Reason to blog… Williams College makes an alum proud

I’m not great at blogging regularly here (this is the first one, in fact!). Just managed to scrape this site together last month – as MySpace endures multiple efforts at resuscitation – and it’s high time for an opening blog. The existing blog entries are actually transfers from my old sporadic MySpace blog… Whatever blogging capacity I have is usually spent on the MEP Caribbean Publishers blog that’s still far more sporadic than I’d like.

But as usual, I digress! First and foremost: howdy! The inspiration for this first blog is something that made me squeal with glee this week all over Facebook and Twitter (and consequently LinkedIn) as I, rather belatedly, recognised that – in addition to being ranked by US News & World Report as the top liberal arts college in America – my wee little alma mater Williams College had been named by Forbes magazine as the very best college in America, period.

Here’s some of Forbes’ take on things:

The best college in America isn’t in Cambridge or Princeton, West Point or Annapolis. It’s nestled in the Berkshire Mountains. Williams College, a 217-year-old private liberal arts school, tops our third annual ranking of America’s Best Colleges. Our list of more than 600 undergraduate institutions is based on the quality of the education they provide, the experiences of the students and how much they achieve.

Williams rose to the top spot on our rankings, which are compiled with research from the Center for College Affordability & Productivity, after placing fourth last year and fifth in 2008. It’s a small school (just over 2,000 undergrads) with a 7-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio, affording students the chance to really get to know their teachers and have a unique college experience.

While Williams’ tuition is relatively high at $37,640 a year, the school tries very hard to help its students financially. This spring Williams replaced all its loans with grants. And the school has one of the lowest average student debt loads in the country: $9,296.

Some of Williams’ prominent alumni include Steve Case, cofounder of America Online; Edgar Bronfman, CEO of Seagram; Elia Kazan, the Oscar-winning director of films including On The Waterfront and A Streetcar Named Desire; Jay McInerney, author of Bright Lights, Big City; and James A. Garfield, 20th president of the United States….

The Top 20
1. Williams College
2. Princeton University
3. Amherst College
4. United States Military Academy
5. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
6. Stanford University
7. Swarthmore College
8. Harvard University
9. Claremont McKenna College
10. Yale University
11. United States Air Force Academy
12. Wellesley College
13. Columbia University
14. Haverford College
15. Wesleyan University
16. Whitman College
17. Pomona College
18. Northwestern University
19. California Institute of Technology
20. University of Chicago

Let me place this in context. Arriving at school in America, the Trinidadians and other guests from small, distant countries often spent as much time trying to explain where we were from as we did in class or trying to live up College life. And Williams was tough. And cold. It didn’t climb to the top of the liberal arts rankings (however valid they may or may not be) for nothing.

And what added insult to injury – after many of us Trinidadians managed to get over the self-doubt, shake the “affirmative action” monkeys off our backs (despite the fact that all of the ones who matriculated in my year were T&T National Scholarship winners), and generally survive the winters where temperatures could plunge to 20 degrees Farenheit below zero (about -30 degrees Celsius) – was that many of our friends and family members both at home in T&T, or abroad, or even in the US, often looked at us with pity when we said where we’d gone to school. You see, we’d been the high academic achievers in high school. We were supposed to be destined for the “name brands” like Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Cambridge, Oxford. By going to the much lesser known, almost entirely-undergraduate and hopelessly remote Williams College, we were in fact seen by many to be under-achieving.

Take this for example. During my freshman year, my aunt who’d migrated to Florida gave me a ring, and was inquiring about my studies. She couldn’t quite get her head around Williams, which she’d never heard of, so told all my Floridian family that I was the College of William & Mary in Virginia, a “good Catholic college”. Neither my parents (nor I) had heard of Williams before I attended.

So, no matter what the validity of rankings, I rejoice. Because hopefully I won’t have to explain to as many people quite so hard where I went to school, and why it was a kick-ass place to study (for all its flaws, like its myriad diversity issues… but again, I digress). Or at least, the next time someone asks me, “so…Williams College…is it any good? Where is that?”, answering will be a little more fun. It might go something like this: “We went to the #1 College in the US. Yes we did. Not just the top liberal arts college. No no no. The top college in America, PERIOD. As in, ranked higher than Yale, Harvard and Princeton. And yeah, we graduated! lol. Let no-one dare ask the question, “Williams? Um, where’s that?” It’s at the top, bebe!! THE TOP!”

And then I would put the braggy gremlin away, recover my decorum, and return to quietly smiling at the private-cum-public vindication.

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