I have had a green and white striped umbrella slumped in the corner of my l-shaped desk since one rainy day this past June. As the days ticked by, the umbrella has waited patiently to be returned to its rightful owner. I certainly did not intend to keep this useful device when a kind Sociology professor offered it to me on a June day as torrential summer rains poured down on Williamsburg. I finally returned the umbrella to its rightful owner yesterday and I think I know why I kept it for so long.
In hopes of creating some team bonding on our staff, Senior Assistant Dean Jennifer Scott orchestrated an elaborate scavenger hunt across campus. In small groups of Dean Staff members, we sprinted from scavenger stop to scavenger stop learning about the history of the campus and how to work as a cohesive unit. I, the ever aggressive and competitive person, decided to get as many “bonus points” as possible, which meant I would have to obtain signatures from professors in specific departments. In this process, the sky opened up and we were forced to continue the competition in what looked like a scene from Forrest Gump (remember when Forrest and Bubba were walking in the Vietnamese monsoons.) I made a beeline for the closest academic building (the lovely Morton Hall) and rushed up the stairs hoping to find a professor in the Sociology department to sign my now drenched extra point sheet. Only one door was open on the dark hallway and I could tell from my view in the entrance way that the professor was in conversation with a student. Not deterred from the rain, the three flights of wet stairs, or the obvious conversation already occurring, I rudely interrupted the professor. After explaining my case for his signature and saying I was sorry for pushing my way into their discussion, he kindly signed my now almost illegible sheet and, looking out the window at the ominous rainclouds, handed me his umbrella. I asked “Is this your only umbrella?” to which he replied, “Yes, but you clearly need it more than I do. Don’t worry. You’ll return or pass it on to someone who needs it more than you do.”
I didn’t have much time to think as I grabbed the generous gift and began the mad dash out of Morton. As I rushed back to my office (we did win that day thanks to that professor’s signature and my ability to not slip during the final sprint home) I remember thinking of how indicative that random encounter is of the giving nature and supportive spirit of our community. This professor I had never met was willing to stop his meeting to not only take part in our silly group bonding activity but was also more concerned with the well being of a random member of the W&M community than with his own need to remain dry. Wow! Mr. Sociology Professor knew nothing of my day, the somewhat selfish desire to claim victory in this competition, or me as a person. However, he was aware that I was a member of the same community to which he clearly claims a similar academic home. He trusted me to appreciate his generosity, use it wisely, and likely pass it on to another member of W&M. That type of trust and concern for others is what defines this campus. It is what forms a Tribe.
Although just an umbrella, that piece of rain gear represents so much of this campus! I am fairly certain I kept the now familiar green and white memento as another reminder of how lucky I am to be a part of a place where you can trust someone to return you possessions, to lend you a helping hand when times get difficult (or wet), and to give you the shirt off his or her back. I have since gone out and purchased my own super large umbrella and can now protect myself from the rain. Of course, you are all more than welcome to use it!
– Amanda Norris