driving the mists from the glens.

Each night I see the purple lights as they creep up the slopes of the Dome and the shadows as they fall on wood and stream.

My home is among young men — young men who dream dreams and see visions; young men who will carry my banner out into the world and make the world better because they have lived with me in my valley amid the hills.

Among my sons who have left me, some have caught the poet’s fire, and their words have touched men’s hearts and have bought cheer to a weary world.

And some, in answer to the call of country, have gone out to battle for the common rights of men against the enemy. Some of them will not return to me, for they have given all they had, and now they rest at the foot of a simple cross or lie deep below the waves. But even as they passed, the music of the chimes was in their ears and before their eyes were visions of the quiet walks beneath the elms

Whether apart in solitude or pressing along the crowded highways, all these who have breathed my spirit and touched my hand have played their parts for the better, for

I am ALMA MATER:
I am WILLIAMS.

This 1926 eulogy, written by Professor of Rhetoric Carroll Lewis Maxey, comes from page 136 of Williams College in the World War, a beautifully arranged remembrance of those Ephs who served in freedom’s cause during the Great War. To Williams students today, World War I is as far away as the War of 1812 was to the generation that Professor Maxey sought to inspire. What will the great-grandchildren of today’s Ephs think of us? What will they remember and what will they forget?

1st Lt Nate Krissoff ’03, USMC died ten years ago today. For the first year after his death, we maintained a link at the upper right to our collection of related posts, as sad and inspiring as anything you will ever read at EphBlog. Yet that link came down. Time leaves behind the bravest of our Williams warriors and Nate’s sacrifice now passes from News to History, joining the roll call of honored heroes back to Colonel Ephraim Williams, who died in battle during the Bloody Morning Scout on September 8, 1755.

More than 250 years have marched by from Ephraim’s death to Nate’s. But the traditions of military brotherhood and sacrifice are the same as they ever were, the same as they will ever be as long as Ephs stand willing to do violence against our enemies so that my daughters and granddaughters and great-granddaughters might sleep safely in their beds at night. Consider this moving ceremony in Iraq for Nate in the week after his death.

Before there was Taps, there was the final symbolic roll-call, unanswered. “Krissoff,” intoned Sergeant Major Kenneth Pickering.

“Lt. Krissoff.”

“1st Lt. Nathan Krissoff.”

By culture and custom, the Marine Corps is given to ritual and none so important as the farewell to comrades who have fallen in battle. And so the memorial service here for 1st Lt. Nathan Krissoff, intelligence officer for the 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion, was both stylized and achingly intimate.

The author, Tony Perry of the Los Angeles Times, captures perfectly the ethos of the Marine Corps. During Officer Candidate School, our Platoon Sergeant, Gunnery Sergeant Anderson, sang a haunting song of blood and sacrifice. The chorus went:

Let me tell you how I feel.
Why Marines must fight and die?

I can only remember snatches now, three decades later. It was a short song, repeated slowly, with emotion. For years, I have looked for the words to that plaintive melody, the eternal warrior’s lament of pain and suffering. Gunny Anderson only sang it with our platoon a handful of times, only when he felt that we were worthy of inclusion in the brotherhood of arms.

The last of those times was near the end of our training. At OCS, the fun-filled day begins with PT (physical training) at around 0500. Our entire company (200 men) is standing at attention in the humid Virginia morning. Back in July, there had been plenty of light to start exercising that early, but, by August, the later sunrise left us all waiting in darkness.

Gunny Anderson had the “duty” that morning, so he was the only member of the staff present. The others, well aware of the timing of sunrise, would be along shortly. Gunny Andersen, recognizing that graduation day was near and that he had us all to himself, led the entire company in that song, including the other platoons who had never heard it before.

And he did it in a whisper. We all stood there — having survived almost 10 weeks of brutal training, shouting our lungs out day after day — and whispered the song with him, 200 voices joined with the spirits of the Marines who had gone before us. Nate is with those spirits now. When the next Eph Marine is marching on that same parade deck during OCS, Nate will be watching him as well.

I remember the name of my platoon sergeant from 30 years ago. My father still remembers the name of his platoon sergeant from 55 years before. Let none of us forget the sacrifices of Marines like Nate and Myles Crosby Fox ’40.

Krissoff, 25, a champion swimmer and kayaker in college, was killed Dec. 9 by a roadside bomb that also injured other Marines. Hundreds of grim-faced Marines who knew Krissoff came to the Chapel of Hope, the converted Iraqi Army auditorium, for the service.

“We have a bond here, we have a family here,” said Staff Sgt. Allan Clemons, his voice breaking as he delivered a eulogy. “Nathan was part of that family.”

There were embraces, but not in the sobbing style one might see at a civilian funeral. The Marines put arms around another and slapped each others’ backs — the sound was like repeated rifle reports in the cavernous hall. Navy Cmdr. Mark Smith, a Presbyterian chaplain, said later he has seen Marines do this at other memorials. “They need to touch each other,” he said. “I’ve heard them talk about ‘hugging it out.’ But they want to do it in a manly way.”

By all accounts, Krissoff was a charismatic leader who had impressed his superiors and earned the trust of his subordinates.

War always takes the best of my Marines.

Civilians may not recognize the meaning of the first person possessive in that last sentence, may attribute its usage to my megalomania. Indeed, to avoid that confusion, my initial instinct was to write “our Marines.”

Yet that is not the way that real Marines think about our Corps. Despite defending an independent, freedom-loving country, the Marines are fundamentally socialist in outlook. Everything belongs to every individual. This is not just my rifle or my uniform, but my tank and my obstacle course. And what is mine is yours. See the bootcamp scenes from Full Metal Jacket for an introduction to an outlook as far away from Williams College as Falluja is from Williamstown.

At OCS, the worst sin is not to be slow or stupid or weak, although all these sins are real enough. The worst sin is to be selfish, to be an “individual,” to care more about what happens to you then what happens to your squad, your platoon, your battalion or your Corps. What happens to you, as an individual, is irrelevant.

When the instructors at OCS are angry with you (and they get angry with everyone), they will scream: “What are you? A freakin’ individual? Is that what you are? A freakin’ individual?”

To get the full effect of this instruction, you need to imagine it being shouted from 5 inches away by the loudest voice you have ever heard.

When they shouted it at me, I was sorely tempted to respond:

Yes! Indeed! I am an individual! Four hundred of years of Enlightenment philosophy have demonstrated that this is true. My degree in philosophy from Williams College has taught me that I, as an individual, have value, that my needs and wants are not subservient to those of the larger society, that I have a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

For once, I kept my mouth shut.

In quieter moments at OCS, I recalled Rousseau’s parable of the Spartan mother from Emile.

A Spartan mother had five sons in the army and awaited news of the battle. A Helot arrived; trembling she asked his news. “Your five sons have been killed.” “Vile slave, was that what I asked you?” “We have won the victory.” She ran to the temple to give thanks to the gods. That was a citizen.

For Rousseau, there are two ways for a man to be free. First, he can live alone, cut off from humankind but self-sufficient. He needs no one. Second, a man can be a citizen and so, like the Spartan mother, unconcerned with his own, and his family’s, well-being. All that matters is the polis.

A Marine is many things, but not a freakin’ individual.

The article continues:

He grew up in Truckee, Nev., graduated from Williams College, majoring in international relations, and hoped someday to work for the Central Intelligence Agency.

Lt. Col. William Seely, the battalion commander, talked of the silence left by death of Krissoff and other Marines. “When we depart these lands, when we deploy home, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the long silence of our friends,” he said. “Nathan…your silence will be deafening.”

If there was mourning, there was also anger that, as the chaplain said, Krissoff “was taken from us by evil men.”

This is true and false. Marines do not sympathize with the insurgents whom they battle but they do empathize with them. “Clifton Chapel” by Sir Henry Newbolt describes this duality in the oath that every warrior takes.

To set the cause above renown,
To love the game beyond the prize,
To honour, while you strike him down,
The foe that comes with fearless eyes;
To count the life of battle good,
And dear the land that gave you birth,
And dearer yet the brotherhood
That binds the brave of all the earth.

Most of those responsible for Krissoff’s death are now themselves dead, killed in battle by Krissoff’s fellow Marines. Do their families remember them with tears, as we remember Nate? Or are their memories fading along with ours? Recall how the Williams honored Nate ten years ago.

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The Ephmen of Williams Swimming and Diving dedicated their 2007 championship season to Nate when they proudly wore their conference shirts emblazoned with the simple words on the back: “Semper Athlete.” (“Semper,” obviously for the Marines, and “Athlete,” one of his favorite terms for any of his teammates.) Nate would be proud of “his boys”: each of the 24 Williams conference team members had a hand in dominating the NESCAC competition.

Yet how quickly these honors pass. I asked a swim team member a few years ago about Nate and he sadly (and unsurprisingly?) had no idea what I was talking about. Will Coaches Kuster and Dow remind the team of those Ephs who have gone before? If Nate’s coach won’t speak of his spirit and sacrifice at Williams, then who will?

Back to Tony Perry’s article:

Among the readings and quotations was the classic from World War I, “In Flanders Fields.” The poem challenges the living to continue the fight and not break faith with the dead: “Take up our quarrel with the foe/To you from failing hands we throw/The torch: be yours to hold it high….”

I did not know, when I first wrote of Nate’s death, that his fellow Marines would also be using “In Flanders Fields” as a way of memorializing his sacrifice. Who will take up the torch thrown by Nate? Are there any Williams students heading to OCS this coming summer? Are there no warriors left among the Ephs?

Williams College in the World War opens with a call for remembrance.

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The text, by Solomon Bulkley Griffin, class of 1872, begins:

The wave of full-hearted devotion that rose in the World War has receded from its crest, as must have been in times more normal. But never will there be forgetfulness of it. Memory of the glory that wave bore aloft is the priceless possession of all the colleges.

The service of Williams men enshrined in this volume is of abiding import. By it the past was made glorious, as the future will be shadowed while it is illumined. Natural it was to go forward when God quickened the souls of men to serve the need of the world, and so they held themselves fortunate.

Indeed. Yet are Griffin’s assurances that we have nothing to fear from “forgetfulness” correct? I worry, and not just because of the contempt with which faculty members like Mark Taylor treat the US military. Consider the College’s official description of the most prestigious prize at Williams, the only award presented on graduation day.

WILLIAM BRADFORD TURNER CITIZENSHIP PRIZE. From a fund established in memory of William Bradford Turner, 1914, who was killed in action in France in September, 1918, a cash prize is awarded to the member of the graduating class who, in the judgment of the faculty and of the graduating class, has best fulfilled her or his obligations to the College, to fellow students, and to self. The committee of award, appointed by the President of the College, is composed jointly of faculty members and members of the graduating class.

Was Williams Bradford Turner ’14 just a soldier who was “killed in action in France?” Does this description do justice to Turner or is it an example of the “forgetfulness” that Griffin thought unlikely? Consider:

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He led a small group of men to the attack, under terrific artillery and machinegun fire, after they had become separated from the rest of the company in the darkness. Single-handed he rushed an enemy machinegun which had suddenly opened fire on his group and killed the crew with his pistol. He then pressed forward to another machinegun post 25 yards away and had killed 1 gunner himself by the time the remainder of his detachment arrived and put the gun out of action. With the utmost bravery he continued to lead his men over 3 lines of hostile trenches, cleaning up each one as they advanced, regardless of the fact that he had been wounded 3 times, and killed several of the enemy in hand-to-hand encounters. After his pistol ammunition was exhausted, this gallant officer seized the rifle of a dead soldier, bayoneted several members of a machinegun crew, and shot the other. Upon reaching the fourth-line trench, which was his objective, 1st Lt. Turner captured it with the 9 men remaining in his group and resisted a hostile counterattack until he was finally surrounded and killed.

The most important prize awarded by Williams College is named in honor of a winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor, and virtually no one at Williams knows it. If Williams today does not remember that 1st Lt William Bradford Turner ’14 won the Congressional Medal of Honor, then who will remember 1st Lt Nathanial Krissoff ’03 one hundred years from now?

Both died for us, for ALMA MATER, for Williams and the West.

Krissoff’s brothers bade him farewell in Anbar just nine years ago.

When the roll-call and Taps were finished, the Marines came single-file to the altar to kneel in front of an inverted rifle with a helmet placed on the buttstock. Each was alone in his grief.

As are we all.

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E. Williams Armigeri

sealEphraim Williams was a career soldier who died in battle. For most of its 200-year history, the College has had a comfortable relationship with the armed forces. Williams graduates and faculty served in times of peace and war. Even the College’s motto, E Liberalitate E. Williams Armigeri, makes reference to the benefit we have all derived “From the generosity of E. Williams, soldier.”

Over the last 50 years, the connection between Williams and military service has atrophied. Virtually no active member of the faculty has served in uniform. Only a handful of graduates enter the military each year. If one admits that the military plays an important role in society and that having an informed opinion concerning the use of force in international relations is a critical part of being an educated citizen, then the failure of Williams to have a substantive connection to military life and culture is troubling.

ar_1991And, unfortunately, unavoidable. Williams-caliber high school seniors are unlikely to consider serving prior to college. Williams-caliber Ph.D. recipients almost never have a military background. There is little that anyone can do about this state of affairs. But I think that we all have an obligation to be cognizant of it.

