Big Hits and Level Heads

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.

Emma Harrington, 2015 Valedictorian

Imagine you’re in Vegas. You slide onto a stool and drop a quarter into the slot machine. Suddenly lights are flashing, sirens are blaring, and 400 quarters are spewing into your tray. You walk away with pounds of quarters and tons of courage. The rest of the day you take more chances than you otherwise would have because you can absorb small losses and still end the day ahead.

As cliché as it sounds, everyone graduating today has won the jackpot. The quarters started spewing out when we first arrived in Williamstown. When we were awkwardly mingling with entry-mates or getting soaked by Hurricane Irene, we may not have felt like winners. Many of us existed in a state of perpetual panic, with all the skittishness of prey animals. It was all too easy to forget our accumulated successes amidst the daily gambles. Every test, every game, every party felt like its own gamble, on which everything hinged.

That was freshman year. Now we are about to graduate. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned at Williams is how to use past wins to prepare myself for present risks. For me, nowhere is this clearer than on the softball field. Before every game, we stand on the foul line, remove our caps, and listen to the National Anthem. This year I used that time to think about all the ways in which I had already won. I thought about how lucky I was to go to Williams, to have friends in the stands, to play a sport I love among teammates that I care about, to work with brilliant advisors on my senior thesis, and to have parents who care more about me than anyone rationally should. In the context of so many past gifts, it would be greedy to expect to win the game that was about to begin.

Before every game, I collected together the quarters of my past gifts to draw upon if the game got tight. Between pitches, I often touched the Williams logo on my cap to remind myself of all my past successes. I knew that the gambles that didn’t pan out and the big hits I gave up would feel smaller in comparison to my pile of past wins.

Fellow Classmates, the quarters are flowing, the night is young, and there are risks to be taken. We are walking into the casino of life armed with a huge pile of past wins, whether they be victories on the field, insightful conversations with professors, or fun times with friends. We can look forward to the many gambles that lie ahead, confident that we can absorb any disappointments and always end our days among the lucky ones.