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June 2017

A Quiet Well-Done!

The Williams College Class of 1967 is a transformational group of people of character.

At Williams, ours was the first class not to join fraternities, attended when the school was entirely male, and was the final group without Winter Study during January. Many of us served in the military during the height of the Vietnam War, while others made alternative choices for meeting obligations immediately after graduation.

For what were we known starting in Williamstown in 1963, when everything cool was termed “out of sight”?

  • We liked music that still resonates with us — the Beatles, Kenny Vance’s Do Wop “...looking for an echo, an answer to a sound...”, Motown’s Smokey Robinson, The Supremes, The Temptations, Darlene Love — the greatest backup singer who stood “Twenty Feet from Stardom” — Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound with the Righteous Brothers and the Ronettes, and Bob Dylan, whom I turned down at a price of $400 for a Winter Carnival Weekend concert thinking his music was so different no one would attend!
  • We were known as “amateur athletes”, such as Dave Nash, a tennis player who made 152 consecutive foul shots in practice as a freshman basketball player at Williams and was featured in the New York Times. Dave is still highly ranked in Master’s tennis today!
  • We marveled as Steve Orr ran from September to June, pausing only to compete in squash in the winter. Dave Rikert could ski any mountain or scale any precipice, then as now!
  • In basketball we never lost to Amherst in eight games in four years, defeated Harvard and Dartmouth in their gyms, won Little Three titles and over 80% of our games.
  • After we soundly upset Siena College, the large Catholic school near Albany, New York, in basketball on a night when almost every shot we took went in the basket, I happily wandered off the court at the end of the game, not looking where I was going, accidentally bumping into one of the elderly nuns. I said, “Sorry, Sister, no offense”, to which she immediately replied, “Yeah, no defense either!”
  • We won every game in freshman baseball in 1964, the first Williams team in any sport that played more than six contests since 1936 to go undefeated — a feat commemorated 51 years later by Ron Bodinson and Larry Ricketts in October 2015 in Williamstown! We survived three Spring Breaks playing varsity baseball in North Carolina, driving our own cars, with no homework, just Coach Bobby Coombs who led us to three consecutive winning seasons.
  • Burke Moody made us all proud by stumping the celebrity panel as a champion skateboarder on the television show, I’ve Got a Secret, and our singing group appeared on the Mike Douglas Show.
  • It was a time for “road tripping” to women’s colleges. Van Hawn, named to the Dean’s List and for Academic Honors in our senior yearbook, is actually also listed as the Captain of Road Trips to both Vassar and to Smith College!
  • John Kelleher tells of the time driving in a Volkswagen Beetle with Joe Venishnick back to Williamstown in the winter after a night of partying at Skidmore when they started rapidly spinning wildly out of control on a dark icy road down a steep hill. Joe calmly took a puff on a cigarette, while reaching over from the passenger seat and changing the station on the radio!
  • When several of us casually asked the same Joe Venishnick what his hobbies were coming to Williams from the town of Sand Point in the Idaho Panhandle, he stunned us by going into Garfield House (aka, Delta Upsilon), taking out his long-handled, heavy, sharply-bladed axe and throwing it overhand 30 yards, sticking it into the middle of a skinny tree.
  • Remember the day your first English paper was returned to you with the professor having covered each page with negative comments in red ink, leaving only enough room on the front for the grade D+?— Everyone immediately thought that our entire class was admitted to Williams under the “10% plan”, by which 10% of each class was accepted solely due to some distinctive, non-academic attribute.
  • Only three African-Americans — John Gladney, Boyd Puryear, and Clarence Wilson — were among the 264 of us destined to graduate four years later.
  • Where were you and what were you doing at Williams College when President Kennedy was shot?

From those modest beginnings we came to value a lifetime of learning and friendship grounded in the elasticity of a superb liberal arts education, augmented by lots of wisdom gained “accidentally.”

  • At Williams we learned from Professors Fred Rudolph and Don Gifford that leaders are defined by the results they produce given the challenges they are presented.— Our challenges, as Charles Handy wrote in an Age of Unreason, include the constant discomfort of change, such as the upheaval of war and terrorism, global economic recession, social unrest, disruptive technologies, restructured workplaces, economic inequality, political gridlock — in short, lives requiring extraordinary personal elasticity.— By living a “liberal arts life”, we have handled the challenges of corporate downsizings, innovative entrepreneurship, self-employment and private practices, government service, non-profit enterprises or volunteer leadership, as well as combat, divorce, illness, and death of loved ones, including 47 classmates.

We are fortunate for having the opportunity of living “invented lives”, as Warren Bennis said, “...without borrowed postures, second-hand ideas, or fitting in instead of standing out.”

All gracefully and elegantly recorded by the great Ken Wilcox from the beginning in our class notes!

Today true liberal arts colleges in America at which more than half of the students broadly study the humanities have shrunk from over 500 to under 125. Fewer than 4% of students in higher education attend small liberal arts colleges. Only 44 of 2,500 colleges and universities in America are “need blind”.

We are, therefore, investing our 50th Reunion Class Gift of $12.7 million in recruiting and retaining world-class professors in replacing the 40% or 100 faculty retiring in the next 10 years from Williams College, and endowing financial aid enabling Williams to be “need seeking” in providing the finest education for young men and women.

  • We are well aware that, as Walter Isaacson wrote, “Steve Jobs of Apple and Edwin Land of Polaroid valued those who stand at the intersection of liberal arts and technology.”

In short, the Class of 1967 is comprised of people of character passionate for making this current decade the best one yet of our lives.

Joshua Chamberlain, the heroic leader defending the south end of Little Round Top at the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863, said, “Character is the firm seasoned substance of soul.”

  • In his essay Captains of the Soul, Michael Evans speaks of character in the ancient Greeks’ moral philosophy of stoicism as, “...involving the rigorous cultivation of self-command, self-reliance, and moral autonomy, a system in which an individual seeks to develop character on the basis of the four cardinal virtues of courage, justice, temperance, and wisdom...”

When in September of 2015 Sally and I were honored to host fifty members of the Williams Class of 1967 and their spouses and partners in my family home in Gettysburg, Pa., everyone understood the character and courage compelling Confederate soldiers to cross a mile of open fields at Pickett’s Charge against equally brave Union soldiers standing their ground at the ridge in the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863.

Not long ago I spoke with Admiral McRaven, the Chancellor of the University of Texas System, who was a Navy Seal for 37 years, including leading the raid that resulted in the death of Osama Bin Laden.

Here is a version of the Navy Seal Code modified by me that applies to each member of the Williams College Class of 1967:

In times of uncertainty there is a special breed of person ready to do what is right.
I am that person with courage and an uncommon desire to succeed.
I love my family and country. My loyalty to my teammates is great.
I am humble and do not seek recognition for my actions.
I act with honor. The ability to control my emotions and my actions, regardless of circumstance, sets me apart from other people.
Uncompromising integrity is my standard. My character and honor are steadfast. My word is my bond.
I expect to lead. In the absence of direction, I will take charge, lead my teammates and accomplish the goal. I lead by example in all situations.
I will never quit. I persevere and thrive on adversity. I am physically and mentally strong.
If knocked down, I will get back up, every time. I will draw on every remaining ounce of strength and discipline for assisting my family and teammates.

Another courageous soldier said to me years ago after returning from performing extraordinary deeds, “Sir, we don’t seek a lot of praise, a quiet well done will suffice!”

A quiet well done, Williams College Class of 1967!

— Written by Edward R. (Ted) McPherson, June 2017