Williams Grads Swing Into Real World
|Above, commencement speaker Billie Jean King lobs tennis balls into the crowd at Sunday's commencement exercises at Williams College. Left, Adams native and Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer Stacy Schiff was awarded an honorary doctorate.|
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The U.S. Naval Academy and Morehouse College may have featured President Barack Obama at their commencement exercises this spring.
But Williams landed one of Obama's heroes.
Or, as she might say, one of his "sheroes."
And it is a safe bet that the commander in chief did not punctuate his addresses by lobbing tennis balls into the crowd.
Ground-breaking and legendary athlete Billie Jean King shared her wisdom and then distributed souvenirs to the crowd on West College Lawn on Sunday morning as the featured speaker at the college's 224th commencement exercises.
King won 39 Grand Slam titles, including 20 at Wimbledon, in a career that earned her a spot on ESPN's list of the greatest 100 athletes of the 20th century.
But she is best known to history for her victory in an exhibition match that did not win her any professional title.
Her 1973 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 win over former World No. 1 Bobby Riggs was a landmark moment in the women's rights movement — living up to its title "The Battle of the Sexes."
That battle captured the imagination of millions and caught the attention of a young Obama.
"When I met with President Obama, we sat down, and he said, 'You know, when I was 12 years old, I sat down, and I watched that match that you played against Bobby Riggs. It changed my life, especially now that I have two daughters,' " Riggs told Williams' class of 2013.
"So any time a woman or a man does something, it's not just for the same gender. You never hear a man does something just for men, usually, do you? But if a woman does something, you always hear it's only for women. That's not the case. Each human being is an influencer for all of us. You are an influencer for your life. Everyone's an influencer."
King exhorted the graduates to be positive influences and never forget the responsibility that comes with being an "influencer."
She certainly kept it in mind when she was given the chance to strike a blow for women's equality and avenge the defeat then No. 1-ranked Margaret Court suffered at the hands of Riggs just four months earlier.
King told how growing up she could not help but notice that everyone in her sport wore white and most of them were white, and she vowed to spend her life fighting for equal opportunity for all.
The '73 match against Riggs in the Houston Astrodome was part of that fight.
"I had to win this match because I wanted to start to change the hearts and minds of people to match the legislation," she said, referring to Title IX, which became the law of the land in 1972 and provided, on paper, equal opportunity in the schools to boys and girls and men and women.
"To me, it's one of the three most important pieces of legislation of the 20th century: when women got the vote in 1920, the Civil Rights Act (1964) and 1972 with Title IX. ... In 1973, a woman could not get a credit card on her own without it being co-signed by a male. Now, there are more women enrolled in colleges and universities than men.
"So now we've got to start worrying about the guys."
King was one of seven women and men honored Sunday afternoon with honorary doctorates. Former Williams math professor, now president at Southwestern University, Edward B. Burger, 1980s pop star and social activist Annie Lennox, founder of Burundi's Village Health Works Deogratias Niyizonkiza, corporate giant and jazz aficiando Richard D. Parsons, former Williams biology professor, now president of Dickinson College, Nancy A. Roseman and Adams native, Williams alumna and Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer Stacy M. Schiff were the other six.
"What might a biographer someday write about you?" Williams President Adam Falk asked rhetorically in introducing Schiff. "Well, let's examine the evidence. Inveterate resident of New York City? Possibly an overreaction to growing up in small-town Western Massachusetts.
"Deep-seated geekiness? Probably all those childhood hours holed up in the Adams Free Library."
|Nathaniel 'Than' Finan of Williamstown graduated with a degree in pyschology on Sunday.|
Fifteen more area residents joined the ranks of the Williams alumni on Sunday in a ceremony held under clear blue skies and high temperatures but a light breeze that kept things bearable for the thousands of graduates, faculty, family and friends in attendance.
Local graduates were:
Bennington, Vt.: Karlan Eberhart, computer science; and Emmanuael Whyte, art and psychology.
Cheshire: Deena Bak, art.
Clarksburg: Miranda Bona, geosciences.
Great Barrington: Robert Hackett, environmental policy and philosophy; and Emily Ury, chemistry.
Housatonic: Zane Martin, mathematics, magna cum laude.
Lenox: Ashley Meczywor, psychology and theater.
Richmond: Eleanor Randolph, comparative literature.
Williamstown: Nathaniel "Than" Finan, psychology; Jenay Haskins, classics and psychology; Kimberly Holachek, psychology and women's, gender and sexuality studies; Ian Nesbitt, geosciences; James Nolan, philosophy, magna cum laude; Cary White, American studies.
Windsor: Evan Grillon, philosophy.
Nolan was selected as the Phi Beta Kappa speaker at Sunday's ceremony and offered a reminder about the power of conversations that took place outside the classroom over the last four years.
"I'm sure many of you have had, with friends, heated arguments on topics of massive importance — be it religion, politics, the environment, what pizza to order at the '82 Grill," Nolan joked. "These arguments have demanded of us the self-control to voice disagreement without ending the conversation.
"If we closed the door to conversation, there would be no future hope for us to convince others of their fault or for them to convince us of ours. But we couldn't just disengage — we learned to care enough to disagree and to be humble enough to reconsider."
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