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Changing the World


Speaking to the Class of ‘17 at First Collection, senior Naudia Williams exhorted first years to be purposeful in thought and deed. Photos by Laurence Kesterson

First Collection for the Class of 2017 featured voices from various members of the community—including a student, a professor, and a newly hired dean—who offered encouragement and advice aimed at building a stronger, more diverse, and more inclusive campus community. The following excerpts are edited and adapted from their Sept. 3 presentations.

From Naudia Williams ’14, a political science major from St. Mary, Jamaica:

“It is easy to become so focused on your tight-knit circle of hallmates or soccer teammates that you never get the chance to talk to that awesome girl from Jamaica who is graduating next year. That’s me, by the way! But seriously, don’t become so invested in completing your major by sophomore year that you ignore the people around you, such that you become an excellent scholar but get poor grades in emotional intelligence.

“Be purposeful about how you choose to think and act. Check your privilege. Make a concerted effort every day to consider the value of someone else’s opinion, beliefs, sexual orientation, class, and all the other layers that make us who we are. Get involved in the things that motivate you, excite you, frustrate you, and make you so uncomfortable that you actually learn something here. Acknowledge your responsibility to contribute to a safe, inclusive, and diverse community.”

From Liliana Rodriguez, associate dean of diversity, inclusion, and community development:

“We are all ignorant. The center of your universe may change here. And if you admit you are ignorant from the outset, that seismic shift will not affect you so deeply. I want you to spend this year being patient with one another’s ignorance. I want you to take the time to explain your way of life to one another—to explain your faith, your politics, your values, and your ideas—not to try to convince others but simply to provide an alternative way to define the universe. Most important, if you admit your ignorance, you will never have the audacity to believe something so rigidly that you are incapable of holding someone else’s perspective as a possibility.

“We are all biased. The only way to change that is to admit we have biases and to look out for them. We have to be careful because our biases influence who we hang out with. We tend to favor being with people who are similar in values and behaviors and backgrounds. This feels really safe. But it isn’t. Because you will never change that way. You will never grow. You will never solidify your values and convictions if you surround yourself with people just like you. You need to compare and contrast. You need to investigate. You need a diverse community. We need one another to learn who we are and what we stand for in this world.”


Students holding candles sing the school song at this year's First Collection.

“I can assure you that you will never find a closer set of friends anywhere than those whom you will meet in the next four years.

“Social media is a poor substitute for students’ relationships with one another. As you seek to place your imprint on the College and on the world beyond these bucolic borders, I encourage you not to let the wonderful tools of social media get in the way of forming sustained, meaningful friendships across the boundaries of race, class, geography, sexual orientation, religious identity, ideology, and language.”

Reeves closed by inviting his audience to recite a charge based on a quote from Nelson Mandela. Citing the goal of building Martin Luther King Jr.’s Beloved Community, Reeves regularly has his students proclaim the following: “In this hour in history, education is the most powerful weapon which we can use to tear down walls and change the world.”

Click here to listen to First Collection speakers Naudia Williams ’14, Keith Reeves ’88, and Liliana Rodriguez.

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