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Virtual Graduation

From iBerkshires:

It might have not have been the celebration expected by the Class of 2020, but the Williams College honored graduating students with a flurry of tribute videos on Sunday, as part of the school’s virtual graduation.

True! But, wait a second, didn’t Williams claim that they weren’t going to have a virtual ceremony, that the seniors were 90% against it? They did. In the end, reason prevailed, sort of. Williams had a virtual graduation, albeit one which was less competently handled than those from any of our peers.


Congrats to the Class of 2020

Is this a virtual commencement, or something else?

Sad and pathetic. Instead of just having an imperfect online ceremony, like every other elite school, Williams puts together an embarrassing collection of videos. Is this the worst one?

CV-19 was always going to make Commencement a bittersweet event. There is nothing to be done about that. But, a competent institution would have done something better than Maud-As-Nearsighted-News-Reader, trapped in her mansion. She isn’t even in her academic regalia! I have seen a lot of these videos, and I can’t find a single one in which the college president is not in cap and gown. Can you?


Remotely Celebrate == Virtual Commencement?

Williams will be remotely celebrating graduation on Sunday but, under no circumstances, should you refer to that event as a “virtual commencement.”



“Virtual Commencement” or Not?

Question: Is Williams holding a “virtual commencement” in 9 days?

First answer: No! A college official told me so. The Record reported the same. I can’t find a clear cut statement to this effect on the College’s website, but this noting the lack of a “virtual ceremony in June” comes close. Key word searches only really turn up references to the “virtual graduation ceremony” being held by Africana Studies.

Second answer: Yes! Williams is obviously having a virtual commencement. Just look:

A number of academic departments and programs are hosting their own virtual events and celebrations throughout May and June. Students will be contacted directly with details by the event organizers.

And here’s a schedule of Williams-wide virtual events for Saturday, June 6:

1 p.m. Music Department Senior Recital
2 p.m. Phi Beta Kappa Induction Ceremony
3 p.m. Sigma Xi Induction Ceremony
4 p.m. Senior Athlete Celebration
5 p.m. Raising Our Gaze: an offering from the Williams College Chaplains Office featuring student voices and honoring our seniors

Williams is even providing social media advice to help with the big day.

Instagram Effects
When creating a new story on Instagram, swipe the Effects selecter all the way to the left until you get to “Browse Effects.” Search for “Williams2020” to find the Williams graduation effects.

If you do most of the things associated with a Commencement, most of the stuff that you did last year (that can be done on the web), then, call it whatever you want, you are holding a virtual commencement/graduation/celebration/whatever.

Others disagree!

I would argue that it isn’t a commencement because it lacks all ceremony; no reading of names, no marshall, no singing.

Is a Commencement a Commencement if your name isn’t read? Middlebury thinks so! I could probably find a dozen or more examples. And don’t forget this promise:

However, we can’t let your graduation day go by without some fanfare. Look for an email at 10 am (EST) from the college on June 7 for a special celebration of YOU, the Class of 2020!

You can be sure that his will include some singing, and almost certainly an appearance by College Marshall Jay Thoman ’82.

But the words that I or others write on EphBlog don’t matter much. What matters is whether or not other organizations refer to the events of June 6/7 as a “virtual commencement.” The Boston Globe is unlikely to provide any coverage, but iBerkshires and the Berkshire Eagle will probably have an article, if only something which parrots the College’s press release. What matters is if future historians refer to the events as a virtual commencement.

I bet they will. What do you predict?


Virtual Commencement – California Style

Earlier this month, Ephblog had a lot of discussion about Williams’ decision to not have a virtual commencement. It was classic Ephblog – DDF had a thought-provoking post with a lot of interesting ideas. The posts that followed included some thoughtful comments and good discussions. Some intelligent, insightful counterpoints were made by a variety of commentators (special shout out to timothjohn) that had no impact on DDF’s perspective. Good Times!

I wanted to share my experience with my oldest child’s virtual graduation last week. She attends a large private university on the west coast. Although they have promised an in person celebration at a date to be determined, they had a schoolwide “ceremony” at noon east coast time on the day graduation was supposed to be. It included a message from the president and a brief comment form the dean of each school. It lasted less than an hour. Throughout the day, they streamed brief personal video messages from family members, faculty, and staff. In addition, each school had its own live ceremony at a designated time during the day. For my daughter’s school, the dean spoke and each department head gave a brief message. There were two speakers and each did a good job with their speech. In fact, the main speaker’s speech was very entertaining and he adapted it beautifully to the current situation.

We had the streaming personal messages on in the background for most of the day. We often talked over various school speakers during the “official ceremonies” and there were a couple of technical glitches. However, it did add something to our celebration of my daughter’s graduation. As I mentioned, the main speaker was great and we all enjoyed his speech.

Could Williams have done something similar? I would guess yes. However, the point made by abl (I believe) that once you ask the Williams seniors and they say, “No” it is pretty hard to go ahead with a virtual commencement is spot on and virtually impossible to counter effectively.


If Bates and Middlebury Can, Why Can’t We?

timothyjohn, a valued member of the EphBlog community, writes:

I just think that pretty much everyone except David realizes that virtual commencements are, in the end, a complete waste of everyone’s time.

Is there a reason that “pretty much everyone” does not include Bowdoin, Wesleyan, Middlebury, Bates, Connecticut College, Tufts, Swarthmore, Hamilton, Trinity, Amherst and so on?

Middlebury College — which, of course, is completely different from Williams and filled with seniors with totally different preferences — is having a virtual commencement on May 24th.

