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.

72-Hour House Parties

The early years of the Review quickly settle into a reliable routine, recapping the familiar markers of campus life during that era. Phi Beta Kappa inductions, what Cap and Bells is working on, Gargoyle selections, faculty lectures and freshman teas, student elections and editorships. And always a delightful bit about House Parties.

The first thing that caught my eye was “limited to 72 hours.” LIMITED. These kids did not mess around.

Travel back to 1909…

You may think this whole 72-hour houseparty limit is a joke. But, think again. (June 1909)
“Doing their best to keep awake for the 72-hour limit” (February 1910)
Wait, why is “Exams” in quotes? (February 1912)
Too heavy a schedule, indeed. (February 1916)

Freshman Are Little Fellows

I did a double take the first time these stats caught my eye. Here’s how four classes from the 1910s measured up.

They used to publish what now in the Alumni Review? (December 1911)
Freshmen Are Little Fellows (December 1912)
Well after last year’s class, of course they look good. (December 1913)
“Surpasses it in development” – going to steal that euphemism for aging (February 1915)

Up in a Balloon, Boys!

As I mentioned at the outset, I started this project by reviewing Alumni Reviews from the late 1950s. One thing that struck me was the novelty of new sports and outdoor pursuits popping up time and again – from skydiving, rappelling, and spelunking to the arrival of wheel skis and a possible predecessor to the game of Ultimate Frisbee (we’ll get to that later).

So when I went back to the beginning, you can imagine my delight when just one year into my exploration, 1910 brought me tales of the early days of aeronautics at Williams!

The whole read is quite a ride in and of itself. So what happened next?

We’re always throwing out the old, “Did you know the first intercollegiate baseball game ever played was between Williams and Amherst?” (no need to name the victor)

For the sake of variety, why not offer up that Williams was also a participant in the first intercollegiate balloon race on June 3, 1911?

Henry P. Shearman, Class of 1911 (I really need to figure out how I’m going to consistently abbreviate and note class years now that we have the ’11s of the past and the ’11s of today) and the pilot of that first intercollegiate balloon race, went on to continue his ballooning career at least for a little while – his first class notes submission post-graduation in the October 1911 issue of the Review celebrates his solo balloon flight.

The Greek Chorus Takes the Stage

And so it begins…

The functions of the Review, as they appear at the outset, are mainly these: to present in brief form a resume of the more important features of the daily life at Williams; to discuss the conditions and tendencies of that life from an alumni standpoint; and to maintain an efficient department of alumni news. Other functions may be added to these in course of time, such as the printing of correspondence of graduates, or the securing of articles on special topics by competent authorities, but the aim will always be to publish a paper by and for the alumni of Williams College.

Our attitude will be, in all probability, much like that of a chorus in a Greek play — taking notice of the actions going forward on the stage, commenting upon them now and then, but never (to use an expressive slang phrase) “butting in.”

First and last, we are devoted to Williams College, well pleased as to its present, and optimistic toward its future.

On the 50th anniversary of this publication, the son of this publication’s original editor will take stock of how well it has delivered on its mission to date, revisiting the Greek chorus metaphor in a lovely, very Williams way. But we’ll get to that later.

The Editor wishes to return thanks for the words of commendation and kindly criticism which have come to him since the issuing of the first number of the Williams Alumni Review. To those who have sent us items of alumni news we are especially grateful. To make this department of the paper a success we must depend largely upon the help received from Williams alumni everywhere, and to this fact we beg once more to call the attention of our readers. We do not expect, however, to subordinate unduly the statement and discussion of the College news; our object is to make the Review a means of keeping Williams graduates in touch with the College and with each other.

What starts as a handful of pages of news in the early issues will steadily grow, eventually meriting a split into an entire publication of its own, Williams People.

The steadily increasing circulation of the Review, not only by reason of the growing enrolment of the Alumni Athletic Association (whose members receive the magazine in return for their annual dues), but because of new subscriptions from the general body of the alumni, is a source of sincere gratification to those concerned in the conduct of the undertaking. If this broader field means the beginning of a closer touch of Williams men with each other and with the College, to a mutual and lasting benefit, the career of the Review has thus far been not in vain.

As the first year closes out, the editor expresses his appreciation of this taking hold. As do I.