The estrangement of Williams from things military first struck me during a mini-controversy in the pages of the Alumni Review. The Summer 1991 issue featured a cover photo of a graduating senior, Jonathan Dailey, being commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Marine Corps. Former Professor Mark Taylor, one of the best, and most opinionated, teachers on campus was so incensed by this affront that he felt compelled to write to the editor. His letter, published in the subsequent issue, is worth quoting in full.

I was deeply disturbed by the photograph of three Marines in uniform standing besides the Declaration of Independence in Chapin Library that was on the cover of the most recent Review. Many of us at Williams have struggled throughout the year to raise the critical awareness of our students about the disturbing implications of the glorification of military power in the Gulf War. In my judgment, this photograph sends precisely the wrong message to our students and alumni. taylor_emeritusIt is little more than another example of the reactionary flag-waving mentality that has run wild in the wake of our supposed “victory” in the Gulf. Such an attitude runs directly counter to the ideals of a liberal arts education. I would have hoped that the editor of the Review would have been more thoughtful and more sensitive to the power of images to communicate cultural values.

Taylor is a great proponent and practitioner of deconstruction, of looking for the meaning behind the simple words of a text. Let us deconstruct his letter.

First, it is unclear what, precisely, has made Taylor “deeply distressed.” Is it the very existence of the Marine Corps? Or does Taylor except the need for some sort of military establishment and simply object to the tradition of clothing members of that establishment “in uniform”? Or is it the juxtaposition of these Marines and the Declaration of Independence, which, after all, contains the first claim by these United States to have “full power to levy war”? Or was Taylor distressed that this scene was chosen as the cover shot for the Review? I suspect that it was the last of these which moved Taylor to write. The military, while perhaps necessary, is a distasteful part of modern life. According to Taylor’s “cultural values,” it is worthy of neither celebration nor respect.

Second, note the reference to “students and alumni” as opposed to the more common trio of “students, faculty and alumni.” Obviously, Taylor is not concerned that faculty members will receive the “wrong message.” Presumably, they are smart enough not to be swayed. He worries, however, that the same may not be said for the rest of us.

Third, consider his concern over the “reactionary flag-waving mentality” which “runs directly counter to the ideals of a liberal arts education.” Did 2nd Lt Dailey USMCR and Williams ’91 missed out on some important lectures? Is Taylor suggesting that individuals like he and Dailey, who aspire to the liberal arts ideal, should not wave flags or that they should not do so in a reactionary manner. Perhaps lessons in progressive flag-waving are called for.

The typical comment which an ex-Marine (like me) should make at this point involves the irony of Taylor’s denigrating the very institution which secures his freedom to denigrate. Or perhaps I should note that Marines like Dailey stand ready to sacrifice themselves for causes, like protecting Bosnian Muslims, which Taylor might find more compelling than combating the invasion of Kuwait. But, in this case, the irony is much more delicious.

parishBefore moving to Columbia, Taylor was the Preston S. Parish ’41 Third Century Professor of Religion. In other words, an alumnus of the College, as his contribution to the Third Century Campaign, endowed a chair which Taylor now holds. And who is Preston S. Parish? Besides being a generous alumnus, he is a former officer in the United States Marine Corps and veteran of World War II. He won a bronze star for leading infantry units from the First Marine Division in combat on Guadalcanal and Peleliu.

For Marines fighting the Japanese in World War II, combat looked like this:

Not much “reactionary flag-waving” going on there . . .

In the beginning of his book Tears, Taylor reminds us of Kierkegaard’s aphorism that it is not the job of an author to make a book easy; on the contrary, it is the job of an author to make a book hard. Reading a good book, like attending a college which aspires to the ideals of the liberal arts, should be difficult. It should challenge us. Taylor was one of the best professors at Williams precisely because of his ability and inclination to challenge his students — question their preconceptions and to encourage them to question his. When my sister-in-law entered Williams in 1994, I told her that the one course that she shouldn’t miss is Religion 101 — or, better yet, 301 — with Mark Taylor. He made things hard.

It is supremely fitting, then, that Williams, via the medium of the Review has challenged — or at least “deeply distressed” — Mark Taylor. It has made him think, however fleetingly, about the worth and purpose of military preparedness in an unfriendly world. A great college, like a great book, should challenge, not just its “students and alumni” but its faculty as well. Ephraim Williams’ generosity, like that of Preston Parish ’41 and Jonathan Dailey ’91, is of money and blood and spirit. They make things hard for all of us.

—–
Originally version published in the Spring 1995 Williams Alumni Review, by David Kane ’88. Modified since then by EphBlog.

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Happy Birthday Eph Marines

Today marks the 241st birthday of the United States Marine Corps, celebrated around the world at the Marine Corps Birthday Ball. On many dimensions, the Marines are the Williams College of military organizations: elite, steeped in history, less well-known among the hoi polloi, athletic, cultish and intellectual. Or perhaps Williams College is the Marine Corps of American high education? Either way, there is a special bond among we few, we happy brothers of Williams and the USMC. Traditionally, Marines offer each other birthday greetings this day, and so, to my fellow Ephs Marines: Happy Birthday!

The earliest Eph Marine I have been able to find is Joseph Fairchild Baker, class of 1864, who attended Williams in 1860 — 1861 but never graduated. He was the son of a United States Senator and served as a lieutenant and captain. Does anyone know his story? If we don’t remember his service 150 years ago, then who will remember ours in the decades to come?

Joel Iams ’01 sent us this letter 11 years ago.

Iams_01.jpg

The roads of Fallujah were eventually cleared, but not until we lost Nate Krissoff ’03. Will those roads need clearing again? If the President calls, I am sure my Marines will be willing, with Ephs at the forefront.

Below is a list of Eph Marines. Who am I missing?

Myles Crosby Fox ’40
Preston Parish ’41
Joe Rice ’54
TB Jones ’58
David Kane ’58
Jack Platt ’58
Carl Vogt ’58
John McGonagle ’84
Jerry Rizzo ’87
David Kane ’88
Tony Fuller ’89
Jonathan Dailey ’91
Bunge Cooke ’98
Brian Gugliatta ’95
John Bozeman ’98
Lee Kindlon ’98,
Zack Pace ’98
Ben Kamilewicz ’99
Joel Iams ’01
Rob MacDougall ’01
John Silvestro ’06
Jeff Castiglione ’07
Brad Shirley ’07
Jeff Lyon ’08
Hill Hamrick ’13

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Yard By Yard

More than fifty years ago, Ephs took the field against Wesleyan.

Tomorrow, they do the same. And ten years from now. And one hundred. Do our Eph football players recognize their history? Do you?

TB Jones ’58 (my father’s roommate) played varsity squash at Williams. I remember seeing his picture in one of the many team photos that used to line the walls of the old gym. Walking by those old photographs each day for practice provided me with a great sense of the history that I was becoming a part of. Years later, those emotions were perfectly captured by Robin Williams in “The Dead Poet’s Society” when he takes his class to view the pictures of past students at their fictional New England prep school.

From the script:

Keating turns towards the trophy cases, filled with trophies, footballs, and team pictures.

KEATING: “Now I would like you to step forward over here and peruse some of the faces from the past. You’ve walked past them many times. I don’t think you’ve really looked at them.”

The students slowly gather round the cases and Keating moves behind them.

KEATING: “They’re not that different from you, are they? Same haircuts. Full of hormones, just like you. Invincible, just like you feel. The world is their oyster. They believe they’re destined for great things, just like many of you. Their eyes are full of hope, just like you. Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable? Because you see gentlmen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils. But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in.”

The boys lean in and Keating hovers over Cameron’s shoulder.

KEATING (whispering in a gruff voice): “Carpe.”

Cameron looks over his shoulder with an aggravated expression on his face.

KEATING: “Hear it?” (whispering again) “Carpe. Carpe Diem. Seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary.”

The boys stare at the faces in the cabinet in silence.

Decades from now there will be another young man at Williams who will walk down those halls on his way to practice. Perhaps he will play squash like TB Jones and I did (although I hope that he plays more like TB than like me). Whatever his future might hold, I hope that he sees our pictures and wonders about us, about where we went from Williams and how prepared we were for the journey. I hope that he realizes how fortunate he is.

Does new football coach Mark Raymond remind his players of the history of those who have gone before? Does he know their names and their stories?

I hope so.

Williams may win or lose tomorrow. Given the fact that the team has struggled all season, that the seniors have lost at Homecoming every year that they have been at Williams and that Wesleyan comes into the game as one of the top teams in NESCAC, a victory tomorrow would be one of the sweetest in years, all the more so because no (?) neutral observer gives Williams any chance at all.

Did Frank Uible ’57 win or lose the games he played against Wesleyan more than 50 year ago? In the longer sweep of history, one game, one loss, is as dust in the corridors of memory. What matters is the day itself, and the place we each occupy within the traditions of the Williams community.

No one remembers the score of the game these men played 100 years ago. But we look in their faces and see ourselves.

I am Frank Uible ’57. Who are you?

[Thanks to EphBlog regular “nuts” and Williams Sports Information for the photos. Note that the original post in this series did not include a YouTube clip because YouTube did not exist. Old Time is still a-flying.]

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Do Not Go To Law School

At least half the Ephs who attend law school are making a mistake. Their lives would be fuller, happier and, often, monetarily richer if they did something, anything else. I spent 30 minutes five years ago talking with a junior (and occasional EphBlog commentator) about why his ill-formed plans for attending law school were a bad idea. Below is a cleaned up version of what I told him. Other comments welcome.

1) The vast majority of Ephs who attend law school have little/no idea what law school or the practice of law are like. They have watched Law and Order. They know that successful corporate lawyers in big cities make a lot of money. They like thinking about constitutional issues in a class like PSCI 216: American Constitutionalism I: Structures of Power. But this knowledge provides almost no grounds for making a good decision. As Jeff notes:

The only definite advice I’d give is to figure out BEFORE law school one (or more) legal career paths that are of interest to you, and try to learn what a day in the life on those paths is truly like. Too many people pursue law school, and go into enormous debt, thinking that it will “open up doors.” 99 times out of 100, the only doors it uniquely opens are doors to traditional legal careers, typically in law firms, academia, or government.

Correct.

First, before you apply to law school, you should attend a normal (not staged for applicants) first year class in something like torts or civil procedure at Albany Law School or at a night school in your hometown over the summer. (Yes, I realize that this is a hassle. But don’t be stupid. You are about to spend $150,000 (at least) and devote three years of your life. You need to get a clue.) Find out what a real law school class is like. You will probably be shocked at how boring it is. Do you remember that annoying PHIL 102 class in which 2 or 3 dweebs prattled on endlessly about the most semantic/pointless disputes imaginable? That is what law school is like. If you do not enjoy detailed discussions about extremely minor points, you will not like law school.

Second, try reading some of the material from law school, like this set of cases about torts. Current students should read at least 100 pages of cases and commentary before they apply. You will read thousands of pages in law school. Now is the time to find out if you want to. Just because you like the sort of readings assigned in a typical Williams class does not mean that you will like readings in the law.

Third, you should also spend a day with a lawyer, a regular working attorney. There are several alumni in the Williamstown and Albany area who would be happy to let you shadow them for a day. Find out what their lives are like. It is not glamorous! Law jobs are varied, of course, but you owe it to yourself to learn about the profession before going into significant debt. (Note that pre-med students have much less to worry about in this regard. Their interactions with doctors growing up have been very representative of what most doctors spend most of their time doing.)

All of the above is the minimum you should do before applying to law school. Too many Williams students (like the one I talked to in January) tell themselves some version of: “I like writing. I like reading. I like thinking. I was good at all those things before Williams and I have only gotten better at them. Lawyers seem to do a lot of writing, reading and thinking. So, I should go to law school.” This is faulty reasoning because law school (and law practice) are radically different from your Williams experience.

Even worse are the Williams students who think: “I get good grades at Williams. I like school and do well at it. I don’t really know what I want to do with my life. Getting a job doesn’t have much appeal. My parents will be happy if I go to law school. So, let’s apply!”

2) The vast majority of Ephs who attend law school have little/no idea what their likely career path in the law will be. At least 1/3 of the Williams students who apply to law school would not apply if they took the above steps. They would realize that law school and a legal career are not for them. But there are still many Ephs, even among the 2/3 who find tort law cases interesting and who were intrigued by the life of a lawyer, who are making a mistake in going to law school because they misestimate the odds of getting the law job that they want.

Consider:

It’s time those of us inside the profession did a better job of telling others outside the profession that most of us don’t earn $160,000 a year, that we can’t afford expensive suits, flashy cars, sexy apartments. We don’t lunch with rock stars or produce movies. Every year I’m surprised by the number of my students who think a J.D. degree is a ticket to fame, fortune and the envy of one’s peers — a sure ticket to the upper middle class. Even for the select few for whom it is, not many last long enough at their law firms to really enjoy it.

