Perspective

Today Williams announced it is ending in-person classes because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

My heart breaks for the seniors missing out on their final semester, and all of the students. (And selfishly for me, as my final EC meeting in April is off as well.)

But one thing I’ve gained by living in two timelines, the present and the past as experienced through archived issues of the Alumni Review, is a sense of perspective.

Flashback to the October 1918 Alumni Review:

The entire issue is fascinating, as Williams navigates the height of World War I, but I’ll highlight one section here, Cedit Armis Toga.

The last two paragraphs echo Maud’s sentiments for the students, especially the seniors.

For the boys, of course, the change in the order of things constitutes an upheaval of supreme importance. At a blow almost the whole elaborate system of so-called “college activities” was swept away. Fraternities, musical and dramatic clubs, publications, with all their scores of officers, imposing letter heads, balances and deficits, were thrown into the discard for the duration of the war. Athletics succeeded in gaining recognition through the training merits of football, but the traveling privileges for the team are cut to a minimum, necessitating a radical abridgement of the game schedule of normal years. Journalism, for the sake of the record of these memorable times, is promised a revival through the generous enthusiasm of our academic students, but the “Lit,” the “Cow,” the “Record” and the “Gul” are awaiting Gabriel’s trumpet in a state of suspended animation. Along upper Main Street a dismal row of closed fraternity houses repels the visitor, who must go to the Red Triangle rooms in Jesup Hall if he wants to find the boys in their leisure hours.. No daily chapel, no hurrying laggards at recitation hours (for everybody marches to classes in regular formation, no North Adams “parties,” no time for anything but work, except from Saturday noon to Sunday night.

And how do they stand it? Why, like the soldier and sailor boys they are ! These young men have laid aside the easy robes of college life, they are under military orders, wearing the uniform and eager to go forth under the Stars and Stripes to the place where the Big Fight is. They have got into a sterner game, into a broader, more democratic life than was easily possible here before the war, they are less like boys and more like men. Perhaps, when peace comes and the American colleges open up their doors, this time of martial training will be found to have left its imprint upon the young men of our country who enter the classrooms again to complete the mental training which was interrupted by the war. Perhaps they will have a more erect bearing, a more alert and respectful attitude, a more democratic ideal of campus life, a sweeping disregard for over-organization, fraternity politics, and pettiness in general— who knows ? But, for the present, suffice it to say that Mars is in the ascendant. Cedit armis toga— the toga yields to arms.

Only time will tell how this period of upheaval impacts this generation of students.

A few other incidents of school closure have popped up in my research so far, though of a less serious nature.

Paralysis Epidemic Postpones Start of School – October 1916

Water Shortage Closes Williams – April 1918

Note: As of this posting I’ve only reviewed 1909-1933 and 1957-1959. I will update this post with other examples as I come across them.

As Maud closes her letter:

We are about to confirm—if reluctantly and for unwelcome reasons—that Williams is more than a campus. Williams is all of us. And we will find ways to connect and thrive and celebrate our connections despite even these most unprecedented challenges.

I believe we will. We always have.

Till the cows come home.

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