Time Traveling through Williams Alumni History

Lately I’ve taken up time traveling. 

As part of my work leading the archival/storytelling effort for Williams’ upcoming Society of Alumni Bicentennial, I’ve been traveling back through Williams history.

I started for some reason with 1957. I think I may have been trying to pick a year where the debates around fraternities may have been heating up, to look for correspondence from alumni on the topic.

But what I found as I immersed myself in the Alumni Reviews from that year was so much more. Stories of Ephs helping refugees. Wild characters from the past remembered. Stories about the “new athletic craze” of skydiving. Small world stories of Ephs connecting with other Ephs. A funny song dedicated to the Alumni Fund. And over and over again, the theme of change. Exploring what it means to both love an institution and challenge it to be better. 

So I decided this wasn’t going to be a hunt-and-peck endeavor. I would go back to the beginning and look through every Alumni Review, starting with Volume 1, Number 1 in February 1909.

And it’s there right from the start, all of those same themes. Humor. Love. Criticism. Philanthropy. Optimism. Alumni making an impact on the world and on each other in ways both big and small. But most of all, change.

As the inaugural editorial closes:

First and last, we are devoted to Williams College, well pleased as to its present, and optimistic toward its future.

The Williams Alumni Review, February 1909

I’m still not quite sure how I will recap and share this experience here. I could go year by year, but that seems to miss an essential story around topics that echo through the years. I could group by theme, but that will also be challenging given that new content will continuously be revealing itself and adding to those themes. For now, it will be more freeform.

With a decade of Alumni Reviews under my belt, I’m seeing connections to this project everywhere I go. Whether I’m discussing women’s philanthropy and thinking about the women who helped establish Williams’ first endowment, or if I’m listening to an author (Williams alum, obvs) talk about how she brought the history of the Metropolitan Museum of Art to life in a creative way, parallels are everywhere. Names repeated over the years start to come to life in new ways. In 1913, Phinney Baxter is elected Senior Class President. And we know what happens later – in the 1957 issues I started with he’s President of Williams! 

It’s like I get a chance to live in an alternate timeline.

To close out this first post of what I expect will be an epic series, here are some of the gems from 1957 that captivated me.

Art and the Blockchain

It’s Ben Franklin with a key and a kite! You see it, right?   – Hamilton

Sometimes an idea comes along that connects your multiple identities. The one that tries to keep up with emerging technologies, with the one that defends and touts the value of the liberal arts, and with the one that wants to fight for equity and equality for all.

So, blockchain…art…I’m here for it.

I had the pleasure of meeting Amy Whitaker out here in San Francisco at a dinner for Williams women, and our discussion of her book Art Thinking was one of the most powerful examples of cutting through the b.s. with new people that I’ve ever experienced. One small exercise and I was sharing with strangers one of my most inherent truths and fears.

But I digress.

After seeing Amy’s name pop up in a blockchain newsletter I read this week, I caught up on some of the work she’s been doing to advance a very powerful idea: a blockchain registry that lets artist keep an equity stake in their work, letting them share in the gains if their works go up in value.

“We’ve democratized creativity, but we haven’t democratized ownership,” says Whitaker, an assistant professor of visual arts management at NYU Steinhardt.

She’s proposing a way to do just that. By registering artworks with blockchain to establish authenticity and create property rights which can then be split off and traded, artists can retain an “equity share” in the works, much like the founder of a startup retains an ownership stake that grows in value as the company expands.


I love the idea of helping artists share in their own success. But equally, I love how this example has the potential to make the concept of blockchain more accessible to people.

Read more:

Pure Heart: The Legacy of Bill Nack


A sentence can hold multitudes. Bring you to tears with just a few words. Or it can fall flat.

Some of us fall in love with the art of the sentence. And some of us do not–and that’s ok. But for those of us that do, what riches await! Sometimes around the most unexpected corners.

So it was for me upon encountering the late, great Bill Nack’s opus on Secretariat. I already knew it would be good–Tim Layden’s memorial to Nack pre-decreed it so. But still, when I made my way to the back pages of the SI issue where it was reprinted I wasn’t prepared for just how quickly and fully it would draw me in. And in turn reduce any sentence of my own to obvious amateurism. But that’s besides the point. The point is to experience it. To learn from it.

