A Sense of Self

Williams Bicentennial Medal winner Navjeet K. Bal, class of 1984, speaks during convocation weekend 2011.
Williams Bicentennial Medalist Navjeet K. Ball '84 during Convocation Weekend. Photo by Roman Iwasiwka.

“Leave this place better than how we found it.”

That’s how Navjeet K. Bal ’84 summed up her guiding philosophy—over the course of a life spanning several continents and careers—during a presentation with fellow Williams Bicentennial Medalists on campus in September. Born in Kenya, Bal lived in England, Ethiopia and Zambia before moving to the States right before high school. She came to Williams at age 16 and became a U.S. citizen a year later, just as she was “beginning to figure out what it meant to be an American.”

Bal, who graduated with a philosophy major and African studies minor, went on to a career in public finance law, co-founding the domestic violence project at the Boston firm Mintz-Levin. She spent three years as commissioner of revenue for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and then joined the law firm Nixon Peabody’s public infrastructure and finance divisions in Boston.

When she learned that the college had selected her as a Bicentennial Medalist, which celebrates distinguished achievement in “any field of endeavor,” Bal said she initially struggled to define what her chosen field is.

“The great luxury of my Williams education … is that it was a four-year period of intellectual growth and personal development,” she said during a talk she gave last fall. “I learned how to think, how to ask questions and how to engage in public discourse. And on a more visceral level, the college’s intellectual and educational history has become a part of my sense of self. Having the imprimatur of a Williams education and all that it implies has been my passport … to becoming a part of American society, to being accepted and welcomed into a particular slice of American culture, and it really is the foundation on which I have constructed a sense of place, a sense of belonging and a sense of home.”

You can read excerpts of her talk in the January 2012 Williams Alumni Review. (For the text-only version, click here.)

Find out more about this year’s Bicentennial Medalists and watch videos of their presentations here.