There’s something wrong with a system that makes a whole lot of people pay a whole lot of money for jobs that are not worth it, or that have no future. If we wanted to be honest, we would inform students that law school doesn’t keep their options open. Instead, we should say that if they work hard and do well, they can become lawyers.

Or:

Every year tens of thousands of wannabe lawyers enter law school. The majority will be extremely disappointed by their career opportunities.

Thus the title of this essay: law school is a big lie. People enter law school with the idea that a law degree is their ticket to a comfortable upper middle class lifestyle. In fact, just the opposite, law school for most is a ticket to a worse financial state than if they had not attended at all.

Read these posts. (What other links would Ephs suggest on this topic?) Now, to be fair, much of this advice is being given to students without a Williams IQ, students who are considering Tier II or Tier III law schools. Most Williams students attend highly ranked law schools. But even among the graduates of elite schools, the career paths are much more restricted then current undergraduates might suspect. The vast majority of Williams students who attend a highly ranked law school go in one of three directions. (And there is a great senior thesis to be written about the career paths and choices made by Williams students who attended law school over the last 50 years.)

First, they drop out of law altogether. Our lawyer readers can tell numerous stories about their classmates who no longer practice law. Almost none of those students go into a career that either required, or provides an advantage to those with, a legal education. They are just three years behind (and much more in debt) than the students who avoided law school. (If you and/or your family are independently wealthy, then, obviously, you can afford to spend three years in law school — or getting a Ph.D. in English Literature or sailing around the world or whatever — but almost all Williams students have money concerns.)

Second, they enter poorly paid government work. Now, there is nothing wrong with becoming a lawyer for the FDIC or HUD, but students need to be aware of the economic realities of those career paths. Most Williams students, to the extent that they want to work in government, are better off just going straight from Williams to those agencies. They will be in a position to climb the ladder faster without all the unnecessary debt.

Third, they enter BIG LAW, the elite law firms of the major cities in the US. Want to know what that is like? Read this:

Economically it represented a perfect reification of various Marxist theories. As associates we were wage slaves, members of a white-collar proletariat, objectively closer to the model described in Das Kapital than most nineteenth-century factory hands. It may seem odd to call someone a wage slave whose starting salary was $85,000 (though broken down per hour it was much less impressive). But the work of a junior associate, in reality, is being a clerk, a checker, the one whose job is on the line to make sure that the decimal points are in the right place. No one with an Ivy League education is going to perform this sort of drudgery for much less than 80 grand.

We were also faced with alienation from the products of our labor. You would work on the tiniest part of a huge transaction. You would never see the big picture, never know if your all-nighter made a difference, if your clauses appeared in the final documents, never even find out if the deal had gone through.

And this.

Biglaw women are more screwed because society expects more from mothers than “I pay the bills.” It’s BS, but it is where we still are. So on top of paying all the bills (to say nothing of actually carrying a child to term — you know, something that might get you laid off from K&L Gates), Biglaw women are also expected to invest the emotional and caretaking energy a family needs.

Which is impossible to do while billing the hours Biglaw requires. Not difficult, not challenging, it’s straight-up impossible. Biglaw women can break themselves in two and put on a cosmetically enhanced face and claim that they have the perfect job and family and life, but the only people stupid enough to buy it are younger women who want to be in Biglaw and aren’t yet able to deal with the fact that their career choices will have consequences in other areas of their lives.

What other articles about life in BIG LAW would readers recommend?

Both my parents are lawyers and both my grandfathers were lawyers. I was accepted to law school and (almost) attended. I am the sort of person who would have (and does at EphBlog!) liked arguing about minor points in endless detail. I know people who are perfect for a legal career. Yet most Williams students who apply to law school are completely uninformed about what that decision implies about their future.

Summary: Do not go to law school just because you are good at school, it will make your parents happy, and/or you don’t want to start a real job. Those may all be true, but they are bad reasons. First, learn about what law school and the legal profession are like. Second, understand what sort of career you are likely to have. At least 50% of the Williams students applying to law school from the class of 2017 are making a mistake. Avoid their error.

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Only For A Moment

As long as there is an EphBlog, there will be a remembrance of the three Ephs who died on 9/11: Howard Kestenbaum ’67, Lindsay Morehouse ’00 and Brian Murphy ’80. Previous entries here and here.

Much of the trauma of that day lives on.

We are looking for Howard Kestenbaum. He was on the 103rd floor of the World Trade Center South Tower (the second building that was hit). If you have any information please contact me.

That link worked five years ago, a constant reminder of the turmoil of those blue September days. It has since disappeared, like so many of our memories. First years at Williams now were three years old when the towers fell.

Kestenbaum_Howard1Howard Kestenbaum worked at the top of the south tower, the second to be struck. In the midst of chaos, his was a voice of calm and reason in the 78th floor sky lobby as people waited anxiously for the express elevators that were to take them to the ground floor. They could not know about United Airlines Flight 175, just minutes away from impact.

Wein and Singer joined three of their Aon colleagues: Richard Gabrielle, 50, Vijay Paramsothy, 23, and the group’s boss, Howard Kestenbaum, 56.

Two elevators in the north half of the lobby were out of service, but Wein’s group stood near one of the idle cars anyway; it was less crowded there than at the south end of the lobby.

I’ve left my purse, Wein recalls saying. I don’t want to go back up, but how will I get the bus?

“Here, take some money and go home,” Kestenbaum said.

Singer remembered something she had left at her desk.

No, Kestenbaum said. Don’t go back up. They stayed in the lobby.

Howard’s last moments were spent taking care of those around him. The College has done a fine job of memorializing Lindsay Morehouse, creating an award for the player at the New England Championship “who best displays the ideals of sportsmanship, friendliness, character, fair play, and hard work that Lindsay embodied until her untimely death 9-11-2001.”

Kestenbaum was an athlete and wrestler at Williams. The College should honor him in a similar fashion. Perhaps the class of 1967 might to do the same for Kestenbaum in conjunction with the planning for their 50th reunion. Do wrestlers at Williams today know about Kestenbaum’s bravery? Why not a Kestenbaum Award, given to the member of the wrestling team who best displays the ideals of teamwork?

And then the second plane hit.

A deafening explosion and a searing blast of heat ripped through the lobby. The air turned black with smoke. Flames burst out of elevators. Walls and the ceiling crumbled into a foot of debris on the floor. Shards of glass flew like thrown knives.

The blast threw people like dolls, tearing their bodies apart.

“Howard!” Judy Wein was yelling to Kestenbaum, her boss.

It was Vijay Paramsothy who called back: “We’re over here!”

Paramsothy was sitting up, scratched and bloody. Marble slabs had fallen onto Richard Gabrielle and broken his legs. Wein tried to move the slabs with her good arm, and he cried out.

Howard Kestenbaum lay flat and still. To Wein, he looked peaceful.

Dead and wounded covered the floor of the lobby like a battlefield after cannon fire. A ghostly dusting of plaster lay over everyone.

Wein was soon saved by Welles Crowther, one of the many heroes of that sad day.

Judy Wein of Aon Corporation had also been in the 78th floor. She too was badly injured and she too heard the voice: “Everyone who can stand now, stand now. If you can help others, do so.” He guided her and others to the stairwell.

Apparently Welles [Crowther] kept leading people down from the top floors to the lower ones, where they could make their way out. Then he’d go up to find more. No one knows how many. The fire department credits him with five saved lives.

He never made it home.

Crowther’s heroism is well-known, but there were so many other acts of courage that tragic morning.

“Vijay was trying to get Howard up,” Gran Kestenbaum said, recounting a story a witness had told her. “That was the last I heard of either of them.”

EphBlog remembers Howard and Linday and Brian. Who remembers Vijay Paramsothy, one of the thousands on hard-working immigrants who made and make NYC a city unlike any other? Who do you remember?


Howard Kestenbaum
was a Ph.D., a builder of models, a quant operating in the rarefied world of risk analysis. Yet only a modeller can know that models don’t really matter, that who we are and what we have done is much more to be found in the families we cherish than in the money we make.

From the very beginning — when he accidentally fell on her at a party in the West Village — he made her laugh. He walked her home that night but, amusing or not, she wouldn’t give him her phone number.

A few days later, however, she picked up the phone to hear someone say it was “Howie.” Not recognizing his voice, she asked: “Howie who?”

“Fine, thank you, and how are you?” Howie Kestenbaum replied.

For 31 years of marriage, Howard and Granvilette Kestenbaum of Montclair talked every day, and he always made her laugh.

All good husbands want to make their wives laugh. All of us should do as well as Howard. Gran Kestenbaum desribed her husband this way.

Howard was a really good man. That may seem an ordinary epithet, but Howard thought of himself as an ordinary man — an ordinary husband, an ordinary father and an ordinary friend… He loved and cared for his family, helped friends, visited with the homeless, lonely and infirm. His modesty and leprechaun smile belied how quiet and graceful, without fanfare, the shining spirit of an extraordinary good man can touch and transform others. He would have been surprised that anyone noticed him, for that is not what he sought. And that is why we who love him are so honored to have known him, if only for a moment.

Thirty one years of marriage and family, of trials and triumphs, does indeed seem like only a moment. May we all live our moments as well as Howard Kestenbaum lived his.

How will you be spending today? Please spare a thought for Gran, Howard’s widow.

Every year on the anniversary of Sept. 11, Gran Kestenbaum steers clear of morning memorial services, to avoid the media. Later in the day, she typically leaves roses by her husband’s name on the 9/11 memorial in Eagle Rock Reservation and in Watchung Plaza. Along with the flowers, she usually leaves a note saying something along the lines of, “We are family and we will always be family. This didn’t part us.”

Condolences to all.

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Teach First Years to Sing “The Mountains”

To the JA’s for the class of 2020:

At the 1989 Williams graduation ceremonies, then-President Francis Oakley had a problem. Light rain showers, which had threatened all morning, started mid-way through the event. Thinking that he should speed things along, and realizing that virtually no one knew the words to “The Mountains,” President Oakley proposed that the traditional singing be skipped.

A cry arose from all Ephs present, myself included. Although few knew the words, all wanted to sing the damn song. Sensing rebellion, President Oakley relented and led the assembled graduates and guests through a somewhat soaked rendition of the song that has marked Williams events for more than 100 years.

Similar scenes play themselves out at Williams gatherings around the country. At some of the Williams weddings that you will attend in the future, an attempt, albeit a weak one, will be made to sing “The Mountains.” At reunions, “The Mountains” will be sung, generally with the help of handy cards supplied by the Alumni Office. It is obvious that most graduates wish that they knew the words. It is equally obvious than almost all do not.

We have a collective action problem. Everyone (undergraduates and alumni alike) wishes that everyone knew the words — it would be wonderful to sing “The Mountains” at events ranging from basketball games to Mountain Day hikes to gatherings around the world. But there is no point in me learning the words since, even if I knew them, there would be no one else who did. Since no single individual has an incentive to learn the words, no one bothers to learn them. As our new Provost Dukes Love would be happy to explain, we are stuck at a sub-optimal equilibrium.

Fortunately, you have the power to fix this. You could learn “The Mountains” together, as a group, during your JA orientation. You could then teach all the First Years during First Days. It will no doubt make for a nice entry bonding experience. All sorts of goofy ideas come to mind. How about a singing contest at the opening dinner, judged by President Falk, between the six different first year dorms with first prize being a pizza dinner later in the fall at the President’s House?

Unfortunately, it will not be enough to learn the song that evening. Periodically over the last dozen years, attempts have been made to teach the words at dinner or at the first class meeting in Chapin. Such efforts, worthy as they are, have always failed. My advice:

1) Learn all the words by heart at JA training. This is harder than it sounds. The song is longer and more complex than you think. Maybe sing it between every session? Maybe a contest between JAs from the 6 first year houses? If you don’t sing the song at least 20 times, you won’t know it by heart.

2) Encourage the first years to learn the song before they come to Williams. There are few people more excited about all things Williams in August than incoming first years. Send them the lyrics. Send them videos of campus groups singing “The Mountains.” Tell them that, as an entry, you will be singing the song many times on that first day.

3) Carry through on that promise! Have your entry sing the song multiple times that day. Maybe the two JAs sing the song to the first student who arrives. Then, the three of you sing if for student number 2. And so on. When the last student arrives, the entire entry serenades him (and his family). Or maybe sing it as an entry before each event that first day.

4) There should be some target contest toward which this effort is nominally directed. I like the idea of a sing-off between the 6 first year dorms with President Falk as judge. But the actual details don’t matter much. What matters is singing the song over-and-over again before their first sunset as Ephs.

Will this process be dorky and weird and awkward? Of course it will! But that is OK. Dorkiness in the pursuit of community is no vice. And you and your first years will all be dorky together.

For scores of years, Ephs of goodwill have worked to create a better community for the students of Williams. It is a hard problem. How do you bring together young men and women from so many different places, with such a diversity of backgrounds and interests? Creating common, shared experiences — however arbitrary they may be — is a good place to start. Mountain Day works, not because they is anything particularly interesting about Stone Hill, but because we all climb it together.

