Inflection Points

Caroline White-Nockleby, Valedictorian

As some of you probably know, I entered Williams with the class of 2016. For the past year, I’ve been watching friends and classmates start jobs, navigate cities, waitress, break up, move home and submit dozens of cover letters. And so, I spent this week asking them: what did you learn this year, that you couldn’t have learned in college?

The answers, like our classmates, varied – and often contradicted each other. But I wanted to share seven snippets with you today. Perhaps from this confluence of insights might arise something nuanced. Fragments, maybe, of wisdom.

One. “[I learned] so many things… how to fix a toilet, how to survive when the heat stops working… and that unlike [in] Williamstown, people actually steal things in the big city.”

Two. “How to cook nourishing meals for myself. Also, how to grow mushrooms…How to practice meditation.”

Three. “At times, I’ve felt jealous of members of the class who seem to have it all figured out. I’ve also been jealous of the ones who don’t – who seem to have no worries.”

Four. “My favorite thing… has been getting to watch my friends from Williams flourish.”

Five. “I quit the job that I accepted in the summer before my senior year…I found the environment to be toxic… Still, somehow, it was incredibly difficult to walk away.”

Six. “The people who helped me through the year were often not just friends, but strangers. It was the barista who asked me how my day was going… It was the salsa dancers who patiently helped me learn the basic steps.”

Seven. “I still feel like a kid sometimes.”

Each person I talked to lived a unique year. Perhaps some stories will one day overlap with yours. But these reflections offer more than just a roadmap; they also bring us a deeper gift. And here’s what I mean: a few weeks ago, Ira Glass got really real on This American Life. Apparently, years ago, he met an 89 year old lady named Mary one night at a park. She, improbably, became one of his closest friends.

Reflecting on their friendship, Ira says: “Even the worst advice from a friend comes with a second message. And that’s just ‘I got your back’…[sometimes] we each ignored the other’s advice. But…[Mary] had my back. I had hers. Which in the end, of course, was more important, anyway.”

As I talked to our classmates this week I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude, and love, for all the brilliant, generous people we’ve shared this place with. A sense of being held – and heard even as I listened.

Fellow classmates…

As we move and change, let’s never stop being curious about the people we come to know – and truly, deeply listening to what they have to say. Those we meet may be struggling; thriving; lonely or in love – or maybe all of those at once. But they are human. And together, they are wise.