Years ago, I shared my reflections to the graduating Class of 2013 about their connection to the two William & Marys:
Close your eyes and picture this campus. The William & Mary you see is the one you’ve built over the last however many years it has taken you to get to this point. You’ve certainly had help along the way. This place is filled with people who worked to make your life better from day one: family, faculty, staff, classmates, the Griffin. You’ve had help along the way, but it’s been your W&M you’ve built. And that is the William & Mary you get to keep with you, even as life changes, as your geography, social circles, job, hairstyle changes. The W&M you’ve built abides. Even as one of the things that changes is this campus….This campus remains alive. New buildings, new people, new thoughts, ideas, failures and successes. This place changes because of you. Because each of the incoming students has a W&M to build as well. And that’s one of the incredible parts of being an alum. You now have ownership over two William & Marys. The magical place you’ve experienced from freshman memories, final papers, people you’ve loved and people you’re ready to take some space from. That W&M is carried by you. And you also have this place that has been around a long time, that you can always return to.
Those two William & Mary’s persist, and yet for those of you in the Class of 2020, you now belong to a third William & Mary as well.
That William & Mary exists in Zoom rooms, Netflix parties, a slow strange move-out, group chats filled with longing and memories of experiences you didn’t know would be your last. Just as with the William & Mary you built while you were on-campus, you have built this third space too. And just the same, those of us who work and teach at William & Mary have helped you build it, but we only know the outskirts of where you are.
As an alumna, I can welcome you into the second William & Mary that comes only as you leave the first. All of us who are alumni had our last class, our last Wawa run, and our final stroll down DoG Street. But we also got our Last Chance Dance, a pull of the Wren bell rope, and at least a little more closure on our time as students here.
So we welcome you, Class of 2020, with special care and reverence.
Because only you know that third way of being, that particular love that comes from an unexpected loss and is forged through trying to figure it out together. That’s not the journey of community we hope for any, but it is indeed community.
To the Class of 2020, keepers of the three William & Marys, thank you for your resilience, thank you for your grief which reflects your love, and thank you for your commitment to our bricks even as you aren’t here to trip over them. I cannot join you in that third place, but I can cheer loudly enough that you will hear me where ever you are.