Considering federal and state public health recommendations, Middlebury will not host an in-person Commencement on May 24, 2020. We will instead recognize the class of 2020 in May with a virtual celebration, as well as a traditional in-person ceremony to be held at a later date.

How weird is that? Williams officials have assured us that, among seniors, there is “almost no support for a virtual Commencement.” Middlebury seniors must be completely different!

Bates College, run by noted EphBlog fangirl and all-around firebrand Clayton Spencer ’77, is also holding a virtual commencement on May 31, to be followed by an in-person event in the next year or so. (The Bates plan includes lots of thoughtful details, although it is not as good as this proposal.) Are Williams seniors (and their families) so different from Bates seniors (and their families) as to make a Williams virtual commencement uniformly despised?

Of course not. Williams has made a mistake. That is OK! I make mistakes all the time. It is uninteresting (to me) why we made that mistake and/or who is responsible. The important thing is that we fix the mistake, that we not be trapped into defending the indefensible. Is Maud wise enough to see that? I hope so!

How could it possibly make sense for Williams not to ask parents whether or not they want a virtual commencement and then, without asking them, to not hold such an event even though every peer school is doing so?


Ask The Families

Are Williams students more self-centered than I expected?

Example 1: “As a student, I can tell you that I have not yet met a peer who is interested in a virtual commencement.”

Example 2: “We don’t want it. It’s not even an issue about having two–we could have two if we really wanted to! We just don’t.”

Example 3: “[S]top pushing for a virtual commencement which we clearly don’t want.”

My message to these seniors: Commencement is not (just) about you! What about your parents? Don’t you think that they might be interested in Commencement? What about your grandparents and extended families? Commencement is a celebration, not just of you and what you have achieved, but of your loved ones who have helped make it possible.

Williams College has not asked parents or families whether or not they are interested in a virtual Commencement on June 7th.

So, perhaps the College is re-enforcing the selfishness of Williams seniors?

Again, I am making an empirical claim. Send the parents an e-mail like this:

To the parents of the class of 2020:

As discussed, Williams is committed to celebrating your child’s achievements in person, as soon as we are allowed, by Massachusetts state officials, to do so. In the meantime, we are exploring options for June 7th. There are two possibilities:

1) No virtual Commencement.

2) A virtual Commencement involving speeches, performances and other celebrations. This would be viewable by all via the College’s Youtube channel. It might also include aspects of a “Zoom Commencement” which would involve grouping students and, separately, families into Zoom breakout rooms for intimate conversations and visits from favorite faculty and staff, but the technology for that is untested.

My prediction: A (vast?) majority of parents would vote for 2). After all, the College has explicitly warned them that they might not even be invited to the in-person event in 2021!

Do you disagree that (at least!) a majority parents would vote for a virtual Commencement?

If a majority of parents voted for a virtual commencement, would you object to one being held? You (obviously!) would not be required to attend.


Save the Date

College officials insist that, among seniors, there is “almost no support for a virtual Commencement.” How do we explain this?

1) Maybe this ceremony won’t feature seniors? After all, there is “almost no support for a virtual Commencement” among them!

2) Only black Ephs want a virtual commencement?

3) Maybe the College is planning for separate-but-equal virtual commencements, one for each racial group?

Stop the madness! There is obvious demand for a virtual commencement. Have a unified celebration!

It is not too late to pivot! Yes, College Marshal Jay Thoman ’82 has not covered himself with glory these last few weeks. (And declining to respond to e-mails from knowledgeable alums just highlights the traditional parochialism of too many Williams insiders.)

There College should announce that we will hold a full scale unified virtual commencement on June 7th, with breakout sessions which allow specific groups to gather for intimate celebrations. Just follow this handy schedule!


Ask the Seniors and Their Families

I am having some back-and-forth with college officials about their decision to have “no virtual commencement” in June. (Readers may be surprised to discover how rarely I reach out to Williams. I save my capital for the really important issues! Indeed, this debate generated my first e-mail to Maud since her induction.) One official (not Maud!) notes that, among seniors:

There was almost no support for a virtual Commencement.

The people who run Williams are smart and experienced, which is why I agree with 99% of their decisions! (But such agreement makes for boring reading, which is why you see so little here.) But, on this topic, they are very, very wrong. Seniors and their families want something on June 7. But you don’t have to believe me! Just send this e-mail to the 500 seniors (and, separately, to their parents).

To the members of the class of 2020 and their parents:

As discussed, Williams is committed to celebrating your achievements in person, as soon as we are allowed to by Massachusetts state officials to do so. In the meantime, we are exploring options for June 7th. There are three possibilities:

1) No virtual events.

2) A video broadcast featuring speeches, performances and other celebrations. This would be viewable by all via the College’s Youtube channel.

3) A “Zoom Commencement” which would involve both joint broadcasts but also grouping students and, separately, families into Zoom breakout rooms for intimate conversations and visits from favorite faculty and staff.

If it is really true that there is “almost no support for a virtual Commencement,” then option 1) will win in a landslide. It is an empirical question.

My prediction is that at least 200 students (and the parents of at least half the students) would vote for option 3.

Would we all agree that, if 200 students/families wanted a Zoom Commencement, Williams should host one? Students who don’t want to participate don’t have to! Either way, we all agree that the College should/will host an in-person event in 2021.


Have a Commencement

The decision to cancel Commencement is a mistake, the worst of Maud’s tenure. From the Record:

Yesterday, the College announced its decision to reschedule the commencement ceremony for the class of 2020 to an undetermined future date, ruling out the option to hold a virtual ceremony on June 7.

