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New students officially welcomed into the Tribe

  • Inspiring students
    Inspiring students
    Ted Dintersmith '74 spoke to new students at the Opening Convocation ceremony on Aug. 27.
    Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Opening Convocation
    Opening Convocation
    The annual event serves to welcome W&M's newest students to campus and mark the beginning of the academic year.
    Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Procession
    Procession
    President Taylor Reveley, Provost Michael R. Halleran and speaker Ted Dintersmith make their way to the Wren Building at the beginning of the ceremony.
    Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Class of 2018
    Class of 2018
    The Class of 2018's banner is unfurled on the Wren Building.
    Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Presidential welcome
    Presidential welcome
    President Taylor Reveley addresses the crowd gathered in the Wren Yard.
    Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Hearty welcome
    Hearty welcome
    Other members of the campus community welcome the new students to campus as they walk through the Wren Building.
    Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • High five
    High five
    New students get high fives as they walk through the Wren Building.
    Photo by Stephen Salpukas

Ted Dintersmith ’74 was an ordinary college student who became an extraordinary alumnus – and ambassador – of William & Mary.

“Over my many years in school, the best grade I ever got was ... a C+,” Dintersmith teased a massive audience at the university’s time-honored annual Opening Convocation ceremony on Aug. 27. “Today I’ll explain why.”

That was all it took. The crowd was hooked.

If any of the members of the freshman class and new transfer and graduate students missed the official start of the university’s 322nd academic year – President Taylor Reveley proclaimed the fall semester “unleashed” at 5:27 p.m. – one couldn’t tell. Every seat in the Wren Yard was filled with students in all forms of dress, from a tuxedo to skirt and snow boots to coat and snazzy bowtie.

{{youtube:medium:left|LXGPcIKZia4, New Students Walk 2014}}

And they all listened in rapt attention as Dintersmith, a former venture capitalist who now advocates for entrepreneurship and education, explained that C+.

‘Best grade I ever got’

It came on the first paper he turned in as a W&M freshman, in a course on Geoffrey Chaucer. What made it so disheartening, he said, is that “I know how to get A’s. My writing was exemplary, as evidenced by my AP English exam.”

Leaving a failed attempt to cojole his professor to improve this “statement-making” grade, Dintersmith tried to convince himself that, as a physics major, he didn’t need English courses. He would drop it for something easier.

“What I should have said to myself:  ‘I’m here to learn, not get great grades,’” he continued. “‘This course and professor will help me become clear and bold in my writing ... and thinking. By taking on humanity’s enduring works, I’ll learn to appreciate greatness. And by working through an early setback, I’ll learn that failure and progress are inseparable roommates.’”

Dintersmith remained in the class and throughout his W&M career, took many more English courses. The initial decision paid enormous dividends.

“I developed critical skills at the intersection of the humanities and science,” he said.

Dintersmith eventually achieved a Ph.D. in engineering from Stanford University, a degree that many credited for his enormous success.Incoming students await the start of Opening Convocation

“I would respond, ‘Not really. What mattered most was my William & Mary experience.’”

Recognizing service

The 2014 President’s Awards recipients were recognized during the ceremony. A joint effort of the President’s Office and the Office of Community Engagement (OCE), the award recognizes one student and one faculty or staff member annually for making a significant and measurable impact on the community.

This year’s recipients were Ben Boone, a staff member in the Dean of Students office, and Brianna Buch ’15. Each received $500 to donate to their favorite cause.

Buch chose to split her gift – matched by the Class of 1975 Staying Connected Initiative -- between the Student Partnership for International Medical Aid (SPIMA) and her newly created W&M Bike Initiative.

Boone’s award – matched by the Office of Student Leadership and Engagement – will go to VISEDAL—an acronym constructed from the three Spanish words visteme, edúcame, and aliméntame, or “clothe me,” “educate me,” and “feed me.”

It is a non-profit organization that uses education, leadership training and mentorship to empower children and young adults in Nicaragua to become leaders and achieve success. Boone has promoted a William & Mary internship with VISEDAL in Managua, the Nicaraguan capital.

‘One Tribe, One Family’

As Boone and Buch were honored on one side of the Wren, thousands of sophomores, juniors, seniors – and some alumni – gathered on the other side, waiting patiently for the newcomers to finally come through the building and walk the gauntlet they had formed all the way to the Sunken Garden.

Freshmen Ian McConaughy Williams, from Macon, Georgia, and Mac McDermott, from McLean, Virginia, were numbers 1 and 1A to take the rite of passage, leading what seemed to be a never-ending procession. Upon their appearance, heralded by the ringing of the Wren Bell, the crowd erupted into thunderous applause and cheers, hundreds of hands extended over barricades to offer high-fives.

McDermott said he planned to be the first one through the door, and he beat Williams “by a nose.” Williams, however, made his way through the crowd well ahead of the field.There were high-fives everywhere

“It was really, really something,” Williams said. “They really mean ‘One Tribe One Family.’ It was such a reception. It was really beautiful.”

McDermott called the experience “overwhelming.”

“It was great to see the support of the rest of the Tribe,” he said. “I liked how they gave us all high-fives and made us feel welcome, like we were supposed to be here.”

Both students acknowledged that they have been exposed to lots of speeches since arriving on campus but Williams enthused, “(today’s) were all wonderful.”

“Such novel ideas about really claiming your education and being part of the Tribe,” he said.

A ‘succulent feast’

In closing, Reveley offered the gathering two pieces of advice – one short-term, one long-term.

“Short term: Leaving home and going to college is a major rite of passage for each of us,” he said. “It’s an adjustment, big time. So give yourself some time to adjust. Get used to the dorm. Find food. Get into the rhythm of classes. Make some new friends, and if you’re already up your ears in a major extracurricular activity -- such as a varsity sport -- give yourself a chance to figure out how to fit all of the moving pieces into the larger mosaic of life on campus. In short, it may take a while... to feel at home on this campus.”Everyone had a good time at Opening Convocation

Long-term, Reveley said, students will find that they have neither the time nor the energy to partake of all of “the extraordinary profusion of opportunities, both academic and extracurricular,” the university offers.

“William & Mary really does spread before its students a rich, succulent feast of opportunities: Ways to learn, ways to lead, ways to grow while on campus. You’ve going to have time and energy to savor only a small part of this succulent feast, but savor it you should. Suck the very marrow from its bones. Doing so will stand you in good stead for the rest of your lives.”