Greet us With a Song

Leila JereBy now, many of you know about and may even have participated in Teach It Forward: The Campaign for Williams, which launched in early October. In addition to the ambitious and unprecedented goal of raising $650 million, Williams is aiming to engage 85 percent of alumni in the campaign by inspiring them to give, attend events, volunteer or join us via the web and social media.

Williams alumni take great pride in what we do for each other and our communities. It is this devotion to collective action that makes many Ephs proud to remain connected to each other and the college. The campaign offers us a chance to celebrate more fully these efforts through an initiative called Purple with Purpose, the engagement platform of Teach It Forward. You can read more about Purple with Purpose in Alumni Relations Director Brooks Foehl’s ‘88 essay on the inside back cover of this issue of People.

The campaign also gives us an opportunity to look back and examine the traditions that have helped unite us around our alma mater.

Over the last few years, one of the great pleasures and honors I’ve had has been to meet Williams alumni who graduated in the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s. It no longer surprises me when some of these men, now in their 70s and 80s, burst into fulsome song in celebration of life at Williams—at meals, at reunion gatherings, you name it. In researching Williams song lyrics (and, in the process, uncovering the lamentable fact that the most recent edition of the Williams songbook dates to 1959), I came across an excellent illustrated history, When Colleges Sang: The Story of Singing in American College Life, by J. Lloyd Winstead (University of Alabama Press, 2013). The Greylocks out there will be pleased to know that the writer’s acknowledgement opens with a mention of Fred Rudolph ’42. Winstead describes the strong singing tradition in American colleges that predated fraternity and fight songs, when students would sing together for entertainment and as a way to comment on current events on campus.

Today we sing “The Mountains” and perhaps a couple of other songs, but many of the songs from 1959 no longer bind us together as they did in generations past. So one goal of Purple with Purpose is to update the Williams songbook to better reflect who we are today. To do that, we’ve launched a competition to find a new song that is worthy of standing alongside (not replacing) “The Mountains.” Selections from the competition will be compiled in a new Williams songbook that reflects the diverse and global community Williams is today.

I hope that you will participate in this experiment to add new songs to our old standards and write a new chapter in Williams history. You can learn more about the competition and submit songs at alumni.williams.edu/submit-your-song. You don’t have to be a professional songwriter or musician to pull a few verses together. Even better, why not look up an old entrymate or two and collaborate?

Leila Jere ’91
President, Society of Alumni
leila.jere@gmail.com