WILLIAMSTOWN -- As temperatures rose into the 80s, Williams College President Adam Falk conferred bachelor's degrees on 527 seniors on Sunday, June 2 in the Science Quad. He also awarded master's degrees to 12 students in the Program in the History of Art and to 28 fellows from the Center for Development Economics.
The college's 224th commencement activities on Friday, Saturday and Sunday included a Graduate Program in the History of Art Spring Symposium at the Clark Art Institute, Phi Beta Kappa and Sigma Xi inductions, a senior rec, and speeches by honorary degree recipients and members of the class of 2013.
During Ivy Exercises on Saturday, June 1, Chief Marshal Sarah Bolton recognized this year's winners of the Olmsted Prize for Excellence in Secondary School Teaching, who were joined onstage by their senior class nominators, and also announced the winners of several student awards, including two Watson Fellowships.
This year's Baccalaureate speaker was Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer Stacy Schiff ‘82, who explained how her discipline has taught her to listen to and appreciate the absences, omissions and deletions in people's life stories. The service took place in Chapin Hall on Saturday and included music and prayer from a variety of religious perspectives.
On Sunday, Class Speaker Jay Mehta, Phi Beta Kappa Speaker James Nolan and Valedictory Speaker Sarah Zager reflected on their time at Williams and looked forward to new challenges. Zager and classmate Emily Hertz had tied for valedictorian. Zager had been selected as speaker by random drawing.
Zager recalled her experience as a transfer student in 2010 in search of a more self-reflective education. While finding that at Williams, she also acknowledged the inevitability of having to part with the "purple bubble."
"As we leave, I'm reminded that we must look outward again," she said. "In some ways, this constantly shifting gaze feels disorienting, even frustrating In another sense, though, this kind of disorientation is precisely what we set out to find here. A self-critical education does nothing if it does not question its own point of view."
Tennis icon and social rights advocate Billie Jean King spoke on behalf of the seven honorary degree recipients, who included pop star and human rights advocate Annie Lenox, former Williams College math professor (now president of Southwestern University) Edward Burger, and Deogratias Niyizonkiza, founder of Village Health Works in Burundi, whose journey from medical student in Burundi to global health practitioner is the subject of Tracy Kidder's "Strength in Numbers.
King shared the three most important lessons she has learned from close friends who have achieved both inner and outer success: Relationships are everything; never stop learning; and be a problem solver. She related these lessons to examples from her own life in competitive sports and in battling social inequality.
But her gifts to the graduating class went beyond words. Following her address, she picked up her tennis racket and volleyed tennis balls into an ebullient crowd as Elton John's "Philadelphia Freedom," a song written for King and her co-ed Philadelphia Freedoms tennis team in 1974, played over the PA system.
King founded the Women's Tennis Association in 1973, the Women's Sports Foundation in 1974, and co-founded World TeamTennis, America's first co-ed professional sports league.
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