Back to the Basics

Lucy E. Page, 2016 Valedictorian

We have received world-class educations here at Williams. Even so, perhaps my most important learning happened a long time before I arrived here in the Purple Valley. It involved a few very important people out in the audience today, my parents, it involved my local library, and it involved some brightly colored books with large text. I’m going to be reading from a few of those stories today. Some of the most crucial lessons of life come in the books we read as children; they’re the things we want kids to know from the beginning, the fundamental guiding principles. So as we prepare to leave Williams as college graduates, let’s refresh our memories.

Once there was a fish called the Rainbow Fish. Unlike all of the other fish in the sea, he was covered in beautiful, sparkling scales. One day, a plain little fish followed him, and this plain fish begged the Rainbow Fish, “Please give me one of your shiny scales. They are so wonderful, and you have so many.’” But the Rainbow Fish was selfish, and he refused. Soon he became lonely, so he went to see a wise octopus, who told him, “Give a glittering scale to each of the other fish. You will no longer be the most beautiful fish in the sea, but you will discover how to be happy.” So the Rainbow Fish gave away his beautiful scales, one at a time. Finally, he “had only one shining scale left. His most prized possessions had been given away, yet he was very happy.”

Each of us is leaving Williams as a Rainbow Fish. We have many sparkling scales; we are smart and talented, we have friends and family supporting us, and we have the privilege of this institution at our backs. As we leave Williams and choose what to do with our lives, we must be generous with those gifts. Whether we’re heading to graduate school or to a job, and whether we’re moving to Boston or to Jordan, we are heading out into a world with many deep needs. We must use our gifts to meet those needs; to serve and to make the world a little bit more beautiful.

Doing so may be difficult. It might mean speaking out when others are quiet, or sacrificing a comfortable career for something riskier. But we can do it. You may remember the story of the Little Engine That Could. Once there was a train that was carrying toys to children on the other side of a mountain. But the train got stuck and needed help. A few big and fancy trains came by, but they thought they were far too important to be bothered. Then, a small blue engine came along. She had never been over the mountain before, but she decided to try. “Puff, puff, chug, chug, went the Little Blue Engine. ‘I think I can—I think I can—I think I can…. Faster and faster and faster and faster the little engine climbed, until at last they reached the top of the mountain.” Then, the little blue engine carried the toys down to the children in the valley below.

Fellow classmates, always believe in yourselves. We have a lot of work ahead of us, but we are talented, we are capable, and we are brave. Just keep chugging, and we will get there.