Looking Ahead

I’ve just returned from both a trustee meeting and a joint meeting of the Executive Committee of the Society of Alumni (EC) and the Vice-Chair Committee of the Alumni Fund (VC), and big thoughts about the future were in the air. At each meeting, Williams President Maud S. Mandel sought input on her strategic plan process, and our EC/ VC meeting included a planning session on the upcoming celebration of the Bicentennial of the Society of Alumni (SoA), which occurs in 2021.

I’m a big fan of strategic plans, provided they neither end up dust-covered from disuse nor act as a straitjacket in the face of unanticipated change. Strategic plans are, of course, useful in identifying bold initiatives or areas that require new approaches. They can also define what is “out of scope” and, importantly, identify activities that should be curtailed, in part to make way for (and help pay for) new ideas.

The SoA Bicentennial … will celebrate— and contemplate— our future.

The process Maud outlined is lengthy, at two years, but it’s right for an entity with so many constituents who will bring valuable perspective. Those voices include the alumni body, not just through intermediaries like the EC, but directly with the strategic planning committee via: bit.ly/2Cm2HWH. I encourage you to share your thoughts, and if something is on your mind worthy of a conversation, contact me at my email address below.

As for the SoA Bicentennial celebration, why is that included under a headline of “Looking Ahead”? I’ll get to that.
But, first, some nuts and bolts. The SoA dates its birth to 1821, so we are two years away from the hoopla. I should note that another institution of higher education in Massachusetts will be celebrating the bicentennial of its existence in that same year. That, of course, is not a coincidence! Our SoA was formed to save the college in the wake of President Zephaniah Moore’s defection over the hills (with some faculty and 15 students in tow, but, contrary to legend, no library books) to found Amherst College.

In addition to alumni relations staff, we have a team of 60-plus alums who are already hard at work planning the celebration. They are led by SoA Bicentennial Committee Co-Chairs Laura Lavoie ’99 and Aroop Mukharji ’09, two incredibly energetic (and well-organized) Eph mega-volunteers. There is a leadership committee that spans seven decades of alums (including myself and SoA VP Kate Ramsdell ’97) providing oversight and four working subcommittees covering various aspects of the effort.

The celebration will happen neither on one day nor in one place but, rather, across the year, around the world, in person and virtually. It will, of course, cover the SoA’s storied past and demonstrate our enviable present strength. But, perhaps most importantly, it will celebrate—and contemplate—our future. As our 29,000-plus alumni body continually evolves to reflect the amazing diversity of our student body, and we all deal with the reality of ever-more sophisticated technology, we will look ahead to the implications of these and other forces. Coming full circle, that sort of sounds like a strategic plan for the SoA, and, yes, we are working on one as well. And for that, we will invite and welcome your input!
—Tom Gardner ’79, President, Society of Alumni
[email protected]