I have a question: “what exactly happened to my life?”
We talk a lot about lifelong connection at William and Mary. The idea that William and Mary isn’t a school, but a home. Not a place, but an idea….
Well, commencement was 36 days ago. I left the place, but today I think I began to get the idea.
I traveled for an entire month following graduation, leaving Williamsburg for Haiti, Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands, the very top of Mount Kilimanjaro, the Serengeti with lions who don’t know the first thing about William and Mary or liberal arts colleges or colonial architecture…anywhere but home with it’s difficult-to-face, impossible-to-ignore boxes and boxes of William and Mary. Boxes I didn’t want piled anywhere because I didn’t want to see the last four years of my life reincarnated as packing crates and masking tape that were “inconvenient” and “in the way” and that ugly pale beige color.
But days come and go, and with subtle hints from mom, boxes become unpacked and their contents camouflage themselves in the wider world of rooms around my house. And with that unpacking all these things, and memories, find their home into the wider tapestry of “Life Thus Far.” With siblings at school and parents at work, I find myself wandering around this house I haven’t spent too much time in over the past four years except in manic blurs before service trips or hostings of W&M friends during the holidays whose families lived far away. I’m walking past bookshelves and galleries of photos on walls, and I’ve come across an answer to my initial question.
I’m thinking to myself: “William and Mary happened to my life.”
It’s subtle, but it’s always there. It’s etched on my face in every photo over the last four years. It’s spelled out in every smile. It’s every W&M tie that pokes out behind the other ties, every hat with the familiar, comforting “W&M” on the hat rack whose brim sticks out beyond the others. It’s the books bound in green and gold on my family’s bookshelves. I’m walking around my house and I’m realizing, William and Mary isn’t just about me. This isn’t just about my room, it’s about this entire house. It’s about my entire family.
And now I’m walking around faster and faster and I’m thinking to myself “holy cr@p,” is there anywhere that William and Mary hasn’t taken up residence in this home???!?!?!
And now I’m freaking out because I’m wondering if there’s enough shelf space to fit all of this stuff on, so I’m moving things around and praying there’s more storage downstairs to handle all of this old stuff that needs to be replaced by W&M stuff.
And then I’m thinking, “WAIT A MINUTE” how is there already so much William and Mary stuff everywhere and I’m not even done unpacking all of MY W&M STUFF yet. And how is it possible that W&M has such a huge presence in my house when between my four siblings and two parents we must have attended 20 different institutions of higher education…
AND WHOA WHERE DID MY FAMILY ACCUMULATE THAT MANY GREEN LEAFE MUGS (oops…) AND WHY ARE THERE POST IT NOTES FROM SWEM LIBRARY?
So now I’m getting kind of nerdy about it and want to find everything in my house that has to do with W&M and I’ve made a kind of game out of it on this random rainy Tuesday morning in Northern Virginia by myself.
And I’m pretty sure I’ve found a lot of the obvious things now that are in easy to reach places, poking out all around the house. But now I’m thinking back to Commencement and I’m realizing that the whole thing went by so quickly except for one moment. It was Saturday afternoon and we had just finished the Alumni Induction Ceremony and my Mom was with me and she had just pinned my pin onto my sports coat that it was too hot to be wearing in Williamsburg but all the guys and dads were anyways. And my Mom said she wanted to give me something and she wanted to be alone and we walked through the Wren building to a bench right in the middle of ancient campus. And we’re sitting there and she hands me a small, unmarked brown package. So I’m fiddling with this package and opening it like it’s no big deal since it’s not “present time” yet for Commencement weekend and maybe this is a W&M t-shirt with the word alumni or something written on it.
But it’s not, it’s this.
And now I’m shocked, and now I’m sobbing. And I can’t look at my Mom, and all these people are walking past us on ancient campus staring at me. And I don’t usually cry. I’m not embarrassed I just haven’t been that overwhelmed before and it’s really unbelievable to me. I have no composure and am wearing business attire. And I’m balling my eyes out and barely managing to speak and all I can say after two whole minutes of me crying and her sitting next to me crying is: “God I’m going to miss this place so much.” and she replies, “I’m going to miss it, too.”
And I think at that moment I realized I loved my family and W&M more than I’d even known up until that point, and that they weren’t separate but in fact one in the same. That this place, this “school,” changes you. But it didn’t change just me, my whole family fell under the spell that W&M casts, and has cast, for the past 318 years. The very first tradition of W&M is belonging,
“He who comes here, belongs here.”
And I know this isn’t the end of anything, and it’s just the beginning of my lifelong relationship with this old College. But I’m looking at this photo of my graduation and I’m realizing that it wasn’t just me who graduated from W&M, it was my entire family. And I still think I have a lot of crying left to do, even if it’s against my will. And I still know that I could never say “thank you” enough times to this College, for how it transformed me and my family and brought us together.
But I’m going to try.