Until a class of JAs decide as a group to learn the words (by heart) themselves during their training and then to teach it to all the First Years before the first evening’s events, “The Mountains” will remain a relic of a Williams that time has passed by.

But that is up to you. Once a tradition like this is started, it will go on forever. And you will be responsible for that. A hundred years from now the campus will look as different from today as today looks from 1916, but, if you seize this opportunity, Williams students and alumni will still be singing “The Mountains.”

Congratulations on being selected as a JA. It is a singular honor and responsibility.

Regards,

David Kane ’88

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No More Lectures

In April 2005, then-President Schapiro spoke to the Boston Alumni Society. He was funny and engaging, honest and even inspiring. He is everything a college president should be. Williams is unlikely to have a better leader in my lifetime.

schapiroBut on one topic, he was jarringly wrong, inconsistent with the progress that Williams has made in the last 20 years and out of step with the future of elite education. Schapiro claimed that, while discussion sections and tutorials in fields like philosophy and English are wonderful, it would be “stupid” to have discussion-sized sections for introductory classes in economics and the like.

Nothing could be further from the spirit of Mark Hopkins. There are no lectures on the log.

First, lectures are inefficient for students. Anything that a professor says in a lecture, as opposed to a discussion, could just as easily be typed beforehand and read by students at their own convenience. Reading is much quicker than listening and, more importantly, allows different students to focus on the parts that they don’t understand and to skim the parts that they do.

Administrators sometimes believe that large classes save money (one professor teaches 100 students!) but the savings come in the form of less learning per student.

Second, the arguments in favor of lectures in economics at Williams are identical to the arguments for lectures in all subjects at Harvard. According to Schapiro (and many Williams faculty members), there is a minimal amount of knowledge that a student must have in order to be able to even discuss a topic like microeconomics. That may be true, but it is no less true for the poetry of Emily Dickinson or the philosophy of David Hume. At Harvard, they are at least consistent on this topic, lecturing to students on microeconomics and poetry and philosophy. If you believe that students, having done the assigned reading, learn best by discussing poetry and philosophy on the first day of class, then why wouldn’t the same be true of economics and chemistry?

Third, the smaller the class, the more learning occurs. Consider new visiting assistant professor Diana Davis’s ’07 description of her high school experience:

davis“I went to a high school where every single class — English, biology, history, math, economics, Greek — was a discussion class with 13 students or fewer. I have not taken a single class at Williams where I have learned as much, learned as deeply, or remembered as much a year later as I did in my classes in high school.”

Now, most of us did not have the good fortune of going to a high school like Diana’s. Yet no one makes the opposite claim; no one argues that students learn more in lecture than they do in discussion.

Fourth, there would be no better way for Williams to demonstrate to potential applicants that it is a different place, with different values, than by drawing a line at 15 students or so per class. If Williams had no lectures, then there would be less doubt about its educational superiority. The tutorial program already provides Williams with a leadership position in undergraduate education. Abolishing lectures would do even more.

Fifth, claims about the excessive expense involved in having small sections are overblown. A professor currently responsible for the education of 45 students in ECON 110 should organize the class in whatever way is best for her students, not most convenient for her. Better to have three sections of 15 students each, than one large lecture. This will take up more of the professor’s time, but, since so much of the work — planning the class, creating the exams, grading the papers — is a fixed cost (regardless of the number of class meetings), the marginal cost to the professor of having three sections instead of one is small. The very best professors, like Eiko Maruko Siniawer ’97 in history, already split up their large classes. Everyone else should do the same.

Unsure that smaller classes are better? Randomly assign students in ECON 110 to either the traditional lecture or a small section. See which students learn more and enjoy learning more. See which version the professors prefer teaching and why. Measure how many students take more classes in the department and how well they do in those classes.

Six years ago, in his induction lecture, Adam Falk claimed that:

adam_f_023 [W]e have not just the opportunity but, because of the advantages afforded us, the responsibility to be a national leader – maybe the national leader – in innovative and effective teaching. We have all the elements in place: talented faculty; bright, committed students; and, most important, an academic culture that places teaching at its heart. Our faculty walk in the footsteps of Hopkins, Gaudino, and so many others. Innovation does not mean chasing every fad and every new technology, despite all the possibilities that technology affords; often it means embracing the familiar in new and creative ways.

Agreed! A churl might comment that, six years later, there is very little evidence of any teaching innovations, or even modest experiments, at Williams. But we are not churlish today! Instead, we urge Adam Falk to answer one simple question: Do lectures serve Williams students better or worse than small classes? This is, ultimately, an empirical question. A great Williams president would try to answer it.

A version of this article first appeared in the Record in 2006. We have returned to this discussion many times in the years that followed, e.g., here and here. Start here and here for a great back-and-forth. I miss the old EphBlog!
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Fall in Love

What is the real purpose of Winter Study, especially for male undergraduates?

The real purpose of Winter Study is to fall in love.

You will never, ever, be surrounded by as many smart, pretty, eligible women as you are right now. Life after college is, comparatively, a wasteland. Of course, as you pass into the great beyond, you will meet other women, but they are unlikely to be as wonderful, physically and mentally, as the Eph women you are now blessed to know. More importantly, the best of them will choose mates sooner rather than latter. Exiting Williams without a serious girlfriend is not necessarily a one-way ticket to permanent bachelorhood (as several of my co-bloggers can attest), but it is not the smart way to play the odds. The odds favor love now.

It isn’t that your classes and papers, your theses and sports teams, are unimportant. But finding a soulmate to grow old with, someone to bear your children and ease your suffering, someone to give your life meaning and your work purpose — this is a much more important task than raising that GPA enough to make magna cum laude.

So, stop reading this blog and ask out that cute girl from across the quad. I did the same 28 years ago and have counted my blessings ever since.

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A Deafening Silence

Since war came to the West on September 11, 2001, only a handful of Ephs have read these words. Are you among them?

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My Home Is in the Valley Amid the Hills

Each morning I watch the sunlight drifting down through the pines, scattering the clouds from the mountain sides, driving the mists from the glens.

Each night I see the purple lights as they creep up the slopes of the Dome and the shadows as they fall on wood and stream.

My home is among young men — young men who dream dreams and see visions; young men who will carry my banner out into the world and make the world better because they have lived with me in my valley amid the hills.

Among my sons who have left me, some have caught the poet’s fire, and their words have touched men’s hearts and have bought cheer to a weary world.

And some, in answer to the call of country, have gone out to battle for the common rights of men against the enemy. Some of them will not return to me, for they have given all they had, and now they rest at the foot of a simple cross or lie deep below the waves. But even as they passed, the music of the chimes was in their ears and before their eyes were visions of the quiet walks beneath the elms

Whether apart in solitude or pressing along the crowded highways, all these who have breathed my spirit and touched my hand have played their parts for the better, for

I am ALMA MATER:
I am WILLIAMS.

This 1926 eulogy, written by Professor of Rhetoric Carroll Lewis Maxey, comes from page 136 of Williams College in the World War, a beautifully arranged remembrance of those Ephs who served in freedom’s cause during the Great War. To Williams students today, World War I is as far away as the War of 1812 was to the generation that Professor Maxey sought to inspire. What will the great-grandchildren of today’s Ephs think of us? What will they remember and what will they forget?

1st Lt Nate Krissoff ’03, USMC died nine years ago today. For the first year after his death, we maintained a link at the upper right to our collection of related posts, as sad and inspiring as anything you will ever read at EphBlog. Yet that link came down. Time leaves behind the bravest of our Williams warriors and Nate’s sacrifice now passes from News to History, joining the roll call of honored heroes back to Colonel Ephraim Williams, who died in battle during the Bloody Morning Scout on September 8, 1755.

More than 250 years have marched by from Ephraim’s death to Nate’s. But the traditions of military brotherhood and sacrifice are the same as they ever were, the same as they will ever be as long as Ephs stand willing to do violence against our enemies so that my daughters and granddaughters and great-granddaughters might sleep safely in their beds at night. Consider this moving ceremony in Iraq for Nate in the week after his death.

Before there was Taps, there was the final symbolic roll-call, unanswered. “Krissoff,” intoned Sergeant Major Kenneth Pickering.

“Lt. Krissoff.”

“1st Lt. Nathan Krissoff.”

By culture and custom, the Marine Corps is given to ritual and none so important as the farewell to comrades who have fallen in battle. And so the memorial service here for 1st Lt. Nathan Krissoff, intelligence officer for the 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion, was both stylized and achingly intimate.

The author, Tony Perry of the Los Angeles Times, captures perfectly the ethos of the Marine Corps. During Officer Candidate School, our Platoon Sergeant, Gunnery Sergeant Anderson, sang a haunting song of blood and sacrifice. The chorus went:

Let me tell you how I feel.
Why Marines must fight and die?

I can only remember snatches now, twenty five years later. It was a short song, repeated slowly, with emotion. For years, I have looked for the words to that plaintive melody, the eternal warrior’s lament of pain and suffering. Gunny Anderson only sang it with our platoon a handful of times, only when he felt that we were worthy of inclusion in the brotherhood of arms.

The last of those times was near the end of our training. At OCS, the fun-filled day begins with PT (physical training) at around 0500. Our entire company (200 men) is standing at attention in the humid Virginia morning. Back in July, there had been plenty of light to start exercising that early, but, by August, the later sunrise left us all waiting in darkness.

Gunny Anderson had the “duty” that morning, so he was the only member of the staff present. The others, well aware of the timing of sunrise, would be along shortly. Gunny Andersen, recognizing that graduation day was near and that he had us all to himself, led the entire company in that song, including the other platoons who had never heard it before.

And he did it in a whisper. We all stood there — having survived almost 10 weeks of brutal training, shouting our lungs out day after day — and whispered the song with him, 200 voices joined with the spirits of the Marines who had gone before us. Nate is with those spirits now. When the next Eph Marine is marching on that same parade deck during OCS, Nate will be watching him as well.

I remember the name of my platoon sergeant from 25 years ago. My father still remembers the name of his platoon sergeant from 55 years before. Let none of us forget the sacrifices of Marines like Nate and Myles Crosby Fox ’40.

Krissoff, 25, a champion swimmer and kayaker in college, was killed Dec. 9 by a roadside bomb that also injured other Marines. Hundreds of grim-faced Marines who knew Krissoff came to the Chapel of Hope, the converted Iraqi Army auditorium, for the service.

“We have a bond here, we have a family here,” said Staff Sgt. Allan Clemons, his voice breaking as he delivered a eulogy. “Nathan was part of that family.”

There were embraces, but not in the sobbing style one might see at a civilian funeral. The Marines put arms around another and slapped each others’ backs — the sound was like repeated rifle reports in the cavernous hall. Navy Cmdr. Mark Smith, a Presbyterian chaplain, said later he has seen Marines do this at other memorials. “They need to touch each other,” he said. “I’ve heard them talk about ‘hugging it out.’ But they want to do it in a manly way.”

By all accounts, Krissoff was a charismatic leader who had impressed his superiors and earned the trust of his subordinates.

War always takes the best of my Marines.

Civilians may not recognize the meaning of the first person possessive in that last sentence, may attribute its usage to my megalomania. Indeed, to avoid that confusion, my initial instinct was to write “our Marines.”

Yet that is not the way that real Marines think about our Corps. Despite defending an independent, freedom-loving country, the Marines are fundamentally socialist in outlook. Everything belongs to every individual. This is not just my rifle or my uniform, but my tank and my obstacle course. And what is mine is yours. See the bootcamp scenes from Full Metal Jacket for an introduction to an outlook as far away from Williams College as Falluja is from Williamstown.

At OCS, the worst sin is not to be slow or stupid or weak, although all these sins are real enough. The worst sin is to be selfish, to be an “individual,” to care more about what happens to you then what happens to your squad, your platoon, your battalion or your Corps. What happens to you, as an individual, is irrelevant.

When the instructors at OCS are angry with you (and they get angry with everyone), they will scream: “What are you? A freakin’ individual? Is that what you are? A freakin’ individual?”

To get the full effect of this instruction, you need to imagine it being shouted from 5 inches away by the loudest voice you have ever heard.

When they shouted it at me, I was sorely tempted to respond:

Yes! Indeed! I am an individual! Four hundred of years of Enlightenment philosophy have demonstrated that this is true. My degree in philosophy from Williams College has taught me that I, as an individual, have value, that my needs and wants are not subservient to those of the larger society, that I have a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

For once, I kept my mouth shut.

In quieter moments at OCS, I recalled Rousseau’s parable of the Spartan mother from Emile.

A Spartan mother had five sons in the army and awaited news of the battle. A Helot arrived; trembling she asked his news. “Your five sons have been killed.” “Vile slave, was that what I asked you?” “We have won the victory.” She ran to the temple to give thanks to the gods. That was a citizen.

For Rousseau, there are two ways for a man to be free. First, he can live alone, cut off from humankind but self-sufficient. He needs no one. Second, a man can be a citizen and so, like the Spartan mother, unconcerned with his own, and his family’s, well-being. All that matters is the polis.

