Dancing in FASA’s Annual Culture Night 2012. Photo by Cecilia Esteban.
It has been almost four years since I graduated from William & Mary. This coming weekend, I will be attending Culture Night, an annual performance on campus put on by the Filipino American Student Association (FASA). It’ll be my first time attending the event since I graduated – though I admit I did view the show once via Skype as a recent alumna who was overseas – and for once I won’t be behind the scenes. Thinking about Culture Night, I find myself reflecting on my own journey at W&M. I’m excited to return home and revisit the bricks that are my foundation.
Nine years ago, I awaited acceptance letters into all four of the schools I applied to. I firmly believe that everything happens for a reason. That being said, I didn’t get into one of the four schools, but it wasn’t because I wasn’t good enough. It was because I was meant to attend William & Mary, otherwise known to the Tribe as the Alma Mater of the Nation.
We all know its rich history. W&M was chartered in 1693 by King William III and Queen Mary II of England and has been home to several notable and successful alumni: four U.S. presidents, Robert Gates ’65, Glenn Close ’74, Jon Stewart ’84, and Mike Tomlin ’95, among others. But these aren’t the only reasons that make W&M great.
Before college, I lived only an hour away from W&M. As a teenager, I knew it was a rigorous school with a well-respected reputation – a public ivy, if you will. My high school administrators and teachers raved about many of the in-state schools, especially W&M. I’ll be honest, my parents were much more excited about my W&M acceptance letter than I was at first. Probably because I’m their first-born child, and I had the opportunity to obtain a college education in the U.S. (both of my parents got their degrees in the Philippines before eventually moving to America), something that I am very proud of and grateful for.
The sundial in front of Swem Library on Day for Admitted Students 2007
Receiving my acceptance letter in March 2007 wasn’t a pivotal moment for me. Of course, I was overwhelmed with relief: it was my first acceptance letter. However, visiting the campus during Day for Admitted Students with my future freshman roommate, Jillian, was what convinced me that W&M was the school for me. Here’s what I got a glimpse of on that day:
W&M is a small enough school where you don’t feel like you’re getting lost in crowds of thousands of people. We were welcomed that day with open arms and greeted in a way that made it feel like I, as an individual, mattered. I appreciated that.
W&M has a beautiful campus, no matter the season. During a guided tour through campus, we walked by the Crim Dell, which was enveloped in springtime greenery and natural wonder. We made our way to the front of Swem Library (which would later become my haven for studying, paper writing and book browsing). I can still remember the vibrant pastel pink and magenta tulips in bloom surrounding the sundial, providing a whimsical contrast to the red brick paths that led in different directions.
W&M is known for its rigorous academics and diverse extracurricular activities. Out of pure curiosity, I attended an International Relations major session (which coincidentally became my major) in the Commonwealth Auditorium, a venue that would later become a home to me. I’d later spend countless hours both onstage and backstage at the Commonwealth as a student, including rehearsing for and performing in cultural performances with the Filipino American Student Association (FASA), South Asian Student Association (SASA), and the Asian Student Council (ASC); speaking at the Annual Kwanzaa event on behalf of the Center for Student Diversity (CSD); and coordinating with my spoken word role models, Sarah Kay and Phil Kaye, for Project V.O.I.C.E.’s first-ever performance and workshop on our amazing campus.
W&M is a place where you can create your experiences, as most importantly, yourself. And as corny (and far from profound) as it sounds, I distinctly recall walking by Jamestown Field on Day for Admitted Students and hearing a student blasting T.I.’s Whatever You Like song through their dorm room window. I would later learn that I could indeed make my time at W&M whatever I wanted it to be. I learned to craft a path, to create experiences, to explore my own interests, and to feel comfortable taking leaps without knowing where I would land. During that Day for Admitted Students, had you told me I would go on to spend my summers studying abroad (twice), and interning in NYC, I wouldn’t have believed you!
Day for Admitted Students. (From left to right: Ryann Tanap, Jillian Bizal and Michael Cammarata)
Making the decision to go to W&M was surprisingly effortless. And as W&M evolved into my very own community, it only further confirmed my decision to be a student and member of the Tribe family.
As a student, I was introduced to an incredible community of diverse and passionate individuals: people who believe in breaking barriers within systemic structures and strive for racial justice, social justice, and access to education, among other important issues. Being surrounded by such driven people for such a critical time in my growth has instilled in me the notion to never give up, no matter the odds. I found a supportive network of people who motivated and believed in me, especially while working on-campus with the Art & Art History department and Center for Student Diversity. I discovered a sense of purpose during various service trips through what is now known as the Office of Community Engagement (OCE). I created a family among the countless organizations I was a part of during my time at W&M, from student government, to service organizations to multicultural clubs. Furthermore, my first-hand experiences supporting peers experiencing mental health issues, and then eventually finding myself at the Counseling Center (a decision I fully embrace, as it was truly the best decision I ever made as a student) made me a vigilant mental wellness warrior and advocate. These experiences taught me to:
- Never be afraid to ask for help
- Always put my mental health and wellness first
As a W&M alumna, I can proudly say that W&M was pivotal in helping to mold me into the person I am today. I can’t imagine having attended school anywhere else.