One of the great things about the W&M in Washington program is that I’m not that far away from William & Mary (heck, I’m still technically living in Virginia this semester). As a result, once class ended last Friday, a large group of us DC scholars started making our way back to the ‘Burg for Homecoming. For one other scholar and myself, this meant booking it to Union Station to catch the Amtrak train down to Williamsburg. After a brief delay, we were in our seats and on our way to the TWAMPiest place on earth. While it isn’t perfect, I’ve always appreciated the decent leg room (I’m 6’1), scenic views, and free Wi-Fi that Amtrak travel entails. Its a ride where, if you bring a good book, you can easily lose track (get it?) of time. With a proper work ethic and some training (see what I did there?), it is also a great place to be productive, as a fellow DC scholar found out when she wrote most of her paper (due the next day) on the trip down.
Homecoming Weekend, of course, was a blur of activities. While on campus, I traversed the Sunken Garden, ate dinner at Barrets, visited the Farmers Market, went to service at Bruton Parish Church, and had tea at Aromas all accompanied by old friends. I also had the pleasure of seeing William & Mary’s improv theatre group (IT) do their Homecoming show. It was hilarious to see them perform such feats of comedy as recreating the Hunger Games with modern art, telling the story of two honeybees in love, and regaling the audience with numerous puns about everyday objects walking into bars (always my favorite part of the show). I also had the pleasure of seeing my friend’s senior directorial, a production of the drama Copenhagen. Held in PBK’s Studio Theatre, this three act show dealt with themes of memory, history, reputation, morals, physics, and friendship. All of these ideas came together to create a fantastic show that balanced the political with the personal in an emotionally compelling way. As the characters struggled to recall their shared history and rebuild their friendship, I began to think about what I’ve remembered from the past three years and what I’d think back to from this weekend.
Memory is a curious thing. As Georges sings to Albin in the musical La Cage aux Folles, “It’s strange what we recall/ And odd what we forget.” Some things stay with us, but it’s often not clear why we remember the things that we do. I have spent three years on campus (okay, two and a half if you count the semester abroad), but this weekend I didn’t think back to the computer crashes, the late nights, or the numerous tests that are often associated with college life. Instead the memories that came back were of all the moments, big and small, that I had with my friends. Whether it was the late night walks through the snow in the Sunken Garden, the chats in the PBK box office, or the numerous conversations in someone’s dorm room, all of these experiences returned as I visited the old haunts and reconnected with my fellow TWAMPs. While work was a significant part of my college career, what defined it was the people I met, and it was those memories that came rushing back to me. After all, it was my friends who ran up to embrace me when I came back, not the homework. I may have been gone these past several months, but, reunited with my friends, I nearly fooled myself into thinking that I had never left.
At the same time, for all the memories I recalled, for all the friends I saw again, it was clear that I had left, and that the campus I knew wasn’t quite the same. The alumni, who I had studied, worked, and laughed with, were now working all over the country. One friend of mine was studying mangroves at grad school in Florida. Another was doing improv work in Chicago. Still another was pursuing acting in Richmond. Meanwhile, my campus friends were engaged in new classes, activities, and challenges, none of which I was participating in. There were more unfamiliar faces on campus this year, as the new freshmen replaced the previous year’s seniors. Eventually, everyone I know on campus will move unto the next stage of their lives, which is the way it has to be. After all, we can’t stay in college forever. In much the same way, William & Mary will need to change in order to tackle the challenges of today and tomorrow. Time is something that can’t be stopped. The challenge is to find out what to change and what to hang onto, but is something that each generation of students and administrators at the College needs to decide for themselves.
As it became clear how much has changed and how much would continue to change, it was hard not to feel nostalgic for the good times of the past. But the nostalgia I felt this past weekend didn’t make me feel sad or regretful. Instead, it made me feel hopeful about the future. This might seem odd, but it’s actually not that unique. As a friend of mine recently wrote on her blog, nostalgia allows us to connect our past to our present, but in a somewhat modified way that highlights the good times. Because of this, studies show that remembering “can increase motivation, energy, and optimism,” thereby allowing an individual to face the future confidently and happy. (If you’re interested you can read the whole article). The nostalgia of Homecoming Weekend focused on the good memories I had, rather than the bad ones, which, as a result, meant that I was more positive when I returned to DC. My friends are pursuing their dreams, and that was an inspiring thing to see.
So while the college I visited at homecoming wasn’t the same as the one I’d bid farewell to last May, that doesn’t mean that my memories had begun to fade or that my nostalgia was dampened. For this past weekend, I made many new memories that, even just a week later, I’m fondly thinking back to. Homecoming helped me realize that while college may end, the memories do not. As a character in Copenhagen notes that when we think back, “the past becomes the present inside our heads.” In that sense, while friends might move all over the world, and fun moments might fade into memory, inside one’s mind they will always be there, ready to inspire and comfort you whenever you may need them. The characters in Copenhagen return again and again to a night in 1941 to try and remember. Ultimately, they find peace even if they don’t find conclusive answers. In much the same way, alumni come to Homecoming to reconnect with their past even if they can’t recall each specific memory. By remembering, we recall our friends, and, in doing so, find the strength to face our futures.