This past weekend, I was at the National Orientation Director’s Association Conference up in Boston, Mass. First off, that was my first time that far north of the ‘burg, and I must say I was quite nervous at first. I got to the conference a day early to wander around the city. I was on the phone with someone in my Master’s program and they asked me what I thought about Boston so far. I think my exact words were “it’s kinda Williamsburg, but on steroids.” It made me realize how special and unique our town is. Sure, Boston has some old buildings and this one little school that was around a few years before us, but honestly, it’s just not as cool a town to walk around as the burg. There may be bigger buildings and more people, but there’s something missing in the big city you just can’t replace. I personally think it’s the horse dung on the street, but others may say it’s something more like the idea of community we have here at W&M.
Back to why I was in Boston… I had the opportunity to present at the conference this year about what ranks as one of my favorite things. I got to talk for an hour about William and Mary’s Orientation program. Jackpot. The focus of the conference this year was “Inspiring Historical Legacies.” What a better example of historical legacies than what WM has with Colonial Williamsburg. One of our programs during Orientation is an Evening on the Green in CW.
Once we cross the street, students engage in activities and discourse that represent the community and change that were such a vital part of early American life. Patrick Henry greets the students and they proceed to the great Palace Green. There they partake in colonial life-experiences. Students become musicians, interpreters and dancers. They actively participate in this program and gain an understanding for the long-standing relationship the College has had with Williamsburg. They are introduced to the rich history of the town and the importance of their own presence in Williamsburg, both in the eighteenth century and the twenty-first.
For me, all of this is not only representative of my favorite orientation event, but also a combination of theory and practice. I study student development and how students change while they are in college. This event captures the idea of engaged learning in a beautiful nutshell. Sure, Patrick Henry is talking about how Williamsburg was engaged in the Revolutionary War, but what underlies that message is that of civic engagement. Freshmen are hearing that for hundreds of years, William and Mary students have been engaged in the community of Williamsburg and the happenings of the world. Now it’s their turn. They can’t simply stand by as others craft tomorrow, it’s their duty to do so as well.