After the College cancelled in-person commencement at the start of the month due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Professor of Chemistry and College Marshal Jay Thoman ’82 sent a survey to the class of 2020 asking their opinions on whether to organize virtual proceedings in June or a rescheduled ceremony in the future. The form had a two-thirds response rate among seniors, more than 90 percent of whom preferred a rescheduled in-person ceremony with traditional senior-week and class-day events.

“There seemed little support for a faux Commencement in June,” Thoman said. He explained that while no official commencement will happen this spring, the College is soliciting student comments for a few virtual celebrations during the first week of June.

1) There is no way to know if an in-person ceremony will be possible in 2021! If CV-19 is still around (and why wouldn’t it be?), odds are that Massachusetts will still be outlawing large gatherings.

2) Scores (hundreds?) of members of the class of 2020 (and their families) won’t be able to attend a ceremony in 2021, even if one is held.

3) There is no reason we can’t have both a virtual ceremony in June and an in-person ceremony in 2021. A virtual ceremony is free! It costs nothing beyond the time of the faculty/staff who organize it, time that Williams has already paid for.

4) It is possible to make a virtual ceremony meaningful. Here is a plan under discussion at a competing institution. It is excellent! Williams could do even better.

For all these reasons, it was absurd for Thoman/Williams to frame the question as a choice for the senior survey. Is the explanation incompetence? That is always my first guess! But never discount laziness. Whatever else is true, Jay Thoman and the other staff/faculty involved in graduation planning just saved themselves from having to do hundreds of hours of work this month . . .

Side note: The Record‘s coverage of this and other issues has been excellent all spring. Kudos to all involved! Full article below.

Read more


Zoom Commencement

Williams graduation will be on-line. Zoom is a powerful platform. What advice do you have for College Marshall Jay Thoman ’82, the professor in charge of Commencement?

1) The more time spent in small groups, the better. The Zoom terminology is “Breakout Room.” The biggest challenge for Williams will be figuring out the default rooms to assign every graduate senior to. This is a good job for the senior class leadership. Basic idea is that every student must be assigned to a smallish (at least 3, no more than 10) core group, with whom she will spend most of the ceremony. Call this their “Home Room.” Roommates are the obvious grouping mechanism. But it is certainly possible that, say, all the female soccer players want to be together for the event.

2) In addition to these 100 or so Home Rooms (all run out of the main Zoom session), we need several dozen Gatherings, separate Zoom sessions where students can go to reunite with other seniors who share their interests. Almost every sports team will have such a room, as well as all the major student organizations. Some Gatherings will allow parent visitors. Some will be restricted to students. I suspect that many sports teams will have both, a Gathering for students and one for parents. All individual houses would also have a Gathering. We need a public spreadsheet which lists all of these so that students/parents can find them.

Also, there are separate Zoom Gatherings corresponding to each student Home Room. Many parents know the parents of their Eph’s roommates and will want to hang out in a parallel session.

3) Create a list of potential guests: faculty, coaches, staff and administrators. Then, ask the Home Rooms who they want to have visit them, if possible. Wouldn’t it be fun to have your favorite professor stop by your Zoom room for a quick hello?

4) Base Zoom limits attendees to 200 and only 50 breakout rooms. I think there is a ZoomXL version which could accommodate many more people. Does anyone have details?

5) Start time needs to be around 11:00 AM. Anything earlier is too tough on west coast students. Any later is impossible for Asia students.

6) We need a common “channel” which everyone can tune into. This might be broadcast into the main student Zoom, but it would need to exist publicly as well. Indeed, it might be cool to have several different channels — Twitch streams? — which feature a different sets of speakers.


10:00: Main channel starts broadcasting fun content. Student produced videos. A Capella groups. Sports highlights. Student photos over the last four years.

10:30: Main student Zoom opens. (It is tough to run a 100+ person Zoom, but not impossible.) Might make sense to do this even earlier, in the same way that, in physical commencement, students are lining up for the march well before the start. Every five minutes in this main room, students are sent to their breakout rooms to chat with their friends, and then brought back together. (Big advantage of this is that it causes students who are alone in their rooms because their roommates have not showed up yet to text those sleepy roommates and tell them to Log On Now!)

11:00: Event begins with some digital equivalent of a student procession. Still pondering what that would be!

11:15: College Marshall Jay Thoman ’82, speaking on the main channel, welcomes everyone and provides an overview of the day’s events. (Of course, a written description with every detail has been distributed to students and families ahead of time.)

11:20: President Mandel speaks briefly.

11:30: Students are sent to their Home Rooms. Visitors — at least one or two of the faculty/staff who they requested — come by to visit and chat. This is the heart of graduation in the era of CV-19. At the same time, families have a choice: hear a speech from someone on the main channel or go to the Gatherings where they can chat amongst themselves.

11:45: Students are brought back from their Home Rooms into the main session. (The great advantage of Zoom is that this is easy to do.) The traditional three student speeches are given on the main channel, but each is restricted to five minutes or less.

12:00: Students sent back to Home Rooms. Again, this period, this private time with your closest friends and visits from those faculty/staff who know you best, is what makes the whole event work. More visitors come by.

12:15: Back to the main room for the big speech. Again, everything on Zoom is much more boring than it is in real life, so this speech must be short, no more than 15 minutes.

12:30: Back to Home Rooms, but with the option to leave the Home Room and visit one of the Gatherings. This would be the time for all the seniors who work on the Record, for example, to get together, even though they have different Home Rooms.

12:45: Back from the awarding of degrees. Not sure how to do this yet.

1:00: Commencement ends. Of course, students/families/faculty/staff need a way to hang out afterwards — similar to the milling around on Chapin Lawn which occurs after the normal commencement — but I have not worked out the best mechanism for that yet.

