I’ve been known to tell people I love William & Mary because of its tightly-knit student body—the motivated, intriguing, engaged people I am surrounded by here—and because of the quirkiness of the ‘Burg itself. I think there’s no better illustration of this than an incredible surprise birthday party my friends threw me this year.
My 21st was actually last February while I was studying abroad in Paris, but that just didn’t cut it for friends at W&M who wanted to be part of the celebration. I got back from a phenomenal semester abroad toward the beginning of June, and as soon as I hit the ‘Burg, I was told to reserve Saturday night for my friend, Ellie, whom I hadn’t seen since December. As Saturday night neared, I wondered what exactly she had up her sleeve; she refused to tell me where we were going or what specifically we would be doing. I was told only to “look nice” (good friends are well-aware of my solid Saturday-no-makeup-and-sweat-pants regiment) and to “be on time” (they’re also aware of my not-so-charming-twenty-minute-late habit).
Saturday was a real dog day of summer in the ‘Burg. I woke up, scarfed down some leftover pizza, went on a run in my neighborhood, and started getting ready pretty early. I had a hunch that something was up and that pictures would be taken to document whatever we would be up to, and Facebook detagging is just a pain.
Ellie picked me up at 6:30, and so began a plan masterminded by my roommate of over three years, Diana. When we got in the car, Ellie informed me that I would be wearing a blindfold so that I’d be surprised at each stop. At this point, I 1) thought she was kidding about that blindfold and 2) was exceedingly giddy that a friend would put that much effort into driving me around for an evening—presumably just to run to a nice dinner or something. Wrong.
When I took the blindfold off, I found that we were at Firehouse Subs. To be honest, Firehouse is totally my idea of a “nice dinner”—the sub shop has a special place in my heart because I ate it all the time growing up in Jacksonville. I happily ordered my favorite sub (roast beef combo, no mayo, no tomato, on wheat…if you want a solid suggestion) and chatted with Ellie for about 45 minutes. She then announced that we were “on a schedule” and needed to get going. Before I knew it, we were whizzing down Colonial Parkway blasting one of my favorite albums. This is one of my favorite things to do in Williamsburg…I love Colonial Parkway and often go for a drive there just for a change in scenery. The forest and waterways that line it are beautiful. Ellie knew how much I adore the Parkway, so she decided it had to be part of my surprise. After that, I was blindfolded yet again so that I wouldn’t know where we were going, and we ended up at a key part of campus: Swem Library. Ellie and I first became close friends because we studied in Swem at the same time of day (read: night) sophomore year, so we would always see each other there, sit down together, and allow the number of music videos we watched to far exceed the number of pages we actually read. Ellie decided that showing up at Swem would totally astound me, and it did. I think it was the first time I had ever been so excited to find myself at the steps of the library. It was a “key place” in the ‘Burg that had to be part of my surprise. After that, we headed back to the car, and I figured the evening was over. Wrong yet again.
One more time, I found myself blindfolded and on the way to some unknown destination. This time, Ellie guided me from the car to our “final destination.” I kept bumping into cars on the way, so I figured out that we were in a parking lot, but that was the only clue I had. Suddenly, I heard a door open in front of me, and I heard someone shout, “Guys! Lights!!” Incredibly confused, I had a feeling we were at someone’s apartment complex, but the reason for being there still didn’t click. Then, Ellie took off the blindfold, and to my astonishment, my entire freshman hall and other friends were standing in front of me screaming, “HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!”
Diana had transformed the apartment into a Paris in Williamsburg of sorts, with fondue and a Parisian shower curtain as a wall decoration (that I got to keep!) and a Sartre quote on a banner and signs that indicated that metro stops by which Diana and I lived in Paris: “Ternes” and “Trocadéro.” There were also many of my favorite cheeses, and I wore a purple beret for the evening. Diana has always been more creative than I, but I was so impressed that she succeeded in bringing a sense of Paris all the way to the ‘Burg…and pulled off a giant party while I remained totally unaware of what was going on! One dear friend, Eric, even drove all the way down from Northern Virginia just to be a part of the evening, and he came in costume! That’s dedication, and it ended up being a fantastic night.
This is just one example of why I love this place and my fellow members of the Tribe. In one night, I experienced my favorite things about town and got to celebrate with people I had missed the whole last semester. While I miss Paris every day, I must admit it’s great to be “home”—surrounded, once again, by quirky people in a colonial town who make my college experience unparalleled and totally unforgettable.