I can’t give you any specifics about the first time I visited William & Mary. I can’t remember what buildings I saw or what the tour guide said or even what month I visited, but I can remember what I felt – I felt like this place, uneven bricks and all, could be a new home for me. I’m reminded of Maya Angelou’s quote, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” And William & Mary’s community made me feel at home. (Admittedly, I also remember what I ate that day – specifically, Cheese Shop – with my parents and friend after the tour. Little did I know that my deep affection for the Cheese Shop’s chicken salad would begin with that first bite.)
Now, I’m a double graduate of William & Mary, and though I no longer have a Williamsburg address, I know I will always have a home there. But what constitutes a home? A house is built from beams, but a home is different – a home is built out of people. I’m constantly thankful for the people with whom I was lucky enough to cross paths during my time at William & Mary, including faculty, staff, and fellow students. The other day, a friend asked me what the campus culture was like, and what stuck out to me as a whole is how deeply William & Mary people care – not only about their academics and their work, but more importantly about each other.
The William & Mary faculty and staff’s care for the world and their students trickles down to create a student body that wants to improve the campus and the larger Williamsburg community. For example, my graduate assistant supervisor during my final year of graduate school became a source of wisdom and encouragement for me. When a friend of mine passed away last year, she had the whole office sign a sympathy card for me. She also reminded me how to be confident as a higher education professional. And her letter of recommendation helped me land my current job! My professors at the undergraduate and graduate level also understood how to combine intelligence and kindness. For example, my poetry professor gave us challenging exams, but he’d never give us an exam without also giving us Duck Donuts. When he noticed that a couple of my poems had been published in a literary magazine on campus, he sent me an email about how much he enjoyed reading the poems.
And then there are my fellow alumni. They’re now spread across Virginia and across the globe, and they see me in ways that other people can’t because of the ways we grew together during college. For photo evidence of how I’ve grown with my friends, see the pictures below of my friend Dan and me. Every year since 2011, we’ve gotten our picture taken at this sign. The sign has changed since that first picture, and so have we.
Perhaps Professor Clay Clemens says it best at the Candlelight Ceremony, “Decades from now when you look back, other stretches of time will run together in your memory, but each year of college will stand out distinctly as a separate chapter associated forever with particular people and particular places. While it’s often surprising how little of life as a whole is taken up with truly meaningful moments, your time here has been full of such moments. Freeze them in your mind, frame them in your memory, so that later in life you can return to a time when you’re always young and it’s forever spring.”
When I peruse my college journals, I go back in my mind to those meaningful moments created by the William & Mary community – moments which shaped my thoughts, my values, my character, and have inspired me to have a career in higher education. Some of these moments include the ones I’ve mentioned above, but there are so many others. When I consider the question, “Why William & Mary?” it’s because of those meaningful moments created from William & Mary’s vibrant community.