What advice do you have for Professor Jay Thoman?


Graduation and Reunions Cancelled

Full letter from Maud below. The decision was inevitable. I was struck by this passage:

My heart goes out especially to the class of 1970, whose own senior spring term was canceled due to protests over the bombing of Cambodia, and who are now having their 50th reunion disrupted by a global pandemic.

1) I don’t know this history as well as I should. I know that there was a student strike, but was the “senior spring term” really “cancelled.” What about the other students? Junior spring term went on fine, but not senior spring term. How is that even possible?

2) There is a great senior thesis to be written, tying events at Williams across this 50 year divide. Indeed, kudos to Maud, the historian, for making that connection.

Williams students, families, faculty and staff,

Over the last few weeks Williams has been assessing the question of whether or not to hold commencement and reunion, in light of the pandemic’s progress and impact. I have decided, reluctantly and with significant disappointment, that the college cannot safely hold a traditional in-person Williams commencement or reunion in June.

Every year I share in the joy of seniors who are celebrating the successful completion of their Williams education, and their excitement about embarking on their next adventures. Seeing the delight of parents and families, who have supported their students in remarkable ways, is equally moving. A week later, I welcome alumni who are returning from adventures of their own. We often say Williams is more than a campus: it is a worldwide community. Commencement and reunion together demonstrate this truth.

Seniors, while I am heartbroken that graduation cannot happen in the conventional way at the conventional time, I am determined that you will have your moment. Rather than deciding for you what that should look like, my colleagues and I want to start by asking you. Following this message, you will receive an email from College Marshal and J. Hodge Markgraf Professor of Chemistry Jay Thoman ’82, with a questionnaire you can use to share your ideas. Your responses will help inform our thinking about the options.

While the result almost certainly will not look exactly like a traditional graduation, Professor Thoman and all of us are determined to create something memorable and meaningful. Seniors,please complete the questionnaire and tell us what that might look like for you.

Alumni will shortly receive a separate note from me about Reunion 2020. Our colleagues in the Office of College Relations are going to work with the classes of the “aughts and fives,” including our 25th and 50th reunion classes, on alternate ways to get together. My heart goes out especially to the class of 1970, whose own senior spring term was canceled due to protests over the bombing of Cambodia, and who are now having their 50th reunion disrupted by a global pandemic. I promise that we will find other ways to celebrate these milestone anniversaries, which are so important to alumni and college alike.

You have no idea how much I wish we could come together in the customary ways, to celebrate as a community. But I am confident that we can work together creatively to make the most of even this unprecedented challenge. Seniors, I hope you will share your thoughts and hopes via the questionnaire. Together, we will craft celebrations befitting the great class of 2020 and all our reunion classes.

Wishing you and your families all the best in the weeks ahead,



Congratulations Class of 2019

Commencement is this morning. Congratulations to all our graduating seniors!

I know that there is a livestream, but I can’t find it. Could someone please point it out?



Happy Commencement to the class of 2018. Video stream should be here. Alas, I can’t figure out a way to embed it here. Or any readers at this morning’s ceremony?

By the way, is the move of Commencement to the library quad permanent? I was under the impression that it was just temporary, caused by construction of the new science buildings. But this is the second (?) year in a row, so . . .


2017 Honorary Degree Recipients

As noted by sigh, Williams has announced its 2017 Honorary Degree recipients:

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Nigerian writer and recipient of a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, will be the principal speaker at Williams College’s 228th Commencement Exercise on Sunday, June 4. The day before, former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins will be the Baccalaureate speaker. Both will receive honorary degrees at Commencement, as will former Williams College provost and current president of Washington and Lee University Will Dudley; public health and environmental advocate Gina McCarthy; and Gavin A. Schmidt, the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

I thought it was a very interesting group of people.  I appreciated that it was not solely academics (with apologies to Prof. Will Dudley!), but included figures from “the real world,” including the former head of the EPA in the Obama administration and a NASA scientist.  Presumably the selection of these two is intended to make a policy point that the College favors (and, of course, is not favored by some of EphBlog’s more prolific authors and commentors).

I think the choice of Ms. Adichie as the commencement speaker could turn out very well, if she gives a speech geared directly to Williams.  While not the highest profile commencement speaker (at least outside of literary circles, I guess), her profile suggests she is very accomplished and may have some very interesting ideas to communicate with the graduates and their families.

More complete bios of the honorary degree recipients may be found here.


Commencement Speakers

Sigh asks if “anyone ha[s] thoughts about the commencement speakers?” Excellent question! Here is a listing.

1) I dislike it when the College uses someone like Bryan Stevenson as the speaker. (Whether or not he merits an honorary degree is a separate question.) Williams College commencement speeches should be special, written for the occasion and delivered by someone, ideally an alum, with a personal connections to the College. Bryan Stevenson gave, more or less, the exact same speech at Williams as he gave at Wesleyan two weeks ago, at Holy Cross last year, at Lesley last year, and so on. Isn’t that sort of pathetic? Shouldn’t the speech heard at a Williams commencement be original to the occasion?

2) Note that this is not Bryan Stevenson’s fault! He has no (realistic) choice but to give the same speech over and over again as he collects his two or three honorary degrees each year.

3) Longtime readers will recall similar complaints about David Halberstam 12 years ago. What Mike Needham ’04 said then still applies:

The problem as far as I see is that Williams should have known this and known that when push comes to shove David Halberstam would not [care] about Williams College. If you bring David Halberstam you should expect to hear a speech that he gave two weeks ago, or if not two weeks ago than last year or five years ago.

