Will Dudley '89, Provost, Professor of Philosophy

“What we have to keep our mind clearly on is the purposes of it all. We’re ultimately concerned not with facilities but with people, with the growth of young men and women, and in that we must keep a very clear eye on the qualitative part of the problem to be sure we don’t sacrifice essentials of quality before the onrush of quantity.” –John E. Sawyer ’39

Jack Sawyer remains exactly right about the purpose of a liberal arts education: We’re concerned with the growth of young men and women. I think of the college as an incubator designed to cultivate human potential. Every September we inject 550 carefully selected teenagers into this special environment. It’s small, isolated, residential and resource intensive. It’s populated with extraordinarily talented students, faculty, coaches and staff. It’s alive with an astonishing variety of curricular and extracurricular activity. In June we eject 550 22-year-olds from the incubator and watch with pride as they begin to make their ways in the world.

How are these young people different, in virtue of spending four years at the college? We know that they are older. But are they wiser? Have they refined their understanding of which goals are worth pursuing? Are they well prepared? Have they acquired the knowledge and skills that will be necessary to achieve their aspirations? Have they developed the character traits and habits required to persevere when doing the right thing proves difficult? Are they happier? Do they approach the future with confidence, satisfied with the paths on which they are embarking?

Building, maintaining and operating an incubator that reliably nurtures young men and women in all of these ways is expensive. It takes libraries, labs, classrooms, residence halls, performance spaces and athletic facilities. It takes students chosen for their abilities to contribute to the college community rather than their abilities to pay. And it takes the very best, most deeply dedicated teachers and mentors we can find.

The primary signal of our success is the passion of our alumni, who express their gratitude for the four years they spent growing at Williams by supporting the college in every imaginable way. The breadth and depth of that support ensure that we will continue to serve Jack Sawyer’s purpose for generations to come.

Return to full article: What Sawyer Said