A Marine is many things, but not a freakin’ individual.

The article continues:

He grew up in Truckee, Nev., graduated from Williams College, majoring in international relations, and hoped someday to work for the Central Intelligence Agency.

Lt. Col. William Seely, the battalion commander, talked of the silence left by death of Krissoff and other Marines. “When we depart these lands, when we deploy home, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the long silence of our friends,” he said. “Nathan…your silence will be deafening.”

If there was mourning, there was also anger that, as the chaplain said, Krissoff “was taken from us by evil men.”

This is true and false. Marines do not sympathize with the insurgents whom they battle but they do empathize with them. “Clifton Chapel” by Sir Henry Newbolt describes this duality in the oath that every warrior takes.

To set the cause above renown,
To love the game beyond the prize,
To honour, while you strike him down,
The foe that comes with fearless eyes;
To count the life of battle good,
And dear the land that gave you birth,
And dearer yet the brotherhood
That binds the brave of all the earth.

Most of those responsible for Krissoff’s death are now themselves dead, killed in battle by Krissoff’s fellow Marines. Do their families remember them with tears, as we remember Nate? Or are their memories fading along with ours? Recall how the Williams honored Nate eight years ago.

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The Ephmen of Williams Swimming and Diving dedicated their 2007 championship season to Nate when they proudly wore their conference shirts emblazoned with the simple words on the back: “Semper Athlete.” (“Semper,” obviously for the Marines, and “Athlete,” one of his favorite terms for any of his teammates.) Nate would be proud of “his boys”: each of the 24 Williams conference team members had a hand in dominating the NESCAC competition.

Yet how quickly these honors pass. I asked a swim team member last year about Nate and he sadly (and unsurprisingly?) had no idea what I was talking about. Wouldn’t it be nice if Coaches Kuster and Dow reminded the team of those Ephs who have gone before? If Nate’s coach won’t speak of his spirit and sacrifice at Williams, then who will?

Back to the Tony Perry’s article:

Among the readings and quotations was the classic from World War I, “In Flanders Fields.” The poem challenges the living to continue the fight and not break faith with the dead: “Take up our quarrel with the foe/To you from failing hands we throw/The torch: be yours to hold it high….”

I did not know, when I first wrote of Nate’s death, that his fellow Marines would also be using “In Flanders Fields” as a way of memorializing his sacrifice. Who will take up the torch thrown by Nate? Are there any Williams students heading to OCS this coming summer? Are there no warriors left among the Ephs?

Williams College in the World War opens with a call for remembrance.

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The text, by Solomon Bulkley Griffin, class of 1872, begins:

The wave of full-hearted devotion that rose in the World War has receded from its crest, as must have been in times more normal. But never will there be forgetfulness of it. Memory of the glory that wave bore aloft is the priceless possession of all the colleges.

The service of Williams men enshrined in this volume is of abiding import. By it the past was made glorious, as the future will be shadowed while it is illumined. Natural it was to go forward when God quickened the souls of men to serve the need of the world, and so they held themselves fortunate.

Indeed. Yet are Griffin’s assurances that we have nothing to fear from “forgetfulness” correct? I worry, and not just because of the contempt with which faculty members like Mark Taylor treat the US military. Consider the College’s official description of the most prestigious prize at Williams, the only award presented on graduation day.

WILLIAM BRADFORD TURNER CITIZENSHIP PRIZE. From a fund established in memory of William Bradford Turner, 1914, who was killed in action in France in September, 1918, a cash prize is awarded to the member of the graduating class who, in the judgment of the faculty and of the graduating class, has best fulfilled her or his obligations to the College, to fellow students, and to self. The committee of award, appointed by the President of the College, is composed jointly of faculty members and members of the graduating class.

Was Williams Bradford Turner ’14 just a soldier who was “killed in action in France?” Does this description do justice to Turner or is it an example of the “forgetfulness” that Griffin thought unlikely? Consider:

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He led a small group of men to the attack, under terrific artillery and machinegun fire, after they had become separated from the rest of the company in the darkness. Single-handed he rushed an enemy machinegun which had suddenly opened fire on his group and killed the crew with his pistol. He then pressed forward to another machinegun post 25 yards away and had killed 1 gunner himself by the time the remainder of his detachment arrived and put the gun out of action. With the utmost bravery he continued to lead his men over 3 lines of hostile trenches, cleaning up each one as they advanced, regardless of the fact that he had been wounded 3 times, and killed several of the enemy in hand-to-hand encounters. After his pistol ammunition was exhausted, this gallant officer seized the rifle of a dead soldier, bayoneted several members of a machinegun crew, and shot the other. Upon reaching the fourth-line trench, which was his objective, 1st Lt. Turner captured it with the 9 men remaining in his group and resisted a hostile counterattack until he was finally surrounded and killed.

The most important prize awarded by Williams College is named in honor of a winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor, and virtually no one at Williams knows it. If Williams today does not remember that 1st Lt William Bradford Turner ’14 won the Congressional Medal of Honor, then who will remember 1st Lt Nathanial Krissoff ’03 one hundred years from now?

Both died for us, for ALMA MATER, for Williams and the West.

Krissoff’s brothers bade him farewell in Anbar just nine years ago.

When the roll-call and Taps were finished, the Marines came single-file to the altar to kneel in front of an inverted rifle with a helmet placed on the buttstock. Each was alone in his grief.

As are we all.

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Yard by Yard

More than fifty years ago, Ephs took the field against Amherst.

Tomorrow, they do the same. And ten years from now. And one hundred. Do our Eph football players recognize their history? Do you?

TB Jones ’58 (my father’s roommate) played varsity squash at Williams. I remember seeing his picture in one of the many team photos that used to line the walls of the old gym. Walking by those old photographs each day for practice provided me with a great sense of the history that I was becoming a part of. Years later, those emotions were perfectly captured by Robin Williams in “The Dead Poet’s Society” when he takes his class to view the pictures of past students at their fictional New England prep school.

From the script:

Keating turns towards the trophy cases, filled with trophies, footballs, and team pictures.

KEATING: “Now I would like you to step forward over here and peruse some of the faces from the past. You’ve walked past them many times. I don’t think you’ve really looked at them.”

The students slowly gather round the cases and Keating moves behind them.

KEATING: “They’re not that different from you, are they? Same haircuts. Full of hormones, just like you. Invincible, just like you feel. The world is their oyster. They believe they’re destined for great things, just like many of you. Their eyes are full of hope, just like you. Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable? Because you see gentlmen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils. But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in.”

The boys lean in and Keating hovers over Cameron’s shoulder.

KEATING (whispering in a gruff voice): “Carpe.”

Cameron looks over his shoulder with an aggravated expression on his face.

KEATING: “Hear it?” (whispering again) “Carpe. Carpe Diem. Seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary.”

The boys stare at the faces in the cabinet in silence.

Decades from now there will be another young man at Williams who will walk down those halls on his way to practice. Perhaps he will play squash like TB Jones and I did (although I hope that he plays more like TB than like me). Whatever his future might hold, I hope that he sees our pictures and wonders about us, about where we went from Williams and how prepared we were for the journey. I hope that he realizes how fortunate he is.

Does football coach Aaron Kelton remind his players of the history of those who have gone before? Does he know their names and their stories?

I hope so.

Williams may win or lose tomorrow. Given the fact that the team has struggled the last few years, that the seniors have lost this game every year that they have been at Williams and that Amherst comes into the game undefeated, a victory tomorrow would be one of the sweetest in decades, all the more so because no (?) neutral observer gives Williams any chance at all.

Did Frank Uible ’57 win or lose the games he played against Amherst more than 50 year ago? In the longer sweep of history, one game, one loss, is as dust in the corridors of memory. What matters is the day itself, and the place we each occupy within the traditions of the Williams community.

No one remembers the score of the game these men played 100 years ago. But we look in their faces and see ourselves.

I am Frank Uible ’57. Who are you?

[Thanks to EphBlog regular “nuts” and Williams Sports Information for the photos. Note that the original post in this series did not include a YouTube clip because YouTube did not exist. Old Time is still a-flying.]

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E. Williams Armigeri

sealEphraim Williams was a career soldier who died in battle. For most of its 200-year history, the College has had a comfortable relationship with the armed forces. Williams graduates and faculty served in times of peace and war. Even the College’s motto, E Liberalitate E. Williams Armigeri, makes reference to the benefit we have all derived “From the generosity of E. Williams, soldier.”

Over the last 50 years, the connection between Williams and military service has atrophied. Virtually no active member of the faculty has served in uniform. Only a handful of graduates enter the military each year. If one admits that the military plays an important role in society and that having an informed opinion concerning the use of force in international relations is a critical part of being an educated citizen, then the failure of Williams to have a substantive connection to military life and culture is troubling.

ar_1991And, unfortunately, unavoidable. Williams-caliber high school seniors are unlikely to consider serving prior to college. Williams-caliber Ph.D. recipients almost never have a military background. There is little that anyone can do about this state of affairs. But I think that we all have an obligation to be cognizant of it.

The estrangement of Williams from things military first struck me during a mini-controversy in the pages of the Alumni Review. The Summer 1991 issue featured a cover photo of a graduating senior, Jonathan Dailey, being commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Marine Corps. Former Professor Mark Taylor, one of the best, and most opinionated, teachers on campus was so incensed by this affront that he felt compelled to write to the editor. His letter, published in the subsequent issue, is worth quoting in full.

I was deeply disturbed by the photograph of three Marines in uniform standing besides the Declaration of Independence in Chapin Library that was on the cover of the most recent Review. Many of us at Williams have struggled throughout the year to raise the critical awareness of our students about the disturbing implications of the glorification of military power in the Gulf War. In my judgment, this photograph sends precisely the wrong message to our students and alumni. taylor_emeritusIt is little more than another example of the reactionary flag-waving mentality that has run wild in the wake of our supposed “victory” in the Gulf. Such an attitude runs directly counter to the ideals of a liberal arts education. I would have hoped that the editor of the Review would have been more thoughtful and more sensitive to the power of images to communicate cultural values.

Taylor is a great proponent and practitioner of deconstruction, of looking for the meaning behind the simple words of a text. Let us deconstruct his letter.

First, it is unclear what, precisely, has made Taylor “deeply distressed.” Is it the very existence of the Marine Corps? Or does Taylor except the need for some sort of military establishment and simply object to the tradition of clothing members of that establishment “in uniform”? Or is it the juxtaposition of these Marines and the Declaration of Independence, which, after all, contains the first claim by these United States to have “full power to levy war”? Or was Taylor distressed that this scene was chosen as the cover shot for the Review? I suspect that it was the last of these which moved Taylor to write. The military, while perhaps necessary, is a distasteful part of modern life. According to Taylor’s “cultural values,” it is worthy of neither celebration nor respect.

Second, note the reference to “students and alumni” as opposed to the more common trio of “students, faculty and alumni.” Obviously, Taylor is not concerned that faculty members will receive the “wrong message.” Presumably, they are smart enough not to be swayed. He worries, however, that the same may not be said for the rest of us.

Third, consider his concern over the “reactionary flag-waving mentality” which “runs directly counter to the ideals of a liberal arts education.” Did 2nd Lt Dailey USMCR and Williams ’91 missed out on some important lectures? Is Taylor suggesting that individuals like he and Dailey, who aspire to the liberal arts ideal, should not wave flags or that they should not do so in a reactionary manner. Perhaps lessons in progressive flag-waving are called for.

The typical comment which an ex-Marine (like me) should make at this point involves the irony of Taylor’s denigrating the very institution which secures his freedom to denigrate. Or perhaps I should note that Marines like Dailey stand ready to sacrifice themselves for causes, like protecting Bosnian Muslims, which Taylor might find more compelling than combating the aggression of Iraq. But, in this case, the irony is much more delicious.

parishTaylor is the Preston S. Parish ’41 Third Century Professor of Religion. In other words, an alumnus of the College, as his contribution to the Third Century Campaign, endowed a chair which Taylor now holds. And who is Preston S. Parish? Besides being a generous alumnus, he is a former officer in the United States Marine Corps and veteran of World War II. He won a bronze star for leading infantry units from the First Marine Division in combat on Guadalcanal and Peleliu.

For Marines fighting the Japanese in World War II, combat looked like this. Not much “reactionary flag-waving” going on there . . .

In the beginning of his book Tears, Taylor reminds us of Kierkegaard’s aphorism that it is not the job of an author to make a book easy; on the contrary, it is the job of an author to make a book hard. Reading a good book, like attending a college which aspires to the ideals of the liberal arts, should be difficult. It should challenge us. Taylor was one of the best professors at Williams precisely because of his ability and inclination to challenge his students — question their preconceptions and to encourage them to question his. When my sister-in-law entered Williams in 1994, I told her that the one course that she shouldn’t miss is Religion 101 — or, better yet, 301 — with Mark Taylor. He made things hard.

