Julia Davis, Phi Beta Kappa Speaker, 2014

Recipient of the Dewey Prize, awarded to the member of the graduating class who presents the most creditable oration in point of composition and delivery at the commencement exercises.

A Final Paper

Hello 2014ers. Isn’t it great to be done writing all those papers?

Parents, you might wonder whether your child received a good education. Perhaps you assumed that your child spent four years sitting on a couch, eating coca-puffs, watching reruns of America’s Next Top Model. But I want to remind you that Williams was named the top school in America by a famous national magazine . . .because Playboy ranked us first in its annual list of party schools. (Fun fact: We actually have the highest hot tub to student ratio in the nation.)

But rest assured, this is a rigorous program. And to demonstrate how much we’ve learned, I wanted to write an essay in the style that Williams taught us and share it with you. So I wrote this speech like every paper I’ve written here: I started it two hours ago . . . and I plagiarized most of it.

Good papers start with a summary of previous research. At graduation, speakers typically focus on the fun things about Williams and students’ amazing accomplishments.

But I want to fill a hole in the literature. So, instead of reiterating how great this school is, I’m going to talk about how it’s challenging. So here’s my thesis statement: Williams is really hard.

It’s hard in different ways for different people, but this school challenges everyone.

And THAT’S what makes the Williams experience so life-changing.

To begin, classes are incredibly demanding. For example, you know how there are math problems in high school where you can’t use calculators? Well there are math problems at Williams where you can’t use numbers. You have to use logic and theorems just to prove that 2+2=4.

My first year, I was shocked to learn that English classes are actually taught in a foreign language. Professors expect you to learn a whole new set of vocab words like dialetic, intersectionality, and hegemony.

Now admittedly, some students don’t struggle as much academically. But for them, Williams may be hard socially. Because this school is so small, there’s pressure to be known. But being a social butterfly is scary when everyone’s so cool and interesting and really really ridiculously good-looking.

Have you ever gone to a party determined to meet new friends? And then spent the entire night in the corner playing 20 Questions with your entry mates? “Is it beer? Yes. Does it look like urine? Yes. Is it Keystone Light? Yes.”

For people like that, the only way to loosen us up is to get us in our natural habitat. That’s why the biggest party of the year was in the library. Yes parents, last month the school sponsored a rager to say goodbye to the library that’s going to be replaced next year. And let me tell you, it was wild. They had strobe lights and a DJ and a dance floor. The place was so packed that the windows were steaming up from all the body heat. Jay-Z made a guest appearance. Ok, I made that up, but the rest is true! It was astonishing to watch so many people looking so un-awkward a party.

Quick footnote: Instead of tearing down the old library, I think Williams should use it as a nightclub. Dean Dave could be the bouncer; they could turn circulation desk into a bar and have different music on every floor. I’ve already got a great slogan: “Club Sawyer Library: where hotties go to get checked out.” It would be a boon to the social scene.

But back to my central argument, out biggest challenge is not having enough time to tackle all the academic and social demands placed on us.

Every semester during finals, I see students who are so busy that they don’t even have time to get dressed. They’re running around the library completely naked, frantically yelling about how we all need to study harder. Have you guys seen them? It’s heart-breaking.

And thank goodness they gave us these robes because I haven’t had time to do laundry since sophomore year. It’s quite fitting that they make us look like a bunch of Hogwarts students because it allows me to slip in a literary metaphor for extra credit:

Sometimes Wiliams makes you feel like Neville Longbottom surrounded by 2000 Hermione Grangers with time turners. Neville thinks, “I don’t belong Gryffindor. I should be in Hufflepuff.” Likewise, we think “I don’t belong at Williams. I should be at AMHERST.” But that’s false! Because almost everyone feels that way.

People say that Williams showcases students’ talents. But it’s really the opposite. Because it’s so hard, Williams showcases our shortcomings. It makes us struggle at the things we thought we were good at. For example, I was the MVP of my high school’s streaking team, and I was blown away by the competition here. But these humbling experiences teach us that our talents don’t define who we are. We have personalities outside of our résumés.

By being tough, Williams helped us realize that we are actual human beings. We gained new, supportive relationships and eternal bragging rights about the cold weather. We learned that laughter is the best medicine (also adderall mixed with espresso). And we learn that we are still awesome people, regardless of what grades we get or what clubs we join. Because, as they say at Williams, awesomeness is a social construct.

This is the end of my essay, but I included a works cited because I don’t want the honor committee to rescind my diploma. I got most of this off Wikipedia, but I’ll credit a few more sources to make it look like I did my research.

First, a huge thank you to the class of 2014 and our friends and relatives. Thanks to the Williams faculty and staff.

And finally, thanks to whoever coined the term social construction.

Best of luck, and congrats grads.