If Williams thinks of itself as a special institution, then we should find speakers who are so flattered to be receiving a degree that they write a personalized speech. As far as I know, Halberstam doesn’t have any legitimate connection to Williams. How about bringing back an alum who has gone on to do great things to give the speech… he would do a great job (see Jon Stewart’s speech at William and Mary). How about a parent. How about somebody who doesn’t get honored by everybody and their mother and thus would be truly honored by the degree.

As good an idea now as it was in 2004.


Cultural Appropriation at Commencement?

Lots of discussion about cultural appropriation at Williams over the last few years.


Is this another example? Why or why not? The Taco Six would very much appreciate an answer . . .

Thanks to former faculty member Wendy Raymond for the photo.


Neither Rain, Nor . . .

Congratulations to the Class of 2016 !

Williams College Commencement will be held OUTDOORS.

Assemble alphabetically in the frosh quad at 9:00 a.m.
Procession steps off promptly at 9:30 a.m. for the 10:00 a.m. ceremony.
Be prepared for rain.

For your families and friends, Bronfman Auditorium, Bronfman 106,
Biology 112, and Wege Auditorium (Chemistry 123) will be
livestreaming the ceremony.

Following the ceremony, the President’s reception
will be held in Towne Field House, with the
Lansing Chapman Rink available for seating.
Be prepared for thunderstorms.

Cheers – Jay Thoman, College Marshal



How can Ephs far from Williams follow Commencement activities? Start with the Twitter hashtag #williams2016. Example items:


Congrats to all the members of the class of 2016! Links in the comments to other methods for following along are welcome.


Why isn’t Leehom Wang ’98 Singing at Commencement?

From the College:

Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, will be the principal speaker at Williams College’s 227th Commencement Exercise on Sunday, June 5. The day before, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and science journalist Elizabeth Kolbert will be the Baccalaureate speaker. Both will receive honorary degrees at Commencement, as will Sarah Bolton, current dean of the college at Williams and president-elect of The College of Wooster; author and illustrator Eric Carle; writer and commentator Frank Deford; Peace Corps director Carrie Hessler-Radelet; Tony Award-winning playwright and screenwriter David Henry Hwang; and singer-songwriter, producer, and actor Leehom Wang ’98.

Leehom Wang ’98 is almost certainly the most famous Eph of this century, and probably of the last one as well. (For our older and/or more US-centric readers, Wang is a hugely popular singer/actor in Asia. More people have seen his picture and/or listened to his words than they have to any other Eph. (Contrary examples welcome!) Now, it must be admitted, that tens of millions of these people were teenage Chinese girls, but numbers still count.

Anyway, why not have Wang perform at Commencement, either the main event on Sunday or on the previous Saturday. The guy knows how to put on a show! Perhaps Wang did not want to perform? Perhaps Wang/Williams were concerned that his fans might crash Commencement? I just hope that the College was not so narrow-minded to turn down his offer to perform. I guarantee that he would do a better job that the typical, boring, regurgitated schpiel.

But all the above is just an excuse to resurrect this Spring Streeter video from 10 (!) years ago. Highly recommended!


Julian Bond at Williams

2005 Commencement (Source: Williams College Archives)

2005 Commencement (Source: Williams College Archives)

Civil rights giant Julian Bond passed away last week at the age of 75. Co-founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, enactment of the Civil Rights Act enabled Bond to be elected to the Georgia House of Representatives — which refused to seat him. Bond took the legal fight over his election to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in his favor 9-0, and Bond remained in the Georgia Legislature for the next two decades. A civil, calm, and eloquent face of the civil rights movement, he later became a professor at the University of Virginia and chairman of the NAACP, a post which he held for a decade.

During his career, Bond wasa repeat visitor to Williams. In April, 1969, he came to Williams to advocate “Community Socialism,” speaking in Thompson Chapel to a standing-room crowd. Later, he returned as an Arnold Bernhard ’25 visiting professor in 1992, a keynote speaker for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in 2000, and the Baccalaureate Speaker in 2005.

According to the April 15, 1969 Williams Record (pdf) Bond’s 1969 speech focused on his rejection of capitalism:

“Income for the many instead of profits for the few” should be the rationale of economic reform. Bond told the standing-room-only Chapel audience. He stated he was strongly opposed to the principle of single ownership. President Nixon’s
call for Black Capitalism, now termed Minority Entrepeneurshlp, would force the Black
poor “to adopt an economic systsm which hasn’t even worked for the whites,” Bond said. Unfortunately, a policy of “wholesome lives for many rather than profits for few” would not get a politician far in this country today,” Bond stated…

At present, “America’s Black poor constitute a colony within the larger white nation,” Bond continued. In this system of colonialization the mother country steals from the blacks and gives nothing in return, he said.

Bond, as pictured in the Williams Record, 1969

Bond, as pictured in the Williams Record, 1969

In his 2000 address, Bond began, as he often did, with the story of his grandfather’s rise from slavery to valedictory speaker, and then with the history of the NAACP, before moving into a strident condemnation of modern-day American society as racist and a demand for equality of outcome. Here’s an excerpt from the Record’s coverage :

After Woodrow Wilson Professor of Government Emeritus James MacGregor Burns ’39 introduced Bond as a “healer” and unifier of the civil rights movement, Bond began his lecture by asking, “How do we speak about race in America without making people uncomfortable?” Race issues, he said, make people uncomfortable, but they must be discussed in spite of this.

Bond noted that only his father’s generation separates him from slavery. His grandfather was born in 1863 in Kentucky. At age 15, he walked across Kentucky to Berea College. Fifteen years later he graduated and gave the commencement address. Bond said his grandfather demonstrated the attitude that will change race relationships in America.

