I had the honor of serving as president of the Society of Alumni from 2014-2016. Toward the end of the first year of my term, the Executive Committee of the Society met for dinner at The Mill on The Floss. Our two elder statesmen at the time, John Dighton ’53 and Dan Rankin ’59, quieted the clamor of pre-dinner chatter when they burst into song not with “The Mountains” but several songs about life on campus during their day. It was inspirational to see, and I am sure I was not the only person in the room who felt left out and that we should try to bring some of those old songs back. Over time, John Dighton went on to teach us “Our Mother” and to remind us of the beauty of “‘Neath the Shadow of the Hills” and the energy of “Yard by Yard.” Invariably, our enthusiasm, sometimes encouraged by a glass of wine, expressed itself in a collective and often uproarious rendition of “The Mountains.” We stumbled over forgotten lyrics, but our version was no less worthy of celebrating our alma mater.
I asked Brooks Foehl ’88, secretary of the Society, about Williams songs and learned that the last edition of the Williams Songbook was published in 1959. He mentioned that he had long been thinking that there was an opportunity to bring alumni together over a refreshed edition. When I received an electronic copy of the book I could see why we stopped singing the songs within. Many of the songs within don’t reflect the community we are today. Indeed, today’s singing groups on campus have incorporated modern songs into their repertoires to reflect current sensibilities, and singing is not as central to campus life as it was in the fraternity era. But the fact that groups of Williams students and alumni continue to so eagerly gather around to belt out “The Mountains” was evidence to me that there is room and desire for songs we can sing together to celebrate our common experience.
At the October 2015 campus launch of the Teach It Forward Campaign, as part of the Purple With Purpose initiatives, the Society of Alumni announced a college-wide competition to select the next college song. A committee was convened to create the process that would not only yield finalists for a competition but would surface new songs for inclusion in a new Williams Songbook. Part of that process included review of the 1959 edition to bring forward songs with particular significance to Williams.
I, along with my fellow alumni members of the committee (whose names are listed here), am proud to present to the Williams family the seventh edition of the Williams Songbook. We hope that you will take time to explore both the traditional songs and the recent additions contributed by your fellow alumni; whichever you sing, sing loud and be joyful in celebration of our alma mater.
Leila Jere ’91
President, Society of Alumni