In the midst of our year-long celebration of the bicentennial of the Society of Alumni, there is one particular historical date in need of formal recognition. On Sept. 5, 1821, 70 alumni—nearly a quarter of all living graduates at the time—gathered together in Williamstown to form the Society of Alumni of Williams College. Answering the call of Emory Washburn, Class of 1817, and Daniel Noble, Class of 1796, alumni responded to the defection of President Zephaniah Swift Moore from Amherst College (hiss) by coming together to save Williams and create the foundation on which our alumni community and the college still stand.
It has been one of the great privileges of my life to be part of the stewardship of our alumni family. As we honor the actual day and the moment 200 years ago that bring us to this point, I want to offer some reflections shaped over 20 years of building relationships with you and observing our Society of Alumni from a close distance.
Just as the college is in a constant state of evolution, so too is our alumni community, and we are all the better for it.
It’s important to start with the obvious: Our common bond of Williams binds us. No matter the circumstances of our arrival in Williamstown or where our paths have taken us since leaving, we share Williams. We share it with Emory Washburn, and we share it with members of the Class of 2025 who arrived on campus just weeks ago. Our relationships with each other and the college, often through support of current undergrads, are the engines that drive our community forward.
Regardless of when you graduated, you have a collective appreciation for the Williams of today. Yes, generational differences exist and are as old as time. I think a lot about what someone from the Class of 1920 would have made of campus goings-on when they returned for their 50th reunion in 1970. Just as the college is in a constant state of evolution, so too is our alumni community, and we are all the better for it.
Your generosity of spirit is a marvel to behold. You care about each other, and this manifests in acts large and small, seen and unseen. Your desire and willingness to give back and personify the culture of volunteerism on which the SoA was founded is essential to Williams and our thriving alumni community. These are among the greatest gifts you give to each other and your college.
Steve Birrell ’64, former vice president for alumni relations and development, is credited with first describing our alumni family as the college’s “second endowment.” He’s absolutely right, although, truth be told, you’re second to none, and we’re forever grateful.
With best wishes from Williamstown,
—Brooks Foehl ’88, Executive Director of Alumni Relations; Secretary, Society of Alumni