For this address, Christopher Fox has been awarded the Dewey Prize, founded by Francis Henshaw Dewey, 1840, for “the member of the graduating class who presents the most creditable oration in point of composition and delivery at the commencement exercises.”
Just so everyone knows, I sent each of my classmates an email this week, and I asked you all the same question: in one sentence, what would you say if you were up here? Some of you, like typical Williams Students, gave me more than I asked for. Others, like typical Williams Students, still haven’t gotten back to me.
I was searching for a way to harmonize all our different voices into the voice of our class. Some will say we are united by our intelligence, our talent, our potential. That’s what makes us peers, but not what makes us a class. We are all stars, but sometimes it’s hard to take a step back and see those invisible connections, that constellation of shared experiences, and in the last two weeks you have provided me with a universe of insight. I can’t read you all your wonderful responses. They’re longer than my senior thesis.
So in the interest of time, I looked for a pattern, but I received more diverse reflections on the Williams experience than I knew what to do with. I also got invited on enough coffee dates to last me another four years. I don’t drink coffee.
But that’s the pattern. Nobody wrote just a few sentences—you wrote paragraphs upon paragraphs or stopped me on the street or at the bar or the beach when I was trying to relax, “I got your email”; “I’m thinking about it” ; “You’re going to be great” ; “Be funny” and you all said “you know if you need any more help, or just want to sit down and talk about it, let me know.” That is my Williams experience. That’s the voice of our class. Where else could I email 509 people because I respect their opinions? Where else would they care to respond? We care about each other. It’s something I forgot this year, sitting in my room in Poker, lonely and depressed.
But it’s something I’ve relearned with every conversation I’ve had that starts “I got your email.” That caring element of our collective character is reflected not only in the responses to my email, but in everything we do. So when I looked through the responses, not surprisingly the most popular word was Williams. The second most popular?
And more than any building or Purple Mountain, I will miss the people here most, because you are Williams’ greatest treasure, a human endowment, a community of stars that we don’t have to aim for, just embrace. And in four years I’ve hugged a lot of people.
In our lifetimes we will face challenges—recession, war, climate change, 2012…other John Cusak movies. We just have to remember that our friends and the lessons we learn from them will see us through, whether those lessons come in class or more frequently in those life tutorials that happen over lunch, or dinner, or a pitcher of beer, or two, or seven, or on a walk in the dead of night. We can get so busy that we neglect our friends, but after today they won’t be just a few feet away.
We may always find ourselves drawn to Williams because this is where we learned who we are and who we want to be, but the people right here (my friends) our friends, are reflections of the best parts of ourselves. And whether these friendships started freshman fall or senior spring, we have to hold onto them, tightly, and with both arms.
So I hope you have already looked up and realized these are friends you will keep for the rest of your life. And if you haven’t already, I hope you tell them you love them. It only takes about three minutes. I know. It’s what I’m doing right now. Thank you, I love you all, and if you just want to sit down and talk about it…I will probably give you a hug.