Archivist Richard Teller gave the following talk at the Senior Dinner on May 19, 2017.
When I drive to work, I usually come down Brewster Avenue. As I turn onto Park Street, I see the iconic Class Fence, stretching out of sight in both directions, each section with the date of a graduating class. 175 of them, so far. It’s a powerful metaphor. Every class is represented, going back to 1842 – there was no class of 1841. Plus: one enigmatic “L.L.D.”
Tonight you, Williston’s 176th graduating Class of 2017 are about to receive your number plaque. For seniors, the placing of the plaque is the first traditional end-of-the-year milestone in joining the rest of us alumni – about 30,000 people since 1841 – represented by that fence.
Yes, you are part of something larger than your few years at Williston.
The fence dates from 101 years ago, 1916, when Headmaster Joseph Sawyer, as part of a campaign to celebrate the school’s 75th anniversary, challenged every class to meet certain fundraising targets. Upon achieving them, the class could put its number on the fence. That’s why the dates are not in order; classes met their goals at different times. The campaign was 100 percent successful. Even those classes which had no surviving members were “adopted” by other alumni groups.
At some point mid-century the tradition changed and classes were awarded plaques at the time they graduated. From this point the numbers are consecutive — or were until recently, when “new” sections of the fence were installed on Payson Avenue and Galbraith Field.
Apparently, you haven’t yet decided where yours is to go. It’s your choice! And the mysterious “L.L.D.”? They were one of Williston Seminary’s fraternities. We don’t know much about them; they were a secret society that kept its secrets well. The frats were wisely abolished in 1926-28, but not before the L.L.D. alumni achieved a kind of immortality by pledging and contributing to the fund. So . . . it is more than just a fence.
On behalf of 30,000 alumni, welcome, class of 2017!