Welcome to Cum Laude: Remarks by Head of School Robert W. Hill III

January 5, 2018

Good morning Williston: A special welcome to the families of our inductees and to our distinguished speaker, Dr. Cherie Holmes.

Welcome to the Cum Laude Society Induction Ceremony.

On this mind-numbingly cold day, we come together to celebrate the intellectual heat generated by the essence of Wiliston Northampton School’s mission, academic excellence.  This morning you already learned something whether or not you consciously processed it: wind chill factor is a real and present danger—it is 46 degrees below zero with wind chill on Mt. Washington.  Some of you here today probably never heard of a wind chill factor until you came to Williston; it’s not a big thing in Bangkok, or Hong Kong, or Miami, or Santa Monica.

You know, as I travel for the school I meet hundreds of alumni around the country, Williston graduates who, like you, experienced a Siberian winter’s day in the Pioneer Valley. But what I know and that you don’t, is that when you are a decade or two or three older than you are now, there’s a very good chance that when you ask yourself, “How did I get where I am today?” you could very well trace a path back to Williston.

Will you take up a career in journalism because you were an editor of The Willistonian?  Will you become a practicing artist because a passion caught fire in studio work in Reed?  Did your run for US Congress begin with your first election on student council.  Will you become an orthopedic surgeon since your best friend blew out a knee on your team? Will you never, ever, ever, live someplace where you endure a winter like this?  At this hypothetical future day when you reflect back your life, you will have as many dots to connect on your pathway as there are 11,000 living Williston alumni today.

In recognizing the academic accomplishment of a few, we celebrate the intellectual pursuits of the many. All of us here, adults and students, are lucky to live a life where we learn new thing every day, old ideas are challenged, and the way we see the world and our place in it gets constantly reframed. We are so fortunate in this intellectual life style that we may even be guilty of taking this freedom for granted. One way to check yourself is to pay attention to the world outside the bubble: know that tens of thousands of people, just a little bit older than you, are protesting their government in Iran; watch a documentary about the untold story of civilian casualties in Afghanistan or Syria; reflect on the spirit of competition and generosity that motivated this community to surpass our own goal for food donations—we should not just pat ourselves on the back without considering the plight of the less fortunate and just how many needy families live in our Easthampton community.

Here at Williston recognizing the luxury we enjoy to read books, debate ideas, consider and reconsider our beliefs—we celebrate the truly remarkable accomplishments of your peers while acknowledging the weighty responsibility that each student has to make something of this lifelong educational gift.

Dean of Faculty Peter Valine who serves as president of Williston’s Cum Laude chapter will now come forward.

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