Our Past, Present and Future

Head shot of President Maud S. MandelThis fall has been a season of Williams firsts for me as president: my first classroom visit, my first Convocation and Bicentennial Medals ceremony, my first Mountain Day. Many of these firsts connect me to important Williams traditions—new to me but not to Williams.

My introduction to those traditions has prompted thoughts about Williams’ connections to our past, present and future. Such questions were at the heart of my first Convocation speech in the fall and are infused into this issue of the magazine, too.

At Convocation in Chapin Hall I asked the seniors, many of whom attend in their caps and gowns, to consider that, just as we judge the actions of our predecessors, the people of the future will one day hold us to account. By what standards, we can only guess. I find this a humbling reminder to resist easy moralization.

Many of these firsts connect me to important Williams traditions—new to me but not to Williams.

You’ll find similar themes in our feature story “Histories in the Making,” a discussion among museum curators, faculty and a student about the long history of connections between Williams and Hawai‘i. The participants’ varied perspectives nudge us toward what’s sometimes called a “usefully complex” understanding of Williams’ role in that history—one already sparking fascinating community discussions.

If the Hawai‘i exhibit raises questions about our responsibility for our past, the photography of Joe Standart ’73, also featured in this issue, asks us to consider our obligations to the too-often unnoticed people around us in the present. Joe’s WE ARE: A Nation of Immigrants public art installation, part of his ongoing Portrait of America project, features vivid, building-scale portraits of immigrants and refugees to suggest the power of a more inclusive society.

At Williams we also own our responsibility for the future, and increasingly we think of that work in terms of sustainability and our environment. In these pages you’ll find a Muse essay by Suzanne Case ’78 on how volcanic eruptions, including that of Kīlauea Volcano over the summer, are reshaping Hawai‘i’s coastline. (The Case family is a prominent link between Williams and Hawai‘i.) You’ll also read about Weir Day and enjoy an excerpt from ornithologist and conservationist Bruce M. Beehler’s ’74 new memoir North on the Wing, about his experiences following the spring songbird migration.

There’s so much more here, from a story about the new campus public art installation by renowned artist Diana Al-Hadid to a commemoration of the faculty and students who left the Purple Valley a century ago to fight in World War I to faculty-student research collaborations yielding insights in the fields of neuroscience, computer science and mathematics.

As you can see, Williams is a remarkable place. It always has been, and with our help it always will be. I hope you’ll be inspired by what you read to make your own contributions to that effort.

Maud S. Mandel, Williams President