Geneticist Mary-Claire King tells the graduates not to narrow their focus but rather become immersed in society to use their abilities better. See more photos of the event here.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — On the day that brings one of the biggest changes to any individual's live, Williams College graduates Sunday were reminded that the biggest changes are yet to come.
And they're inevitable. And they're inescapable.
"Author and environmental activist Margaret Atwood wisely said that 'climate change' should be called 'everything change,' " Williams' Phi Beta Kappa speaker Ari R. Ball-Burack told his fellow members of the class of 2019. "It will spur dramatic change in every facet of life.
"Terrifying as this is, I like the idea."
Ball-Burack of Berkeley, Calif., told the crowd gathered on the Library Quad for the college's 230th commencement exercises that the education the graduates received will help them help find solutions to the problems — known and unknown — that will come with global climate change.
"The global everything change will require a new wave of educators, activists, engineers, writers, doctors, economists and even art historians, all prepared to shape brand new scientific, political, cultural and financial paradigms for a world in flux.
"Williams has taught us to be critical, globally-minded thinkers who can dissect a problem in its myriad contexts. As we adapt to sweeping, global and personal everything change, this broad and interdisciplinary perspective will be crucial."
First-year President Maud S. Mandel and the college conferred bachelor's degrees on 512 seniors, including a dozen from Berkshire County: Mark Jacob Bingaman of Williamstown; Anna Elaine Black of Pittsfield; Jake Bennett Foehl of Williamstown; Rachel Burr Gerrard of Williamstown; Jonathan Regan Hall of Adams; Eric Daniel Hirsch of Williamstown; Matthew John Hogan of Williamstown; Anna Keen Leonard of Pittsfield; Morgan Lee Michaels of North Adams; Merudjina Normil of Pittsfield; Jeffrey Alan Pullano of Dalton; and Nyein Chan Thet Soe of Williamstown.
The ceremony's principal speaker echoed Ball-Burack's theme of encouraging the graduates to be "globally-minded thinkers."
Mary-Claire King, a ground-break geneticist known for discovering the breast and ovarian cancer gene, devoted her speech to talking about the life of a scientist and academic.
But she emphasized that no matter what professional or academic interest the graduates pursue, they should not narrow their focus.
"May you always have, in parallel with your life in science or in arts, a side life in the other, of [scientist and author] C.P. Snow's 'Two Cultures,' " King said. "If you are a scientist, read history or play an instrument or enjoy a play. If you are an artist … learn a bit about the science that we do and how it can be fascinating as well.
"May you be fully immersed in our society so that your brains and abilities are useful."
One grad who has immersed himself in Northern Berkshire society was singled out for special recognition on Sunday morning.
Williams recognizes the vast majority of its award-winners at the annual Saturday Ivy Exercises that precede commencement. But each year the president announces the winner of the school's William Bradford Turner Citizenship Prize on Sunday.
This year, the recipient was Joseph Steven Wilson Jr. of Augusta, Ga., who, Mandel said, has volunteered in North Adams' elementary schools "since his arrival on campus," in addition to serving as president of the Black STEM Student Association and a member of the black ministries and Gospel Choir.
Wilson, coincidentally, was chosen by his classmates to be one of three graduating seniors to address the ceremony.
He punctuated his remarks by sharing one of his musical passions, taking out his tambourine to play for the crowd.
Although he is known for his enthusiasm about the instrument, the psychology major said he just started playing a couple of years ago. But he said that is typical of how Williams can change a student and vice versa.
"While we have only been on this campus for a short time, our actions have impacted this institution's memory," Wilson said. "Our melodious rhythm has transformed our campus and community beyond the valley in meaningful, impactful and transformative ways.
"With each hit of our tambourines, we disrupt spaces and bring awareness to issues. And with each ring of the symbols, we use our experiences, knowledge and experience to produce change."
Speaking of change, despite opening his remarks with images of melting ice and a world "on fire," Ball-Burack closed with the kind of optimism fitting to a commencement ceremony.
"Through the bleary-eyed problem sets and papers, messy breakups, mental health struggles and constant barrage of scary news from beyond the purple bubble, we have become resilient," he said.
"I would suggest that hope is our best tool for coping with and innovating through the 'everything change.' Not to mention, it might be the only thing that can keep us sane. I'm confident that, fortified by perspective, community, gratitude and hope, we can rise to this fateful responsibility with purpose and poise."
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