Sonia N.B. Nyarko

Good afternoon and welcome to my fellow 2021 graduates, faculty, staff, guests, and family worldwide. It is an honor to be standing here before you as your elected Class Historian. As a History major, this position is especially fitting for me given my passion for studying people, what they did, and what becomes of them. In class, I’m usually studying the ancient days, or the closer times of the twentieth century, but today, I will be tackling the history of our own class and the years that we have shared together at Williams.

Most of us are 90’s babies. Or barely; I had a good three months. Or you were born in 2000 or 2001 but still claim the twentieth century. Our age group has experienced quite a unique upbringing. We were old enough to have cellphones in middle school, but we know what CDs are. We can relate to the days of Tumblr , but we have a good grasp of Tik Tok. Although we’re technically considered Gen Z, I’m a firm believer that anyone born after 2002 is just “built different.” Because we’re one-of-a-kind, we tend to be the year of “let’s test this new thing out.”

At Williams, we were the lab rats for the mid-day meal at Lee’s, entries double the size, an entire new student government, and a reshaped campus under pandemic protocols. We took it in stride, molding the campus to serve our needs and interests and pushing it to reflect the dynamic world around us. We happily welcomed Maud as our new college president our sophomore year, saying goodbye to Falk and the entry dedicated to him. That year, we also elected Papa Smurf to our College Council. Significantly, our class has fought for better learning and social environments at Williams. Several of us were critical to the “March for the Damned,” calling for greater recognition and resolution for the issues that Black faculty and students face here. We also campaigned for the creation of an Asian American studies program, an endeavor that remains to be prioritized.

In our years here, we have weathered a lot of storms.Including that fall 2020 Thanksgiving break when the blizzard was so bad, people had to literally jump out of bus windows. The past five years we’ve experienced a Trump presidency, the countless and continuing murders of Black people, mass shootings, and heightened racism against the AAPI community. Not to mention, we’re in a global pandemic, which has changed our lives and trajectories in inconceivable ways. When time felt infinite and unknown, and it was difficult to just exist, I felt grounded by the promise of eventually gathering here today. During quarantine, it was more apparent than ever how important it is to pierce the Purple Bubble and stay in tune with the world around us. I believe our class has done a remarkable job at that, urging the college to meet our demands and improve the student experience. Through our efforts, affinity housing will launch next year and we hopefully will get more support for our overworked JAs. Although there is still much work to be done, there is no denying our personal contributions to pushing this institution towards its betterment.

As our graduation marks the bicentennial of the alumni association, it’s no secret that this place is old; it’s got a lot of history. But as we marvel at its traditions and longevity, we must also recognize and amend its injustices and flaws. I am very grateful to be among a class that has embraced the beauty of this college while continuously challenging it to be better. The German philosopher, Hegel, called history “the development of Spirit in Time.” And believed that, over time, humans become conscious of themselves and their freedoms, cultivating their cultures and intellect. I hope that in your time at Williams, you’ve become more of yourself, constantly evolving and learning about who you are alongside the wonderful people who have surely played a part. I have no doubt in my mind that members of this class will make history, in whatever small or big ways. And I ask that we all commit ourselves, in our journeys after Williams, to learn from our recent and distant past and build a better and brighter future.

Thank you.