It is supremely fitting, then, that Williams, via the medium of the Review has challenged — or at least “deeply distressed” — Mark Taylor. It has made him think, however fleetingly, about the worth and purpose of military preparedness in an unfriendly world. A great college, like a great book, should challenge, not just its “students and alumni” but its faculty as well. Ephraim Williams’ generosity, like that of Preston Parish ’41 and Jonathan Dailey ’91, is of money and blood and spirit. They make things hard for all of us.

—–
Originally version published in the Spring 1995 Williams Alumni Review, by David Kane ’88. Modified since then by EphBlog.

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On Student Fundraising

My question for Angela Schaeffer, the College’s most excellent Chief Communications Officer:

The Record reports that the students behind Uncomfortable Learning solicit funding from alumni to pay for the talks that they arrange on campus. Is this against College policy? (If you can’t comment on the actions of specific students, could you at least address a hypothetical question along the same lines?)

Her answer (reprinted with her permission):

I don’t know what fundraising activity UL students engage in. I can say that students in general are not meant to solicit funding from alumni without permission from the college. We might not always know, of course, when students are soliciting such support, but hypothetically if we learned of it we’d arrange for students to be in contact with the relevant Williams offices to see whether that solicitation could happen or needed to stop.

Probably relevant is this section from the Williams Student Handbook:

Students who wish to raise money for any campus activity by soliciting alumni, foundations, or other sources of funds must receive advance approval. Students interested in fundraising should contact the Assistant Director for Student Involvement in the Office of Student Life at least two weeks in advance. Most fundraising requires approval from the Dean’s Office, the Provost, and the Vice President for College Relations.

Comments:

1) Uncomfortable Learning may be OK (which explain Dean Bolton’s supportive attitude) because they don’t “raise money” directly. That is, they don’t ask alumni to send them checks. Instead, they ask alumni to sponsor speakers and pay those speakers (and their expenses) directly. Does the College object to this strategy? I will try to find out.

2) The history behind this section of the Handbook would be interesting to explore. I do not think it existed 10 years ago. If Sarah Bolton were smart, she would just delete it. It serves no useful purpose, other than to suggest that the College is unfairly stymieing the efforts of non-liberal students. Students raised money for all sorts of things for 200 years without any ill effects.

3) Is this section of the Handbook being applied today (against students outside of Uncomfortable Learning by people like Professor Sam Crane)? I have my doubts. Students raise money all the time for all sorts of causes. Recent examples include: hoops for hunger, relief for Nepal, and the crew team selling carnations. Does John Malcolm ’86, Vice President for College Relations, approve them all? I doubt it. And, if he has, then he ought to have a long list that he can show to a Record reporter. But, if Williams has not been enforcing this regulation for years, it had better not start by enforcing it against Uncomfortable Learning. Nothing would be quickly demonstrate a bias against non-liberal students.

4) Former Williams Professor KC Johnson is speaking tonight, brought to campus by the Uncomfortable Learning. If it were not for those students (and the generous alumni who support them), that speech would not happen.

Professor Sam Crane wants to prevent those students and alumni from bringing speakers like KC Johnson (registered Democrat and Obama voter) to campus. What would Bob Gaudino say to that?

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SPEC 21 Experience in the Workplace

Most interesting change in the Williams curriculum over the last decade (other than the addition of the major in statistics)? Perhaps the rise of internships during Winter Study. See SPEC 21 Information Sessions: Experience in the Workplace: an Internship with Williams Alumni/Parents.

Over the years more and more Winter Study courses have been developed to help you understand and gain experience in the world of work. While these immersive experiences require intellectual reflection, research, and writing, they also have substantial field work components that offer wonderful opportunities to gain valuable insight into professional life.

See here for a listing of the available courses. There is a meeting today at 12:30 at OCC to discuss these offerings. Highly recommended! Comments:

1) I think that recently retired OCC Director John Noble was the leading force behind the increase in internships. Does anyone know the full story? Kudos to him! Internships during Winter Study are a great idea.

2) My understanding is that the faculty has been mostly negative to this change, fighting Noble (and others) over every increase, not considering the program to be “academic” enough for course credit. Any faculty member who would prevent students from doing meaningful internships during Winter Study does not really have the best interests of those students at heart.

3) Several EphBlog friends appear in that course listing, including Shamus Brady ’04, Reed M. Wiedower ’00 and David Kane ’88. All are highly recommended! Note, especially:

FINANCE, TECHNOLOGY AND WILLIAMS
WHO: David Kane ’88
David Kane is a quantitative portfolio manager in Boston. Over the last decade, he has hired more than 20 Williams summer interns and published several academic papers and R packages with Williams students and alumni. He has taught a Winter Study course in quantitative methods three times. He is a regular contributor to the Record op-ed page.
WHERE: Boston, MA
WHAT: Programming finance-related projects using R. Or working on some technology project related to Williams. Examples include major additions to the Williams Wikipedia page or significant enhancements to WSO.
APPLICATION REQUIREMENTS: Resume and cover letter. Please give examples of your work using R. If you do not already know R, this is not a good internship. Or a description of the Technology/Williams project you would like to pursue.

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There All The Time

murphyBrian Murphy ’80 died 14 years ago.

The bookshelves inside Judy Bram Murphy’s light-drenched apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan are filled with photographs from before: a wedding portrait, a baby picture, a snapshot of Judy, her two daughters, and her husband, Brian. Looking at the photographs, you can almost pretend that September 11, 2001, never happened, that the two jets never flew into the World Trade Center towers. You can almost pretend that Brian came home from work that day.

But Bram Murphy has no desire to pretend. Brian’s death left her a young widow and a single mother to Jessica, who was then five years old, and Leila, who was not quite four.

Jessica and Leila are now 19 and 17, the same ages as my daughters. My wife, eldest daughter and I were at Ground Zero a few years ago, visiting my parents, whose office was nearby. My wife pointed out the site but my daughter did not remember 9/11. Do Jessica and Leila remember their father? How can they? Time steals all our memories, especially from the children.

For Judy Bram Murphy, Brian is most alive in their children, in Jessica’s thoughtfulness and Leila’s adventurous nature. Because of this, her daughters triggered a sadness in her during the first six months after the attacks. Gradually this sadness began to subside, and she is now able to cherish the memories her children evoke. “They bring life and spirit to my life,” she says.

She takes every opportunity to help her daughters remember their father. The three talk about him all the time, reminding one another of things he used to say and do. Sometimes the girls will say, “I miss him” or “I wish he were here.” Other times they will declare, “Daddy’s here watching my concert” or “Daddy’s proud of me” or even “Daddy’s eating all the butter on the table.”

What would your family remember if you were snatched away from them one clear sky morning? Is whatever else you are doing right now as important as that?

“I’m not sure if I said it first or if they said it first,” she says, “but they feel he’s there all the time.” Bram Murphy takes comfort in that. She believes that such a sense helps the girls to feel safe and secure. “I don’t always feel his presence,” she adds, “but if I think about him, I feel he’s there in some spiritual way. He’s a part of me.” She chooses not to shield them from her own emotions, believing it important to show them that it is permissible to be sad and to cry. She shows them that the sadness passes.

Heartbreaking. Sadness passes but never disappears. I hope that every father in the Murphys’ community kept a special eye out for Jessica and Leila this last decade. They are all our daughters now.

When Bram Murphy runs into acquaintances who want to know how she’s been faring over the past two years, she doesn’t know how to answer. People tend to assume one of two things: that she is perpetually upset or depressed, or that by now she should be feeling better. “It’s one of those situations that is not linear,” she says. A clinical psychologist, she is a particularly astute and articulate observer of her own emotions. She has good days and bad days, she says; there are moments when she feels content and others when the sadness and the loneliness are crushing. “People in general,” she says, “have trouble understanding that I’m not one thing for having this one thing happen to me.”

I read these stories every year, and every year I cry. Do you?

Like many others who lost someone they loved on that clear, late-summer day, Judy Bram Murphy is finding her way in this new post-September 11 world. She reminds herself that it was her husband, not she and her children, who lost the most that day. “So many people complain or are dissatisfied, and he felt so lucky to have what he had,” she says. “It just seems that he should have lived longer.”

Indeed. Why was Brian Murphy taken from both his own family and the community of Ephs? We should all be more thankful for what we have. We are all so lucky.

For most people the death of a spouse is a personal loss, but the entire nation — and much of the world — feels somehow connected to the grief of the September 11 families. Many, Bram Murphy says, reached out with a kindness and generosity that she could never have imagined and that went far beyond anything she would have received had Brian died of a heart attack or in a car accident. Her yoga studio, for example, gave her two years of free instruction. Grief counselors this spring organized a day of activities for the children of the victims. Perhaps most touching, a woman last year asked for an assortment of Brian’s T-shirts and ties and meticulously crafted them into three patchwork quilts–one for each of the family’s beds. The gifts are comforting but also sometimes painful. “It’s a double-edged sword,” Bram Murphy says, pointing out a small sculpture in her living room. The sculpture is made from the metal debris at Ground Zero. “You have no warning. You open the door and there’s this sculpture. You’re happy, but you’re also upset to get it.”

I neither sew nor sculpt. What can I do? What can you do?

This summer Bram Murphy threw a party in Bedford for Jessica’s seventh birthday. “The parties are still hard for me,” she admits. She has become accustomed to Brian’s absence on special occasions and she adjusts to it, but it still hurts. A few weeks after the party, the girls’ day camp held a visiting day for parents. As has become typical for Bram Murphy at events like that, she found herself with a mix of emotions: happy, excited, and proud of her children; comforted that Brian was in some way present; sad and lonely that he was gone. “Those sorts of days,” she says, “are the most difficult — when both parents are supposed to be there.”

Brian Murphy should still be there. Perhaps the lesson for all of us to be there, wherever we are, today.

Previous 9/11 posts here. Howard Kestenbaum ’67 and Lindsay Morehouse ’00 also died that day.

Condolences to all.

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Teach First Years to Sing “The Mountains”

To the JA’s for the class of 2019:

At the 1989 Williams graduation ceremonies, then-President Francis Oakley had a problem. Light rain showers, which had been threatening all morning, started mid-way through the event. Thinking that he should speed things along, and realizing that virtually no one knew the words to “The Mountains,” President Oakley proposed that the traditional singing be skipped.

A cry arose from all Ephs present, myself included. Although few knew the words, all wanted to sing the damn song. Sensing rebellion, President Oakley relented and led the assembled graduates and guests through a somewhat soaked rendition of the song that has marked Williams events for more than 100 years.

Similar scenes play themselves out at Williams gatherings around the country. At some of the Williams weddings that you will attend in the future, an attempt, albeit a weak one, will be made to sing “The Mountains.” At reunions, “The Mountains” will be sung, generally with the help of handy cards supplied by the Alumni Office. It is obvious that most graduates wish that they knew the words. It is equally obvious than almost all do not.

We have a collective action problem. Everyone (undergraduates and alumni alike) wishes that everyone knew the words — it would be wonderful to sing “The Mountains” at events ranging from basketball games to Mountain Day hikes to gatherings around the world. But there is no point in me learning the words since, even if I knew them, there would be no one else who did. Since no single individual has an incentive to learn the words, no one bothers to learn them. We are stuck at a sub-optimal equilibrium.

Fortunately, you have the power to fix this. You could learn “The Mountains” together, as a group, during your JA orientation. You could then teach all the First Years during First Days. It will no doubt make for a nice entry bonding experience. All sorts of goofy ideas come to mind. How about a singing contest at the opening dinner, judged by President Falk, between the six different first year dorms with first prize being a pizza dinner later in the fall at the President’s House?

It will not be enough to learn the song that evening. Periodically over the last dozen years, attempts have been made to teach the words at dinner or at the first class meeting in Chapin. Such efforts, worthy as they are, have always failed. My advice:

1) Learn all the words by heart at JA training. This is harder than it sounds. The song is longer and more complex than you think. Maybe sing it between every session? Maybe a contest between JAs from the 6 first year houses? If you don’t sing the song at least 20 times, you won’t know it by heart.

2) Encourage the first years to learn the song before they come to Williams. There are few people more excited about all things Williams in August than incoming first years. Send them the lyrics. Send them videos of campus groups singing “The Mountains.” Tell them that, as an entry, you will be singing the song many times on that first day.

3) Carry through on that promise! Have your entry sing the song multiple times that day. Maybe the two JAs sing the song to the first student who arrives. Then, the three of you sing if for student number 2. And so on. When the last student arrives, the entire entry serenades him (and his family).

4) There should be some target contest toward which this effort is nominally directed. I like the idea of a sing off between the 6 first year dorms with President Falk as judge. But the actual details don’t matter much. What matters is singing the song over-and-over again that first day.

Will this process be dorky and weird and awkward? Of course it will! But that is OK. Dorkiness in the pursuit of community is no vice. And you and your first years will all be dorky together.

For scores of years, Ephs of goodwill have worked to create a better community for the students of Williams. It is a hard problem. How do you bring together young men and women from so many different places, with such a diversity of backgrounds and interests? Creating common, shared experiences — however arbitrary they may be — is a good place to start. Mountain Day works, not because they is anything particularly interesting about Stone Hill, but because we all climb it together.