He berated those who want to replace race-based affirmative action with economic based affirmative action. “As long as race counts in America, we have to count race,” Bond argued.

He disparaged the failure of many cities to compile statistics on race motivated crimes, noting that without data, “there is no discrimination.”

The end of “American apartheid” in the 1960s has made it too easy to believe discrimination has disappeared when, in reality, Bond said, it has not. Polls have shown that inequalities still exist in educational opportunities and rates of success for minorities in America.

According to Bond, “race is a central fact of life for all non-white Americans.” He warned the audience about a “dangerous nostalgic narrative” in recent movies and books that eliminate civil rights violations and racial complexities from their portrayal of the past.

Bond’s 2005 Baccalaureate address began in the same place, with the story of his grandfather and the history of the NAACP. But it ended far more optimistically:

Most of those who made the movement were not famous; they were faceless. They were not notable; they were nameless – marchers with tired feet, protestors beaten back by fire hoses and billy clubs, unknown women and men who risked job and home and life.

As we will honor you graduates tomorrow for what you have achieved, so should you honor them for what they achieved for you.

They helped you learn how to be free.

They gave you the freedom to enter the larger world protected from its worst abuses.

If you are black or female, their struggles prevent your race or gender from being the arbitrary handicap today it was then.

If you belong to an ethnic minority or if you are disabled, your ethnicity or disability cannot be used to discriminate against you now as it was then.

If you are Christian or Jewish or Muslim, your faith cannot be an impediment to your success. As you grow older, because of what they did then, you will be able to work as long as you are able. Your job – your responsibility – is to make these protections more secure, to expand then for your generation and for those who will soon follow you.

Wherever you may go from here, if there are hungry minds or hungry bodies nearby, you can feed them. If there are precincts of the powerless poor nearby, you can organize them. If there is racial or ethnic injustice, you can attack and destroy it.

The choice is yours.

Not every choice you make will be momentous. But in order to be ready for the momentous, you need to be guided by moral principles in the mundane.

Don’t let the din of the dollar deafen you to the quiet desperation of the dispossessed. Don’t let the glare of greed blind you to the many in need.

You must place interest in principle above interest on principal.

An early attempt at ending illiteracy in the South developed a slogan – “Each One Teach One” until all could read.

Perhaps your slogan could be “Each One Reach One.”

As you go forward, remember these final lines from James Russell Lowell’s poem:

Though the cause of evil prosper,
Yet ’tis truth alone is strong.
Though her portion be the scaffold,
And upon the throne be wrong.
Yet that scaffold sways the future,
And beyond the dim unknown
Stands God within the shadow,
Keeping watch above His own.

May He watch over you.

I don’t have any information about his stint as a visiting professor, so if there are any readers with recollections, please share.


Judged by the Color of Her Skin

Today is Commencement. Congrats to the members of the class of 2015!

UrsulaBurns_thumb2In the spirit of Robert Gaudino and “uncomfortable learning,” let’s send off the graduates with one last fact that is both undeniably true and deeply troubling:

Ursula Burns, the Commencement Speaker, would not have been chosen if she were not African American.

Since this true claim will give our liberal readers the vapors, let’s take it one step at a time.

1) Ursula Burns is an immensely talented and successful business executive. You don’t climb the greasy pole at a Fortune 500 company without being extremely smart and ambitious (and lucky). Kudos to Burns for her many successes!

2) Williams never selects a Commencement Speaker whose main accomplishment is business success. Here is a listing of the speakers of the last 50 years. There is not a single speaker whose main/only accomplishment is in business. (Counter examples welcome!) The main categories are politicians/writers/academics.

3) There is nothing wrong with Williams not choosing business executives for Commencement Speakers. Maybe Williams thinks (wrongly) that executives make poor speakers. Maybe Williams does not value and/or want to honor success in business. Maybe Williams just values other things more. Whatever!

4) If Williams never chooses business executives, and then chooses Ursala Burns, we can conclude that Burns was chosen for some reason other (or some reason in addition to) business success. That reason is almost certainly the color of her skin (and maybe her gender).

This is the sort of truth that no Williams faculty member or administrator will ever say, which is why we have EphBlog!

Quibbles and Complaints:

1) This conclusion would be falsified if Williams started to select speakers whose main/only accomplishment was in business, perhaps because of the increasing financialization of the trustees/college. Who wants to make that bet? Not me! I wager that, for the next ten years, there will be no non-black, non-alum business executive chosen as Commencement Speaker.

2) What about business executive Michael Bloomberg from 2014? Bloomberg was also mayor of NYC. Williams often has prominent politicians as speakers, including former NYC major John Lindsay in 1970. In other words, Bloomberg would have been chosen even if he were not a success in business.

3) What about Clarence Otis ’77, speaker in 2009? It is true that Otis’s main/only accomplishment is in business, but, first, he is also black! And, second, he is an alum. If Burns were an alum it would be hard to know if her skin color or her alumness was the key factor.

4) Surely there must be other business executives chosen over the last 50 years! Nope. Look at the list.


Ann Bancroft – Baccalaureate Speaker 2011

My first reaction on hearing that Ann Bancroft was slated to be this year’s Baccalaureate speaker, was – Huh? I thought she passed away a few years ago – I was, of course, mistaking her for the other Ann Bancroft. This Ann Bancroft is living the life most actors might dream of portraying.