I mean, just look at this paragraph:

Oh, I knew all the stories, knew them well, had crushed and rolled them in my hand until their quaint musk lay in the saddle of my palm. Knew them as I knew the stories of my children. Knew them as I knew the stories of my own life. Told them at dinner parties, swapped them with horseplayers as if they were trading cards, argued over them with old men and blind fools who had seen the show but missed the message. Dreamed them and turned them over like pillows in my rubbery sleep. Woke up with them, brushed my aging teeth with them, grinned at them in the mirror. Horses have a way of getting inside you, and so it was that Secretariat became like a fifth child in our house, the older boy who was off at school and never around but who was as loved and true a part of the family as Muffin, our shaggy, epileptic dog.

COME ON. Brushed his teeth with them! Grinned in the mirror! Just gorgeous, visceral. The emotion and wisdom of a whole person poured into a paragraph.

And then there’s the sentence that made me fall for good.

The gift of reverie is a blessing divine, and it is conferred most abundantly on those who lie in hammocks or drive alone in cars.

As I’ve written in the past, I fear what is lost if and when we lose the road trip, and in turn our ability to let our minds wander during the drive. Nack goes onto say:

The mind swims, binding itself to whatever flotsam comes along, to old driftwood faces and voices of the past, to places and scenes once visited, to things not seen or done but only dreamed.

An even more perfect encapsulation of the gift of reverie.

So, as I wipe my eyes and step off the elliptical, why do I even care if anyone knows about this article? I guess it boils down to a conviction that these emotions matter and need to be shared. If anything the act of turning thoughts into writing opens the possibility of connecting with those outside of our immediate circles. SI and Bill Nack have done that for me, and if I’m being honest I hope to someday do the same with my words. Because if we’re doing it right, sometimes, there is pure heart behind them.

Read the full Bill Nack article here.

Meeting Senator Murphy


Tonight I had the chance to spend some time with Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT).  It was my first time attending a political fundraiser, and my attendance was in no small part driven by the fact that he is a fellow Williams alum (and rugger!).

I am an unabashed fan of Ephs succeeding in the world. Textbook basking in reflected glory, I suppose. And so in addition to fangirling for Tim Layden stories on SI and eagerly streaming each Pod Save America and Lovett or Leave It episode, I’ve followed Senator Murphy on Twitter for a while, always happy to see what seemed to be a real person coming through.

When you meet people in real life, there’s always the risk of finding out that it was all a façade. That without the scripts, or the ability to edit, people won’t live up to your expectations.

And so it was great to meet Chris and come away feeling that he is exactly who he seems to be. A little funny and a little angry, but mostly determined, hard-working, sincere, optimistic, and above all genuine.

Chris opened the dialogue with the concept that American history has always been the story of two steps forward, one step back. At one point someone asked about the frustration of dealing with morally bankrupt Republicans, and the discussion included something to the effect of: you’ve got to pick your battles.

But maybe we don’t.

A few weeks ago, when news of the Parkland school shooting broke, I think many of us settled in for another round of “thoughts and prayers.” But then the Parkland kids lit a fire under America and now it seems like anything’s possible.

March For Our Lives, San Jose 3/24/18

A few weeks ago, gun control wasn’t on the list of battles you’d pick (and expect to win). But now it is. We had become complacent, and now we are not.

What other battles are similarly ripe for disruption?

We hear a lot of talk about how a blue wave is coming, or maybe even a tsunami. But maybe it’s more grounded than that. Maybe it’s more manmade. Maybe it’s a dam about to burst, on all of these issues that Americans overwhelmingly support. Maybe it’s a blue flood.

Whatever we call it, I am here for it. And I’m glad Senator Murphy is, too.


The Clowns Around Us

Love this quote from a recent New York Times article on women in cryptocurrency.

Arianna Simpson, an early cryptocurrency investor, said the surge of interest in virtual currencies from male novices should remind women that it did not take expertise or a Ph.D. to thrive in the ecosystem.

“Women always question if they’re qualified,” she said. “But look at these clowns around us.”

As I’ve mentored young women over the years I always try to make a similar point, but I’ve never been able to capture it quite so succinctly and brilliantly.