Stories and updates from around campus

Spirited Message of Inclusion, Belonging Kicks off Why Not Speak? Day

Photo by Joanna Chattman

Guest Post By Matt Liebowitz

Set aside the descriptors—gay, black, southern, Christian, preacher—and Reverend Erik Taylor Doctor’s message is one of simple and pure inclusion: we are all different, but we all share common bonds.

However, those undeniable identifiers of his character are exactly what brought the Williston community together during his Why Not Speak? Day February 22 assembly, and helped make his message—a sound, sweet one—resonate so strongly.

“Often times we do not recognize that amidst all the things that divide us,” Rev. Doctor said, “everyone living and breathing in this room shares one thing in common: we are human. I’m a human being, you’re a human being, and that’s enough for us to be in connection to one another.”

As he enthusiastically canvassed the audience, Rev. Doctor, a Charleston, South Carolina, native, called on a string of students to delineate what diversity means. Responses hit on ideas of empathy, and stressed the importance of celebrating one’s personal narrative. These unique stories, Rev. Doctor said, can bring us together as much as they separate us.

“In diversity,” Rev. Doctor said, “there are few things to remember. Each of us has a narrative, a story, a reason, a goal, an aim, and our narratives go right back to our uniqueness.”

Along with race, gender, and sexuality, Rev. Doctor spoke to the “different points of departure,” such as where one was raised and how one views the world. He discussed the problematic trend of “tokenizing,” the symbolic but feeble attempt to be inclusive to minority groups, and challenged the crowd to consider when diversity “becomes cherry-picking instead of celebrating that every table has a seat for everyone.”

An ordained clergyman, Rev. Doctor described himself as “unapologetically black, unashamedly gay, and wholeheartedly Christian.” Now living in Washington, D.C., Rev. Doctor serves as a Board Member and Executive Committee Secretary of Diversity Richmond, and is a founding member of Us Giving Richmond Connection (UGRC).

Rev. Doctor graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Religious Studies. He completed graduate work at the Interdenominational Theological Center (ITC) in Atlanta, toward the Masters of Divinity and is currently completing a Master of Public Health with a concentration in Public Health Leadership at Capella University.

In his undeniably lively demeanor, Rev. Doctor continued his message of inclusivity and empathy. He discussed the common goals inherent in his work, citing Pakistani activist and Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai’s creed: “I speak not for myself, but for those without a voice.”

Perhaps Rev. Doctor’s most poignant message came in the form or a sweet treat, and the disparate, dissimilar, but necessary ingredients inherent in its making.

In the making of a cream cheese pound cake—Rev. Doctor said he makes one for his father twice a month—he emphasized the components—eggs, cream cheese, flour, sugar, butter, eggs—and the fact that all are purchased at different temperatures.

“You don’t just put it in the oven,” he said. You have to “get them on the counter, get them to the same temperature.” When the cake comes out of the oven—after “84 minutes at 325 degrees,” he specified—“the ingredients heat up, and you can’t tell the parts, the flour, sugar, egg, butter, cream cheese, all you know is you got a really good cake.”

Less subtly, Rev. Doctor stressed, “The stuff that separates or divides us means nothing. All the other stuff comes together and complements the other.”

He imparted a message for the Williston community to take as it proceeded to various WNS Day workshops.

“Each of us has a part to play in the cake process,” he said. “Our lifelong goal is finding out what part you play.”

Integral to the cake construction, Rev. Doctor stressed, is the need for dialogue. “The blending and merging occurs,” he said, “when conversation happens, when interactions happen, when experiences in life happen.”

One more metaphor closed Rev. Doctor’s presentation and tied together his overarching message of inclusivity, celebration, and cooperation.

“When we stop focusing on whether it is a jay or a sparrow, a blue bird or a cardinal, we recognize that all birds fly and sing no matter where they’re from,” he said. “Just like all birds fly and sing, each of us has a song.”

Williston Welcomes Three to Food Service Team

Jim Grimaldi, food service director
Jim Grimaldi, Food Service Director

You may have noticed some new faces in the Dining Commons recently. Joining Assistant Food Service Director Chris Couchon is a friendly and experienced new leadership team that will be making sure all our meals and functions on campus are terrific.

Food Service Director Jim Grimaldi has been in management and operations for 33 years, including at Springfield College. He’s an avid cyclist, riding more than 1,100 miles last summer! And he loves pan seared scallops. Can you blame him?