From the college announcement, we read:

Author, teacher and explorer, Bancroft was born in St. Paul, Minn., in 1955. Bancroft received her B.S. in physical education from the University of Oregon. She then became a wilderness instructor and gym teacher in Minneapolis before giving up her teaching post in 1986 to join the Will Steger International North Pole Expedition. After traveling for 56 days by dogsled, Bancroft, along with five other team members, arrived at the North Pole. The trip totaled 1000 miles starting from the Northwest Territories in Canada, and Bancroft was the only female member of the team.
In 1993, Bancroft led the American Women’s Expedition to the South Pole, which consisted of a 67-day, 660-mile long trip on skis. In 2001, Bancroft and Liv Arnesen became the first team of women to ski across Antarctica’s landmass.
Bancroft maintains a passion for teaching children. In addition to her teaching in Minneapolis, she has coached a variety of sports. In 2001, she founded the Ann Bancroft Foundation, a nonprofit organization that celebrates the achievements of women and girls. Bancroft is also included in a documentary featuring celebrities who have dealt with learning disabilities, as she was diagnosed with dyslexia as a child.

Moving on to the Anne Bancroft Foundation, we read about her Dare to Dream program,where “micro grants” of up to $500 are awarded to fund experiences for underserved girls…and her annual Dream Maker Awards created to celebrate those who “encourage and support the achievements of girls and women”.

With partner, Liv Arnesen, Bancroft co-founded Bancroft Arnesen Explore, where if you click on 2012, you can read about their upcoming adventure in which they will “lead a team of six women, from six continents, on an 800 mile, 80-day long expedition to the South Pole. It is no wonder she’s been inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

At The Yale Center For Creativity and Dyslexia, we hear how her disability has informed who she has become:

“It’s given me strength. I feel lucky, and I couldn’t say that as a child.” Ann has gone from hiding her disability, as she did for her first expedition, to talking about it with other students with learning disabilities. She has given a voice to dyslexia, one where she is not ashamed of her disability, but rather feels proud that she is among others in a group of other “fantastic, brilliant, exciting people.”

Indeed, what a life! I look forward to hearing more from her.


Cory Booker – Commencement Speaker 2011

I am going to attempt a post on each of the speakers and honorees scheduled for this year’s graduation ceremonies. It’s a somewhat selfish endeavor in that it’s a good way for me to find out more about them before I arrive for the ceremonies. And what a truly special weekend it promises to be. There isn’t one guest I don’t look forward to hearing. I’ll begin today, with Commencement speaker, Cory Booker.

The school announcement introduces him as “the Honorable Cory A. Booker, mayor of Newark, New Jersey.” Born in 1969, he was an All-American football player in high school (in Jersey) and a Varsity player at Stanford where he earned a B.A. in political science and an M.A. in sociology. After earning a Rhodes Scholarship, he went on to Oxford, and from there, earned his law degree at Yale.

After some very helpful leads from Booker fan, Jeff Z (and Google, of course) I found much, much more. From Mother Jones (Nov. 2010), we learn of his fervent belief in “the power of small daily acts of love and kindness”, of his stint on the Newark City Council, during which he lived (for eight years) in a “troubled public housing complex”. We read of his bitter 2002 loss to the longtime mayoral incumbent, Sharpe James, whom he eventually beat in 2006, in an election so controversial it was documented in an Academy Awards nominated film called Street Fight. (James was later convicted of five counts of fraud by a federal jury.) Booker’s mayorship has been credited with significantly reducing crime and recidivism, slashing the budget before the recession hit, and inspiring Mark Zuckerberg to donate 100 million dollars to the Newark educational system.

There’s more. Bill Moyers, calls him a “shining star reformer”. From the many NY Times articles, there is one devoted to his personal, and ongoing mentoring of “the boys”, three young men who’ve all had previous brushes with the law. From Time, we hear how he made headlines last winter by using Twitter as a public service tool, guiding efforts to bring help to snowbound citizens. Showing up on doorsteps with his own shovel, he inspired Twitter feeds like “I have a snowpocalypse crush on @Cory Booker“, and “superhero with a shovel“.

Having never heard Booker speak, I linked to the 2010 commencement speech he gave at Pitzer, thinking I’d catch a few minutes of it just to get an idea. I not only watched the whole thing, but have been thinking about parts of it ever since. Booker is one accomplished and charismatic guy, and I am very pleased that I will be on campus to hear him.


Underrepresentation of Female Students Among Graduation Day Speakers

From WSO:

Seeing only one female student on the list of candidates for class speaker made me wonder and I looked at commencement archives. No female class speakers between 2003 and 2010. The archives start in 2003.

In addition, only 3 out of 24 total speakers are female. If we don’t count the valedictorians, then only 1 out of 16 chosen speakers is female (this includes Phi Beta Kappa & class speakers).

This makes me very uneasy.

Instead of becoming “uneasy,” this student (and the WSO commentators that follow) might consider becoming “educated.”

Men and women are biologically different.

If you don’t think that this scientific fact plays a major role (not the only role) in the gender of Commencement Day speakers, then you are deeply uneducated. And that is probably partly the fault of Williams College.

Would any Williams professor dare to point this out in a public forum? I doubt it. They all saw what happened to Larry Summers . . .


Booker to speak at Commencement

Williams Record: Newark Mayor Cory Booker to speak at Commencement


Susan Boyle to Speak at Commencement?!

You read it at EphBlog first! Who is Susan Boyle? Ask Youtube.

To clarify: I don’t know if this is true. Help me out, anonymous sources! But I would certainly bet that it is true, given the information in this WSO thread:

1) Two Williams students have independently (?) reported the rumor.

2) Will Slack ’11 was on the committee (I forget which one) which picks the honorary degree winners and speakers. He also started Boyle’s Wikipedia page.