Until a class of JAs decide as a group to learn the words (by heart) themselves during their training and then to teach it to all the First Years before the first evening’s events, “The Mountains” will remain a relic of a Williams that time has passed by.

But that is up to you. Once a tradition like this is started, it will go on forever. And you will be responsible for that. A hundred years from now the campus will look as different from today as today looks from 1915, but, if you seize this opportunity, Williams students and alumni will still be singing “The Mountains.”

Congratulations on being selected as a JA. It is a singular honor and responsibility.

Regards,

David Kane ’88

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Changes in International Admissions?

Have there been changes in the quota with regard to international admissions? In January, I asked Jim Kolesar:

Nine (!) years ago, you kindly answered my questions about international admissions at Williams and, specifically, about the 6% goal/target that the College then employed.

Has that policy changed?

I ask because there was a big jump in international enrollment for the class of 2018, to 49 from usual numbers in the 30s. Of course, this could just be random fluctuation, but at almost 9% of the class, it is a big move up in percentage terms.

Links added. Jim kindly responded (and gave me permission to post):

The 49 figure is best understood as a result of the randomness of yield.

Fair enough. Knowing how many accepted students will choose Williams is a non-trivial problem, especially in situations, like international admissions, which feature significant change. It is harder to forecast yield from Shanghai than it is from Andover.

But then I read this news:

Nesbitt expects the final [2019] class to be composed of 38 percent of American students of color. He expects the class to be 12 percent black, 15 percent Asian American, 11 percent Latino and one percent Native American. Additionally, nine percent of the class is expected to be international students. First-generation students, meaning neither parent graduated from a four-year college, will amount to 16 percent of the class.

Class size is usually 550. Nine percent of 550 is almost 50. Yield randomness might explain 50 international students for the class of 2018. It can’t explain the 50 in both the class of 2018 and 2019. Don’t believe that something is going on? Consider the recent time series:

2013: 31
2014: 37
2015: 38
2016: 31
2017: 37
2018: 49
2019: 50 (estimate)

Number prior to the class of 2015 were (always?) in the 30s.

Has there been a policy change? If not, what explains the increase?

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Black Male Graduation Rate Around 90%

Thanks to the wonderful Director of Institutional Research Courtney Wade, we have some better context for yesterday’s discussion of a black male graduation rate of below 70% at Williams.

Your hypothesis that these numbers are based on a small sample size is correct. Keep in mind that IPEDS race and ethnicity categories changed several years back. Under current IPEDS definitions, “Black or African American” excludes people who identify as both Black and Hispanic (they are counted as Hispanic), or Black and any other race (they count as “Two or more races”).

The numbers I’m discussing here are available publicly through the IPEDS data center, which is very data rich, but can be very challenging to navigate.

In the Fall 2006 incoming cohort, we only had 13 Black or African American men, using this definition. Nine of them graduated within 6 years, yielding the 69% graduation rate College Results Online is reporting. Your other hypothesis, that this is likely a local low, is correct. The following year, for the Fall 2007 cohort (these data are available from the IPEDS data center), we reported that 16 of 18, or 89% of the cohort of Black or African American men graduated within 6 years, which is in line with historical averages. We haven’t yet submitted data for the Fall 2008 cohort.

The “ds” values you see on the Education Trust website for many schools stands for “data suppressed.” Their footnotes say that they suppress the data when the cohort includes fewer than 10 students. So it’s not that they’re not reporting the data, rather that College Results Online is suppressing the data.

Thanks to Wade for the clarifications! It is good to know that the 70% figure was a one-time outlier.

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Fall in Love

What is the real purpose of Winter Study, especially for male undergraduates?

The real purpose of Winter Study is to fall in love.

You will never, ever, be surrounded by as many smart, pretty, eligible women as you are right now. Life after college is, comparatively, a wasteland. Of course, as you pass into the great beyond, you will meet other women, but they are unlikely to be as wonderful, physically and mentally, as the Eph women you are now blessed to know. More importantly, the best of them will choose mates sooner rather than latter. Exiting Williams without a serious girlfriend is not necessarily a one-way ticket to permanent bachelorhood (as several of my co-bloggers can attest), but it is not the smart way to play the odds. The odds favor love now.

It isn’t that your classes and papers, your theses and sports teams, are unimportant. But finding a soulmate to grow old with, someone to bear your children and ease your suffering, someone to give your life meaning and your work purpose — this is a much more important task than raising that GPA enough to make cum laude.

So, stop reading this blog and ask out that cute girl from across the quad. I did the same 26 years ago and have counted my blessings ever since.

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A Deafening Silence

Since war came to the West on September 11, 2001, only a handful of Ephs have read these words. Are you among them?

Dec06$04.JPG

My Home Is in the Valley Amid the Hills

Each morning I watch the sunlight drifting down through the pines, scattering the clouds from the mountain sides, driving the mists from the glens.

Each night I see the purple lights as they creep up the slopes of the Dome and the shadows as they fall on wood and stream.

My home is among young men — young men who dream dreams and see visions; young men who will carry my banner out into the world and make the world better because they have lived with me in my valley amid the hills.

Among my sons who have left me, some have caught the poet’s fire, and their words have touched men’s hearts and have bought cheer to a weary world.

And some, in answer to the call of country, have gone out to battle for the common rights of men against the enemy. Some of them will not return to me, for they have given all they had, and now they rest at the foot of a simple cross or lie deep below the waves. But even as they passed, the music of the chimes was in their ears and before their eyes were visions of the quiet walks beneath the elms

Whether apart in solitude or pressing along the crowded highways, all these who have breathed my spirit and touched my hand have played their parts for the better, for

I am ALMA MATER:
I am WILLIAMS.

This 1926 eulogy, written by Professor of Rhetoric Carroll Lewis Maxey, comes from page 136 of Williams College in the World War, a beautifully arranged remembrance of those Ephs who served in freedom’s cause during the Great War. To Williams students today, World War I is as far away as the War of 1812 was to the generation that Professor Maxey sought to inspire. What will the great-grandchildren of today’s Ephs think of us? What will they remember and what will they forget?

1st Lt Nate Krissoff ’03, USMC died eight years ago today. For the first year after his death, we maintained a link at the upper right to our collection of related posts, as sad and inspiring as anything you will ever read at EphBlog. Yet that link came down. Time leaves behind the bravest of our Williams warriors and Nate’s sacrifice now passes from News to History, joining the roll call of honored heroes back to Colonel Ephraim Williams, who died in battle during the Bloody Morning Scout on September 8, 1755.

More than 250 years have marched by from Ephraim’s death to Nate’s. But the traditions of military brotherhood and sacrifice are the same as they ever were, the same as they will ever be as long as Ephs stand willing to do violence against our enemies so that my daughters and granddaughters and great-granddaughters might sleep safely in their beds at night. Consider this moving ceremony in Iraq for Nate in the week after his death.

Before there was Taps, there was the final symbolic roll-call, unanswered. “Krissoff,” intoned Sergeant Major Kenneth Pickering.

“Lt. Krissoff.”

“1st Lt. Nathan Krissoff.”

By culture and custom, the Marine Corps is given to ritual and none so important as the farewell to comrades who have fallen in battle. And so the memorial service here for 1st Lt. Nathan Krissoff, intelligence officer for the 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion, was both stylized and achingly intimate.

The author, Tony Perry of the Los Angeles Times, captures perfectly the ethos of the Marine Corps. During Officer Candidate School, our Platoon Sergeant, Gunnery Sergeant Anderson, sang a haunting song of blood and sacrifice. The chorus went:

Let me tell you how I feel.
Why Marines must fight and die?

I can only remember snatches now, twenty five years later. It was a short song, repeated slowly, with emotion. For years, I have looked for the words to that plaintive melody, the eternal warrior’s lament of pain and suffering. Gunny Anderson only sang it with our platoon a handful of times, only when he felt that we were worthy of inclusion in the brotherhood of arms.

The last of those times was near the end of our training. At OCS, the fun-filled day begins with PT (physical training) at around 0500. Our entire company (200 men) is standing at attention in the humid Virginia morning. Back in July, there had been plenty of light to start exercising that early, but, by August, the later sunrise left us all waiting in darkness.

Gunny Anderson had the “duty” that morning, so he was the only member of the staff present. The others, well aware of the timing of sunrise, would be along shortly. Gunny Andersen, recognizing that graduation day was near and that he had us all to himself, led the entire company in that song, including the other platoons who had never heard it before.

And he did it in a whisper. We all stood there — having survived almost 10 weeks of brutal training, shouting our lungs out day after day — and whispered the song with him, 200 voices joined with the spirits of the Marines who had gone before us. Nate is with those spirits now. When the next Eph Marine is marching on that same parade deck during OCS, Nate will be watching him as well.

I remember the name of my platoon sergeant from 25 years ago. My father still remembers the name of his platoon sergeant from 55 years before. Let none of us forget the sacrifices of Marines like Nate and Myles Crosby Fox ’40.

Krissoff, 25, a champion swimmer and kayaker in college, was killed Dec. 9 by a roadside bomb that also injured other Marines. Hundreds of grim-faced Marines who knew Krissoff came to the Chapel of Hope, the converted Iraqi Army auditorium, for the service.

“We have a bond here, we have a family here,” said Staff Sgt. Allan Clemons, his voice breaking as he delivered a eulogy. “Nathan was part of that family.”

There were embraces, but not in the sobbing style one might see at a civilian funeral. The Marines put arms around another and slapped each others’ backs — the sound was like repeated rifle reports in the cavernous hall. Navy Cmdr. Mark Smith, a Presbyterian chaplain, said later he has seen Marines do this at other memorials. “They need to touch each other,” he said. “I’ve heard them talk about ‘hugging it out.’ But they want to do it in a manly way.”

By all accounts, Krissoff was a charismatic leader who had impressed his superiors and earned the trust of his subordinates.

War always takes the best of my Marines.

Civilians may not recognize the meaning of the first person possessive in that last sentence, may attribute its usage to my megalomania. Indeed, to avoid that confusion, my initial instinct was to write “our Marines.”

Yet that is not the way that real Marines think about our Corps. Despite defending an independent, freedom-loving country, the Marines are fundamentally socialist in outlook. Everything belongs to every individual. This is not just my rifle or my uniform, but my tank and my obstacle course. And what is mine is yours. See the bootcamp scenes from Full Metal Jacket for an introduction to an outlook as far away from Williams College as Falluja is from Williamstown.

At OCS, the worst sin is not to be slow or stupid or weak, although all these sins are real enough. The worst sin is to be selfish, to be an “individual,” to care more about what happens to you then what happens to your squad, your platoon, your battalion or your Corps. What happens to you, as an individual, is irrelevant.

When the instructors at OCS are angry with you (and they get angry with everyone), they will scream: “What are you? A freakin’ individual? Is that what you are? A freakin’ individual?”

To get the full effect of this instruction, you need to imagine it being shouted from 5 inches away by the loudest voice you have ever heard.

When they shouted it at me, I was sorely tempted to respond:

Yes! Indeed! I am an individual! Four hundred of years of Enlightenment philosophy have demonstrated that this is true. My degree in philosophy from Williams College has taught me that I, as an individual, have value, that my needs and wants are not subservient to those of the larger society, that I have a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

For once, I kept my mouth shut.

In quieter moments at OCS, I recalled Rousseau’s parable of the Spartan mother from Emile.

A Spartan mother had five sons in the army and awaited news of the battle. A Helot arrived; trembling she asked his news. “Your five sons have been killed.” “Vile slave, was that what I asked you?” “We have won the victory.” She ran to the temple to give thanks to the gods. That was a citizen.

For Rousseau, there are two ways for a man to be free. First, he can live alone, cut off from humankind but self-sufficient. He needs no one. Second, a man can be a citizen and so, like the Spartan mother, unconcerned with his own, and his family’s, well-being. All that matters is the polis.

A Marine is many things, but not a freakin’ individual.

The article continues:

He grew up in Truckee, Nev., graduated from Williams College, majoring in international relations, and hoped someday to work for the Central Intelligence Agency.

Lt. Col. William Seely, the battalion commander, talked of the silence left by death of Krissoff and other Marines. “When we depart these lands, when we deploy home, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the long silence of our friends,” he said. “Nathan…your silence will be deafening.”

If there was mourning, there was also anger that, as the chaplain said, Krissoff “was taken from us by evil men.”

This is true and false. Marines do not sympathize with the insurgents whom they battle but they do empathize with them. “Clifton Chapel” by Sir Henry Newbolt describes this duality in the oath that every warrior takes.

To set the cause above renown,
To love the game beyond the prize,
To honour, while you strike him down,
The foe that comes with fearless eyes;
To count the life of battle good,
And dear the land that gave you birth,
And dearer yet the brotherhood
That binds the brave of all the earth.

Most of those responsible for Krissoff’s death are now themselves dead, killed in battle by Krissoff’s fellow Marines.

Among the readings and quotations was the classic from World War I, “In Flanders Fields.” The poem challenges the living to continue the fight and not break faith with the dead: “Take up our quarrel with the foe/To you from failing hands we throw/The torch: be yours to hold it high….”

