Yesterday I was traveling in Richmond visiting various high schools. One young lady asked me a very thoughtful question. She asked, ‘Aside from the obvious such as William & Mary’s smaller size and history, what makes W&M unique among Virginia publics?” I don’t know the other Virginia publics personally but I did tell her what I think are the two definining qualities of the William & Mary experience.
When I was a tour guide at the College and people asked me a similar question, I would respond with “the people.” The people at William & Mary make this place unique. Where else would your freshman roommate — who on paper appears to be a Caucasian female from Richmond — actually turn out to be a natural-born triplet and someone who spent 16 years living in Cairo attending a British school? My freshman roommate was just that. She studied Arabic, played the Ooud (an Arabic instrument that looks like a cross between a guitar of sorts and a humpback whale) and she and her sister (who also attend the College) held high tea every afternoon at 4:00 pm throughout our tenure at the College. Where else does the VP for Student Affairs spend two hours every day answering his own emails? Where else does the President of the College teach a freshman seminar? Where else does the Chancellor of the College (be it Dr. Henry Kissinger or former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor) guest lecture undergraduate classes? Where else can you find the Dean of Admission playing kickball with summer admission interns and treating them to dinner afterwards? This place is not about title or heirarchy, it’s about community.
As an alumna of the College however my response to the same question is a bit different. I think what makes William & Mary unique is the environment created. William & Mary wants nothing more than to provide its students with opportunities be they academic, extracurricular, professional or personal. I took a government class to complete a General Education Requirement and because I love the subject matter and professor so much I ended up declaring government as my primary major. I was encouraged to try out for tour guide and ended up spending three years volunteering and working in the admission office. When I graduated I ended up pursuing a career and a masters degree in higher education. Because William & Mary is so open and welcoming you’re encouraged to get to know everyone you meet even if it’s a loud, shirtless, tattooed young man at a frat party (he became my husband five years later). William & Mary teaches students that it’s about the journey, not the end point. William & Mary teaches high achieving students that it’s okay to try something out even if you don’t end up being good at it. William & Mary taught me how to fail and how to be okay with that. Because of William & Mary I am a more confident, self-assured, outgoing, and interesting person and I continue to seek out new opportunities that come my way.
It’s a long answer to a short question but a question well worth asking and an answer well worth sharing.
– Wendy Livingston