Given these facts, what odds would you give on Boyle?

On the substance:

1) I dislike any Commencement Speaker who is not an Eph. So, I dislike this choice.

2) I am surprised at how negative the reaction is at WSO.

If Susan Boyle is our graduation speaker, I will cry. Seriously Williams College?

That was from Emily Spine, a long lost author at EphBlog. Come back Emily! We miss you.

Hey guys, this is Williams, what did you expect? I’m over being angry about it, I just have …

*lowered expectations*

I would have expected students to be more supportive of a pop-cultural choice.

Read the whole WSO thread. It is quite clever, at least if you are a Wikipedia geek like me.


(Belatedly) Kicking off Senior Year

Greetings all. It’s been a while since I’ve posted, so please have patience with my rusty skills.

Here’s the gist of it:

Senior year is a very big deal. At least it is in our household. Exciting, bittersweet, confusing and stressful. Pick an adjective or emotion, and chances are, it fits. There are deadlines to meet, reservations to be made, announcements to be ordered, gifts to consider, and that’s just on my end. My son has his usual workload and cram-packed schedule. And plopped on top of that, are all of the special activities, festivities and responsibilities, that go along with being a senior. Not to mention that making an exit from the Purple Bubble, means making an entrance into the real world. Phew…

I have been considering all of this, and would like to come up with a series of posts for Ephblog. I could use some help. With that in mind, reminiscences, suggestions, advice, ideas…anything having to do with that grand denouement that is Senior Year, would be greatly appreciated.

I would also like to extend an invitation to any Williams seniors who would like to contribute, either here, or in your own post. Your perspectives on this amazing year would truly be a gift.


Decreasing the Focus on GPA

The Gaudino Option Initiative begins:

We, as faculty and students, believe that not all students are taking full advantage of the educational opportunities that Williams has to offer as they select their 32 courses that will define their undergraduate studies. Many students here at Williams are overly conscious and concerned with their GPAs. As a result, some allow that concern (sometimes compounded by pressures from their families) to influence their curricular decisions. Unfortunately, there are students who would like to explore areas outside of their specializations (beyond their divisional requirements) but instead embrace a somewhat myopic view of their education and do not risk leaving the confines of their intellectual comfort zone.

All perfectly reasonable. But there are many things that Williams could do to make students less “conscious and concerned with their GPAs,” especially the sort of talented students whose course choices are of the most interest to faculty like Ed Burger.

1) Replace the valedictorian as a Commencement Speaker. There are at least 10-20 Williams students who, at the end of sophomore year, have a realistic chance at being valedictorian. You can be sure that they want that position and that this desire affects their course choices. Making the valedictorian less important makes these students more likely to “to engage in areas outside their strengths.” Replace the “valedictorian speaker” with an “academic speaker” — naming suggestions welcome — someone chosen by a faculty committee who represents the “highest standards of Williams academics.” Instead of just basing this selection on GPA, the faculty committee could use (and make public) whatever set of standards it most wants to encourage among elite students. If you want more smart students to: take tutorials, write theses, explore 300-level courses in departments/divisions outside their majors or whatever, then select the academic speaker using those criteria.

2) Allow a faculty committee to make the summa cum laude designation, based on an overview of the student’s entire academic career at Williams, not just their GPA. Here (pdf) is the current breakdown of latin honors:

35% of the graduating class — Bachelor of Arts cum laude or higher
15% of the graduating class — Bachelor of Arts magna cum laude or higher
2% of the graduating class — Bachelor of Arts summa cum laude

At the end of sophomore year, there are at least 50 students with a realistic chance at graduating summa. You can be sure that they want that position and that this desire affects their course choices. Making summa less dependent on GPA and more a function of other academic achievements makes these students more likely to “to engage in areas outside their strengths.” Create a faculty committee (probably a different one that the one that chooses the academic speaker) which selects the summas. Use (and make public) whatever set of criteria you want to encourage among elite students. In fact, to the extent that faculty want “to encourage students to engage in courses of interest beyond their area of
focus or “expertise”,” all they need to do is to make such an engagement (with some concrete guidance on how to achieve it) a requirement for graduating summa. That will cause the top 25-50 students in every Williams class to behave exactly how Ed Burger wants them to. Each year, besides publishing the list of summa graduates, the committee would release a detailed (but anonymous) discussion (just as the honor committee does) about what factors caused it to select some students over other students.

3) Prevent departments/programs from using GPA cut-offs for any purpose. Consider a typical example from Classics:

In order to write a thesis, students normally must have a minimum GPA of 3.3 in their major courses and must submit a thesis proposal before the end of the spring semester of their junior year that earns departmental approval.

Many/most departments have a similar requirement. Why? If Williams wants students to focus less on their GPAs (an policy with which I agree), then we need to make GPAs less important. The same applies to WEPO:

In making its decisions, the Admissions Committee of the Williams-Exeter Programme at Oxford University takes student GPA into account, expects all applicants to have demonstrated capacity for rigorous independent work and extensive essay writing, and looks favorably on those students whose intellectual maturity, curiosity and enthusiasm would best prepare them for a demanding course of study in Oxford.

Lots of Williams students want to go to WEPO but there are only a limited number of spots. Instead of awarding those spots (partially) on the basis of GPA, admit students who do not “embrace a somewhat myopic view of their education.”

If you want behavior X, then you need to encourage behavior X. If you don’t want behavior Y, then you need to stop rewarding behavior Y. Provide students with fewer rewards for maintaining a high GPA and they will worry less about their GPA. Honor students who engage in curricular risk taking and Williams will get more risk taking.


Valedictory Speaker: Zachary Miller ’10


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