Gea Hyun Shin, 2011 Valedictorian

What Numbers Can’t Capture

Four years ago, when I was beginning the college process, I printed out a list of good American schools and presented it to my grandmother. She immediately pointed at the name Williams College and told me I would mature the most there, without telling me why. My parents didn’t object to my grandmother – they looked at the campus on Google maps and said, “Great! You will be secluded from every distraction.” My parents might have been convinced simply by the isolated location of Williams College. But I wasn’t, so I started digging out some figures and numbers that would convince me to apply to Williams.

About 540 students per class year, a 7-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio, about 40% of students majoring in two disciplines, and more than 58% of recent graduates with a graduate or professional degree. What these numbers described certainly turned out to be true. The small student body ensured a close knit community, and the optimal student-to-faculty ratio supported a close learning experience. But as I spent more time at the College, it became clear to me that these numbers alone can’t capture what is at the core of this place: the essence of Williams people.

In the classroom, what affected my learning experience the most was not the size of the class but the genuine enthusiasm and interest of the students and faculty. Their actions came out of the joy of learning and the eagerness to teach.

About 70 inches of snowfall per year, and an average winter temperature of about 23 degrees Fahrenheit. I believed that these numbers would characterize my experience outside of classroom here in college. Indeed, the first winter at Williams was brutal enough for me to wear layers of clothes for more than four months. But the warm embrace of my JAs and entrymates prevented my heart from freezing along with the snow on the ground. Despite the chill on my skin, I was not afraid of going sledding because I loved watching the warmth spread within my entry, a group of people who embodied the true meaning of care, attention, and love. This never-dying phenomenon of heat transfer has existed everywhere in my experiences at Williams but it’s something I never would have been able to find in any statistics about this school.

From students to faculty, staff, and local community members, everyone truly cares for each other. My classmates were there to support me through thick and thin, and my professors went above and beyond their roles as teachers, often giving me guidance in life outside the classroom. I would like to express my deepest gratitude to everyone here at Williams. Were it not for the people here, it would have been impossible to be here today at this honorable moment of graduation.

Fellow classmates,

We are individuals whose values cannot be measured by numbers alone. We have a never-ending thirst for learning and enriching our knowledge about the world. We have trained our minds and bodies to endure the brutal winter but have made sure that the cold hasn’t take away the warmth within us. Remember that whatever communities we find ourselves a part of in the future, what we bring to the table are not merely the quantitative expectations of a Williams College graduate, but the qualitative, empathetic warmth of people who have spent four fantastic years of their lives in the purple valley. So, mom and dad, even though I made my own choice about graduate school, you’re still welcome to look it up on Google maps. It’s not as secluded as Williamstown, but I’ll work just as hard to use the lessons I’ve learned here. And I’m sure you, my classmates, will all do the same.

Thank you.

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