Commentary

Give and Take

As we exited the freeway, I awoke after a five-hour car ride from New Jersey. The beaming October sun and the crimson New England foliage beckoned me towards Main Street. Wiping the grogginess from my eyes, I peered out the window and marveled at the grandiose columns that adorned the campus’s main buildings: the Addison Gallery of American Art, Samuel Phillips Hall and the Oliver Wendell Holmes Library seemed so distant and regal. To unlock the doors to this mythic place, brimming with power and prestige, would be to change my life. And to conquer this place would be to unlock the doors to the world. It was from the backseat of the car, viewing the school for the first time, that I resolved to be part of it.

Four years later, that memory of love at first sight remains vivid. Four years ago, I realized I had made what was, at the time, the most important decision of my life in a moment of wild, impassioned ambition. It was my passion that convinced my parents to let me leave home at 14 and passion that has propelled me into the positions of leadership I held on this campus. Passion, the most irrational and senseless emotion, is what is required to survive the gilded utopia known as Phillips Academy — passion, I have learned, is what is required to love.

“The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away,” reads Job 1:21, a proverb that is particularly fitting to my time at here. Andover has given me so much. In coming here, I found opportunities I did not realize even existed — whether through participating in a Model United Nations conference in Budapest or traveling the world to drum with the Academy’s band. Andover gave me a platform from which to lead, to explore myself and to appreciate the world.

Most importantly, Andover taught me about the true meaning of friendship. During orientation, Barbara Chase reminded us that the students in our Blue Key groups, our dormitories and our English 100 classes would come to be the people we cherished for a lifetime, and she was right. Peers and house counselors in Rockwell, Tucker House and Bishop became close family members. My friends here bring out the best in me and allow me to see the best in other people.

Andover, however, has taken away from me more than I could ever have imagined it would on the early October morning four years ago. I knew it would be a rigorous four years. What I did not know was the extent to which that rigor would consume me.

Upper Winter was excruciating. Unsurprisingly, the coursework was tough. On top of this, however, Clark Perkins and I launched our campaign for School Co-Presidents. The time of our candidacy was perhaps the most pressured, painful period of all.

The trouble began with the shift from a School Presidency to Co-Presidency; I underestimated the ability of political machinations to enact a cosmetic change under the guise of gender parity. Furthermore, I underestimated the controversy that would result in my deciding to partner with Clark. I soon found myself, as well as faculty members, administrators and my fellow students, caught in a web of personal politics.

The election embroiled me in a scandal that would end up on the front page of the New York “Times”’s National section. My name became synonymous with one of Andover’s most divisive topics. I felt betrayed by people whom I respected. I can recall the early winter mornings I spent sobbing silently in my Rockwell single, unsure if I could make it through the day with a stoic mask.

Although Clark and I won the Co-Presidential election in the spring, I never had the opportunity to enjoy our victory — I had no idea how deeply the debate on gender and race would come to impact my tenure.

I underestimated the ugliness of the entire process. Finally working on Student Council after this difficult election, I began to see the school in a different light. Self-preservation seemed to be the mantra of the administration, while inefficient bureaucracy bred the type of staleness that corroded even the best intentions. The glacial pace of change — and the petty battles that accompanied it — frustrated me, often making me question the value of the very position I held.

It would have been far easier to paint myself as the victim, to cite real or imagined cultural problems as the ultimate impediment to my success. The trade-off for doing so, however, would have been to squander Andover’s rich opportunities; furthermore, to do so would diminish the importance of my own personal responsibility in my failures.

Yet in spite of these sleepless nights and occasionally unhappy days, Andover fulfilled me. It has left an indelible imprint in my heart, and I hope, at least, that I have left a similar impact on its legacy. The same awe that struck me when I first saw the school’s storied lawns still moves me today. Though I am not the same naïve eighth grader and can now see the depth of this institution’s flaws, this place still enamors me. For better or worse, I will always love Andover.

_Junius Williams is a four-year Senior from Newark, NJ, and a Student Body Co-President._