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More than 500 students gathered on the lawn of historic West College celebrated their last day as students of Williams College.

Williams 2011 Graduates Say Goodbye To Community

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
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Photos by: Paul Guillotte
Above: Class marshal Amanda Davis after leading the class to their seats on West College lawn.
Below: College President Adam Falk walking with Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — For the students who graduated from Williams College on Sunday, it will be the people that they miss the most.

"What affected my learning experience the most was not the size of the class but the genuine enthusiasm and interest of the students and faculty," Gea Hyun Shin, valedictorian, said to the hundreds gathered on West College lawn for the college's 222nd commencement. "From the students to staff, faculty and local community members, everyone truly cares for each other. My classmates were there to support me through thick and thin and my professors went above and beyond their roles as teachers."

North Adams resident Carly Ameen, who earned her bachelor's degree in anthropology, said that intimacy is what she will miss the most. Ameen will be taking a year off before going to law school.

"There is always a friend, a professor or a coach there for you," Ameen said after the ceremony while families hugged and posed for photos in front of Chapin Hall. "It was awesome."

Class marshal Amanda Davis, of Hinsdale, said you can tell just by the look on peers' faces if something is bothering them and that the students always show support when they suspect something is wrong. Davis also plans to take some time off before heading to graduate school to study psychology.

"It's such a small school, you get to know everybody's face," Davis said after the ceremony.

That tight-knit community nominated and elected Davis as class marshal. While the daunting task of making sure the students were where they were supposed to be for the ceremony and leading them into their seats made her nervous at first, her classmates made it easy.

"We kind of just put them in the general areas that they were supposed to be in and they figured it out," Davis said.

Class speaker Christopher Fox knows exactly what that kind of support is like when earlier this week he sent out an e-mail to his entire class asking for input about his speech.

"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 all of your wonderful responses. They're longer than my senior thesis — my thesis was 118 pages," Fox said. "Where else could I e-mail 509 people because I respect their opinions? Where else would they care to respond? We care about each other."

That caring community brought everyone together Sunday — from grandparents to siblings to friends — to support, cheer and cry for the graduates.

Because of that kind of support throughout generations, the students need to "stand up" to the challenges the world faces, Newark, N.J. Mayor Cory Booker said in his commencement address.

"You were not born to fit in, you were born to stand out," Booker said. "Stand up because people stood for you. They scrubbed toilets for you or cleaned floors for you. Stand up because people fought for you on the beaches of Normandy to the islands in the Pacific. You must stand up because people bled on the soil of their nation for you. You must stand."

Booker has seen his share of negativity as mayor of Newark, and has helped to transform the city by raising millions of private funds for schools, forming the Prisoner Re-entry Initiative and the Fatherhood Center and doubling affordable housing. But there were a lot of lessons he had to learn before he got there.

Booker retold the story of the day he moved to Newark and saw housing project buildings, drug dealers and blight. When he volunteered to help, he was told he was not able to until he could see the positive forces of love and kindness at work in the city. That is when he learned the power of day-to-day kindness.

"You can't let savage circumstances press upon your being," Booker said. "Don't let the world cave in around you, stand tall."

To further illustrate his point, Booker told another story about a flight in which his seat was next to two crying children and an embarrassed mother, who was on her first trip with the children.

"You could accept it or make it your responsibility to change it. I jumped into action — making faces at the baby that made everybody laugh except the baby," Booker said.

He played with the children and made the trip the best, he said. When he began campaigning for mayor, he was contacted by that mother who ended up donating to his campaign and rallying support for him. But it was not because she cared about his politics, he said, it was because she remembered that trip and admired his character.

"Life is about the small moments every single day," Booker said. "The biggest thing you can do any day is an act of kindness."

While Booker encourages the students to "stand up," Phi Beta Kappa speaker Briana Marshall encouraged the students to "look up."

"Sure, you need to put your nose to the grindstone sometimes but don't wedge it so far in your library carrel that you can't turn to the stars or your friend beside you and remember why you are working so hard in the first place ... Don't miss your future husband because you are busy checking your e-mail ... Look up from your plate when you are bemoaning that the chicken is too dry to see the smiling Dining Services lady working two jobs to support her family," Marshall said. "Look up to your friends, parents, professors, role models. And look with eyes wide open because the moments when they defy your expectations can be awesome like an orange moon."

More photos here.

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