I did not know, when I first wrote of Nate’s death, that his fellow Marines would also be using “In Flanders Fields” as a way of memorializing his sacrifice. Who will take up the torch thrown by Nate? Are there any Williams students heading to OCS this coming summer? Are there no warriors left among the Ephs?

Williams College in the World War opens with a call for remembrance.

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The text, by Solomon Bulkley Griffin, class of 1872, begins:

The wave of full-hearted devotion that rose in the World War has receded from its crest, as must have been in times more normal. But never will there be forgetfulness of it. Memory of the glory that wave bore aloft is the priceless possession of all the colleges.

The service of Williams men enshrined in this volume is of abiding import. By it the past was made glorious, as the future will be shadowed while it is illumined. Natural it was to go forward when God quickened the souls of men to serve the need of the world, and so they held themselves fortunate.

Indeed. Yet are Griffin’s assurances that we have nothing to fear from “forgetfulness” correct? I worry, and not just because of the contempt with which faculty members like Mark Taylor treat the US military. Consider the College’s official description of the most prestigious prize at Williams, the only award presented on graduation day.

WILLIAM BRADFORD TURNER CITIZENSHIP PRIZE. From a fund established in memory of William Bradford Turner, 1914, who was killed in action in France in September, 1918, a cash prize is awarded to the member of the graduating class who, in the judgment of the faculty and of the graduating class, has best fulfilled her or his obligations to the College, to fellow students, and to self. The committee of award, appointed by the President of the College, is composed jointly of faculty members and members of the graduating class.

Was Williams Bradford Turner ’14 just a soldier who was “killed in action in France?” Does this description do justice to Turner or is it an example of the “forgetfulness” that Griffin thought unlikely? Consider:

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He led a small group of men to the attack, under terrific artillery and machinegun fire, after they had become separated from the rest of the company in the darkness. Single-handed he rushed an enemy machinegun which had suddenly opened fire on his group and killed the crew with his pistol. He then pressed forward to another machinegun post 25 yards away and had killed 1 gunner himself by the time the remainder of his detachment arrived and put the gun out of action. With the utmost bravery he continued to lead his men over 3 lines of hostile trenches, cleaning up each one as they advanced, regardless of the fact that he had been wounded 3 times, and killed several of the enemy in hand-to-hand encounters. After his pistol ammunition was exhausted, this gallant officer seized the rifle of a dead soldier, bayoneted several members of a machinegun crew, and shot the other. Upon reaching the fourth-line trench, which was his objective, 1st Lt. Turner captured it with the 9 men remaining in his group and resisted a hostile counterattack until he was finally surrounded and killed.

The most important prize awarded by Williams College is named in honor of a winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor, and virtually no one at Williams knows it. If Williams today does not remember that 1st Lt William Bradford Turner ’14 won the Congressional Medal of Honor, then who will remember 1st Lt Nathanial Krissoff ’03 one hundred years from now?

Both died for us, for ALMA MATER, for Williams and the West.

Krissoff’s brothers bade him farewell in Anbar just one year ago.

When the roll-call and Taps were finished, the Marines came single-file to the altar to kneel in front of an inverted rifle with a helmet placed on the buttstock. Each was alone in his grief.

As are we all.

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E. Williams Armigeri

sealEphraim Williams was a career soldier who died in battle. For most of its 200-year history, the College has had a comfortable relationship with the armed forces. Williams graduates and faculty served in times of peace and war. Even the College’s motto, E Liberalitate E. Williams Armigeri, makes reference to the benefit we have all derived “From the generosity of E. Williams, soldier.”

Over the last 50 years, the connection between Williams and military service has atrophied. Virtually no active member of the faculty has served in uniform. Only a handful of graduates enter the military each year. If one admits that the military plays an important role in society and that having an informed opinion concerning the use of force in international relations is a critical part of being an educated citizen, then the failure of Williams to have a substantive connection to military life and culture is troubling.

ar_1991And, unfortunately, unavoidable. Williams-caliber high school seniors are unlikely to consider serving prior to college. Williams-caliber Ph.D. recipients almost never have a military background. There is little that anyone can do about this state of affairs. But I think that we all have an obligation to be cognizant of it.

The estrangement of Williams from things military first struck me during a mini-controversy in the pages of the Alumni Review. The Summer 1991 issue featured a cover photo of a graduating senior, Jonathan Dailey, being commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Marine Corps. Former Professor Mark Taylor, one of the best, and most opinionated, teachers on campus was so incensed by this affront that he felt compelled to write to the editor. His letter, published in the subsequent issue, is worth quoting in full.

I was deeply disturbed by the photograph of three Marines in uniform standing besides the Declaration of Independence in Chapin Library that was on the cover of the most recent Review. Many of us at Williams have struggled throughout the year to raise the critical awareness of our students about the disturbing implications of the glorification of military power in the Gulf War. In my judgment, this photograph sends precisely the wrong message to our students and alumni. taylor_emeritusIt is little more than another example of the reactionary flag-waving mentality that has run wild in the wake of our supposed “victory” in the Gulf. Such an attitude runs directly counter to the ideals of a liberal arts education. I would have hoped that the editor of the Review would have been more thoughtful and more sensitive to the power of images to communicate cultural values.

Taylor is a great proponent and practitioner of deconstruction, of looking for the meaning behind the simple words of a text. Let us deconstruct his letter.

First, it is unclear what, precisely, has made Taylor “deeply distressed.” Is it the very existence of the Marine Corps? Or does Taylor except the need for some sort of military establishment and simply object to the tradition of clothing members of that establishment “in uniform”? Or is it the juxtaposition of these Marines and the Declaration of Independence, which, after all, contains the first claim by these United States to have “full power to levy war”? Or was Taylor distressed that this scene was chosen as the cover shot for the Review? I suspect that it was the last of these which moved Taylor to write. The military, while perhaps necessary, is a distasteful part of modern life. According to Taylor’s “cultural values,” it is worthy of neither celebration nor respect.

Second, note the reference to “students and alumni” as opposed to the more common trio of “students, faculty and alumni.” Obviously, Taylor is not concerned that faculty members will receive the “wrong message.” Presumably, they are smart enough not to be swayed. He worries, however, that the same may not be said for the rest of us.

Third, consider his concern over the “reactionary flag-waving mentality” which “runs directly counter to the ideals of a liberal arts education.” Did 2nd Lt Dailey USMCR and Williams ’91 missed out on some important lectures? Is Taylor suggesting that individuals like he and Dailey, who aspire to the liberal arts ideal, should not wave flags or that they should not do so in a reactionary manner. Perhaps lessons in progressive flag-waving are called for.

The typical comment which an ex-Marine (like me) should make at this point involves the irony of Taylor’s denigrating the very institution which secures his freedom to denigrate. Or perhaps I should note that Marines like Dailey stand ready to sacrifice themselves for causes, like protecting Bosnian Muslims, which Taylor might find more compelling than combating the aggression of Iraq. But, in this case, the irony is much more delicious.

parishTaylor is the Preston S. Parish ’41 Third Century Professor of Religion. In other words, an alumnus of the College, as his contribution to the Third Century Campaign, endowed a chair which Taylor now holds. And who is Preston S. Parish? Besides being a generous alumnus, he is a former officer in the United States Marine Corps and veteran of World War II. He won a bronze star for leading infantry units from the First Marine Division in combat on Guadalcanal and Peleliu.

For Marines fighting the Japanese in World War II, combat looked like this:

Not much “reactionary flag-waving” going on there . . .

In the beginning of his book Tears, Taylor reminds us of Kierkegaard’s aphorism that it is not the job of an author to make a book easy; on the contrary, it is the job of an author to make a book hard. Reading a good book, like attending a college which aspires to the ideals of the liberal arts, should be difficult. It should challenge us. Taylor was one of the best professors at Williams precisely because of his ability and inclination to challenge his students — question their preconceptions and to encourage them to question his. When my sister-in-law entered Williams in 1994, I told her that the one course that she shouldn’t miss is Religion 101 — or, better yet, 301 — with Mark Taylor. He made things hard.

It is supremely fitting, then, that Williams, via the medium of the Review has challenged — or at least “deeply distressed” — Mark Taylor. It has made him think, however fleetingly, about the worth and purpose of military preparedness in an unfriendly world. A great college, like a great book, should challenge, not just its “students and alumni” but its faculty as well. Ephraim Williams’ generosity, like that of Preston Parish ’41 and Jonathan Dailey ’91, is of money and blood and spirit. They make things hard for all of us.

—–
Originally version published in the Spring 1995 Williams Alumni Review, by David Kane ’88. Modified since then by EphBlog.

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Happy Birthday Eph Marines

Today marks the 239th birthday of the United States Marine Corps, celebrated around the world at the Marine Corps Birthday Ball. On many dimensions, the Marines are the Williams College of military organizations: elite, steeped in history, less well known among the hoi polloi, athletic, cultish and intellectual. Or perhaps Williams College is the Marine Corps of American high education? Either way, there is a special bond among we few, we happy brothers of Williams and the USMC. Traditionally, Marines offer each other birthday greetings this day, and so, to my fellow Ephs Marines: Happy Birthday!

The earliest Eph Marine I have been able to find is Joseph Fairchild Baker, class of 1864, who attended Williams in 1860 — 1861 but never graduated. He was the son of a United States Senator and served as a lieutenant and captain. Does anyone know his story? If we don’t remember his service 150 years ago, then who will remember ours in the decades to come?

Joel Iams ’01 sent us this letter nine years ago.

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The roads of Fallujah were eventually cleared, but not until we lost Nate Krissoff ’03. Given the rise of ISIS, they may need clearing again. If the President calls, I am sure my Marines will be willing, with Ephs at the forefront.

Below is a list of Eph Marines. Who am I missing?

Myles Crosby Fox ’40
Preston Parish ’41
Joe Rice ’54
David Kane ’58
TB Jones ’58
Jerry Rizzo ’87
David Kane ’88
Tony Fuller ’89
Jonathan Dailey ’91
Bunge Cooke ’98
Lee Kindlon ’98,
Zack Pace ’98
Ben Kamilewicz ’99
Joel Iams ’01
Rob MacDougall ’01
Jeff Castiglione ’07
Brad Shirley ’07
Hill Hamrick ’13

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Yard by Yard

More than fifty years ago, Ephs took the field against Amherst.

Tomorrow, they do the same. And ten years from now. And one hundred. Do our Eph football players recognize their history? Do you?

TB Jones ’58 (my father’s roommate) played varsity squash at Williams. I remember seeing his picture in one of the many team photos that used to line the walls of the old gym. Walking by those old photographs each day for practice provided me with a great sense of the history that I was becoming a part of. Years later, those emotions were perfectly captured by Robin Williams in “The Dead Poet’s Society” when he takes his class to view the pictures of past students at their fictional New England prep school.

From the script:

Keating turns towards the trophy cases, filled with trophies, footballs, and team pictures.

KEATING: “Now I would like you to step forward over here and peruse some of the faces from the past. You’ve walked past them many times. I don’t think you’ve really looked at them.”

The students slowly gather round the cases and Keating moves behind them.

KEATING: “They’re not that different from you, are they? Same haircuts. Full of hormones, just like you. Invincible, just like you feel. The world is their oyster. They believe they’re destined for great things, just like many of you. Their eyes are full of hope, just like you. Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable? Because you see gentlmen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils. But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in.”

The boys lean in and Keating hovers over Cameron’s shoulder.

KEATING (whispering in a gruff voice): “Carpe.”

Cameron looks over his shoulder with an aggravated expression on his face.

KEATING: “Hear it?” (whispering again) “Carpe. Carpe Diem. Seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary.”

The boys stare at the faces in the cabinet in silence.

Decades from now there will be another young man at Williams who will walk down those halls on his way to practice. Perhaps he will play squash like TB Jones and I did (although I hope that he plays more like TB than like me). Whatever his future might hold, I hope that he sees our pictures and wonders about us, about where we went from Williams and how prepared we were for the journey. I hope that he realizes how fortunate he is.

Does football coach Aaron Kelton remind his players of the history of those who have gone before? Does he know their names and their stories?

I hope so.

Williams may win or lose tomorrow. Given the fact that the team has struggled the last few years, that the seniors have lost this game every year that they have been at Williams and that Amherst comes into the game undefeated, a victory tomorrow would be one of the sweetest in decades, all the more so because no (?) neutral observer gives Williams any chance at all.

Did Frank Uible ’57 win or lose the games he played against Amherst more than 50 year ago? In the longer sweep of history, one game, one loss, is as dust in the corridors of memory. What matters is the day itself, and the place we each occupy within the traditions of the Williams community.

No one remembers the score of the game these men played 100 years ago. But we look in their faces and see ourselves.

I am Frank Uible ’57. Who are you?

[Thanks to EphBlog regular “nuts” and Williams Sports Information for the photos. Note that the original post in this series did not include a YouTube clip because YouTube did not exist. Old Time is still a-flying.]

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EphBlog Voted for Coakley ’75

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