Patrick Shannon
Patrick Shannon, Executive Chef

Executive Chef Patrick Shannon has worked in the restaurant industry for more than 30 years and is a graduate of the New England Culinary Institute. He was chef manager at Mount Holyoke College and enjoys golf, photography, and hiking. Cooking short ribs is right up his alley.

Rebecca Chace
Rebecca Chace, Assistant Food Service Director, Catering

Rebecca Chace, assistant food service director/catering, has worked at Elms College and Western New England University. As an executive meeting manager, she planned and executed company meetings for hotels. She enjoys gardening, and is a fan of pizza.

Assistant Food Service Director Chris Couchon
Assistant Food Service Director Chris Couchon

And let’s not forget Chef Chris, who many regard as a rock star (and they’d be right!), who has spent 20 years in the food industry, including a few years spent on the road as a “carny” operating an independent food concession stand, and working for three years under Chef Casey Douglas of Galaxy at the now-closed but wonderful Apollo Grill. He was hired as a cook for Williston in 2004 and has been here ever since, working his way out of his chef whites and into a shirt and tie.

Go team!

Founders Day Challenge: 500 Donations in 24 Hours

founders-2017-video (1)Hold on to your Samuel Williston top hats! This year’s Founders Day is shaping up to be even bigger and better than last year’s: If 500 donors make a gift to the Williston Northampton Fund or Parents’ Fund on February 22, a group of anonymous donors is going to give the school $50,000.

The day, which is a way to honor the founding of Williston Academy by Samuel and Emily Williston, as well as the Northampton School for Girls by Sarah Whitaker and Dorothy Bement, kicked off last year to celebrate the school’s 175th anniversary.

During the challenge, alumni throughout the world will be asked to consider what they “found” during their time at Williston. A love of football? A best friend? The best teacher they ever had? The perfect slice of pizza at Antonio’s? Whatever they choose, alumni can then print out this sign, fill it in, and take a selfie to post on social media, tagging #FoundersDay1841.

Last year, the challenge was a dramatic success. “Over the course of 24 hours, 528 donors contributed a total of $150,000 to Williston Northampton School,” says Director of Advancement, Patrick J. Burke. “We know we can top last year’s participation in this day of giving.”

To find out more about the Founders Day challenge, check out our website at And on February 22, stay tuned to social media and follow our progress!

Athletes LOVE to Read

Williston student athletes discuss literature with an elementary school student.
Ana Weed and Cody Cavanagh discuss literature with an Maple Elementary School student.

Easthampton’s Maple Elementary School was abuzz with the sounds of stories Wednesday night when athletes from high schools and colleges around the Valley gathered to read to school-age children.

Students read the classics, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Olivia, and Ferdinand, as well as more recent titles and nonfiction (Trucks).

For the past six years, Williston student athletes have participated in Easthampton’s Athletes LOVE to Read program at Maple Elementary. The program, organized by the Easthampton Public Schools, reinforces the idea that reading is an important part of living and learning, and that it is available to all. Matthew Sawyer, English teacher and baseball coach, organizes Williston’s participation in the program, and said the students who participated represented the school well. They are:

Fiona Bundy ’18
Chris Espinal’ 17
Cody Cavanagh ’17
Madison Fulcher-Melendy ‘18
Gabriela Jones ’18
Ian Ostberg ’17
Ana Weed ’18

Why Not Speak? Day Is Williston’s Day of Reflection

Why-Not-Speak-posterOn February 22, Williston will host its first Why Not Speak? (or WNS) Day. The community will gather to speak about our differences and similarities through the lens of varying perspectives, lifestyles, races, ethnicities, familial backgrounds, religions, socioeconomic statuses, sexual orientations, cultures, gender identities, etc.

“It is a day to speak truthfully, listen intently, learn modestly, and engage respectfully,” according to Erin Davey, director of inclusion, who organized the event.

This year’s theme is “Changing the Narrative.” Assembly speaker Rev. Eric Taylor Doctor, author of the book Unapologetically ME: Living Truth, will kick off the day. We will then host about 30 workshops, ranging from body image to sexual assault to racism. We’ll also welcome teen book author Lisa Papademetriou, author of Discover Yourself–and Others–in a Good Book (or Fifty), who will speak about the importance of diverse books in schools; a local all-male theater troupe called Phallacies, who will speak to our male identified students about sexual abuse; and Sydney Satchell, who will run a workshop called Celebrate your Journey.

Stories and updates from around campus