Let Them Give Light to the World

Do you remember how the campus felt during the first few weeks of last year? In the aftermath of the trustees’ decision on fraternities, the contentious presidential elections and in the midst of all that tension with Amherst’s administrators? It made me think senior year was going to be an absolute crawl, through two semesters of perpetual angst with a collapse — no, an escape — at graduation. I was wrong. I was wrong not because of some sudden turnaround of the decision on fraternities, a somehow remodeled senate or a radical new administrative attitude. I was wrong because we, the students of Amherst, refused to ignore what was going on. We took responsibility for our college and tried to make it better, from proposing social clubs to making improvements to senate.

Today I want to sell you on an idea, to change your mind, shake you off the fence or even reinvigorate your belief in what we’re doing. Today I want you to support the push for recently graduated alumni on the board of trustees. Amherst, with all its financial resources and prestige, has produced an experience that could be among the very best in the world. But I can’t believe it’s fulfilling its potential, because we’ve bought ourselves a Porsche but insist on riding the brakes all the way down the highway.

When we talk about diversity, financial aid or first-class athletics (the list goes on and on), it’s clear that our student body packs a punch few schools can match. When we talk about small class sizes, attentive professors, and an emphasis on teaching, we say that these amazing students receive an education as phenomenal as any in the world. Amherst’s students are one of its biggest resources, and right now we confine them because we haven’t given them the institutional backing to do the best that we can for the college.

Putting recent graduate alumni on the board of trustees is about taking a new approach.. It’s about saying you don’t have to be “successful” to be a part of the central decisions that affect the college. An Amherst education is enough to make your input valuable.

It’s not because students want recent graduates to “represent” them in decisions, but rather because we want those decisions to be better and involve more perspectives. It’s about recognizing that having lived at Amherst in the recent past helps you understand the undercurrents driving campus conflict, culture and celebration. This is just one arm of a broader student struggle to make this college, our college, better — and this struggle will continue because we are taking responsibility for Amherst. This place means something to us, and we will not ignore that.

Amherst’s most recent alumni trustee graduated 19 years ago. Alumni trustees that have graduated only a few years before serving their term exist at multiple schools, from Princeton and Brown to Wellesley and Skidmore. Research has been overwhelmingly in support of this move as virtually every school contacted said they find their recent graduate alumni trustees invaluable. We can do this, Amherst. We just need to decide to take our collective foot off that brake and trust that we can work together to drive on home.

What I’m asking you to do right now is simple: Get excited about this. Let that excitement stir your curiosity so that you ask how this proposal might actually work. The leaders of this initiative have prepared a detailed document for anyone interested. Let that excitement make you think, “Yes, I’ll sign the petition for this.” A petition will be made public within the next few days. Let that excitement inspire you to write to the trustees in support of this. They’re planning to discuss this idea soon, at their commencement meeting. On campus, the AAS senate even passed a resolution in support of this just two days ago.

I believe we can and will do this, Amherst. Why? Because Amherst students are taking responsibility for the future of their college. For us, responsibility means not just acting out of frustration, but a serious determination to make the institution better. As a senior, all I can say is that I wish I were here to live the experience of the better Amherst we’re building. It’s a little dramatic, but Amherst’s motto perhaps never been more appropriate: Let Them Give Light to The World.