Williams School family celebrates another class joining its ranks of grads

New London — A mere 45 graduates were enough to nearly fill Connecticut College's Palmer Auditorium on Wednesday afternoon for The Williams School's 127th commencement.

The Williams family is intact; brothers, sisters, cousins, mothers, fathers, grandparents and friends with at least one connection to the tiny private school filled seats. Jane Hannon, teacher and assistant head of school for program, has had two daughters attend Williams. Head of School Mark Fader's son graduated from Williams in 2015. And Fader took the time to recognize alumni who are siblings or parents of members of the Class of 2018.

With this family spirit in mind, students in suits and dresses looked on from the stage as a brother ribbed and complimented them and a mother congratulated and lectured them. The brother was Colin Madaus, the senior class speaker, as chosen by the class, and captain of the cross-country, sailing and basketball teams. The self-described "stand-in mother" was Hannon.

Madaus called his fellow students "entertainers," saying that if a camera were placed in the senior lounge, it "would make the ultimate television show."

"As long as there were two people in the lounge, there was never a dull moment," Madaus said. "You could watch the rise and falls of relationships, and the drama or lack thereof from each. You could watch students sing and dance ... You could see the moments where the class united and the moments where it seemed to be at the breaking point."

But Madaus's speech featured more than heartfelt recollections, Kanye West references and self-deprecating anecdotes about forgetting the words to a song during a performance. He told his peers that if they ever felt butterflies in their stomachs, that meant they were about to do something great. And he thanked Williams for allowing "creativity to thrive" while focusing him as a student.

"I arrived at Williams after attending a public elementary school, where it seemed 'cool' to not pay attention in class and being academically oriented was not," Madaus said. "When I came to Williams, I found quite the opposite."

Hannon's commencement address was, according to her, a love letter to the Class of 2018. She quoted Harvard Professor Steven Pinker, asking students to "resist the impulse to shrink our world." She applauded the graduates' comportment during difficult political conversations, their listening skills, and she told them they were "the embodiment of the promise for our world."

And yet, "I would not be that stand-in mother if I did not ask, encourage and expect more of each one of you," Hannon said.

She implored the students on stage to be voracious readers and to continue to learn throughout their lives.

Following a performance from the graduating students of their chosen senior song — "Take Me Home, Country Roads" by John Denver — Fader delivered his remarks.

Fader painted a picture of the quintessential Williams graduate, highlighting "scholarship," "community" and "character" as their core values. In this vein, he labeled the 2018 class as a "masterpiece."

He lauded the students for challenging the school to add courses such as JAVA Programming and Advanced Physics II, and he especially was pleased with the students' adherence to community.

"In the Williams community, you set and promote the highest standards for behavior through the way you carry yourselves and model your actions for our students in middle and upper school," Fader said, "activities such as leading assemblies ... helping to rewrite our community standards on dress and decorum, CHATS with Chapman, which tackled topics such as immigration, mental health issues, the death penalty and adequate representation vs. bias in the media."

Before conferring the diplomas, Fader asked the crowd to hold their applause until every student had strode across the stage. As a blanket policy, families ignored this stipulation, with reactions ranging from short, polite claps to prolonged shouting.

Madaus was the first to cross the stage. Then, he joyously took part in hugs and complex, orchestrated handshakes with friends as they passed.

The Williams tradition continues.

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