Parents and other relatives of William & Mary students gathered on campus Sept. 23-25 for a weekend of festivities celebrating the 50th anniversary of Family Weekend, giving them a glimpse of what it’s like to be a part of the university’s family.
“It certainly, especially if your child probably lives a long way from home, helps you reconnect with your child and see what their day-to-day life is like now,” said Ginger Medrano, mother of freshman Zie Medrano.
Even though Jeff and Ginger Medrano of Suffolk, Virginia, only live about an hour away, they said their home simply feels different now that their only child is away in Williamsburg. However, Family Weekend gave them the opportunity to reconnect with their son and see what his new day-to-day life is like.
And giving them the chance to walk in his shoes is exactly what their son, Zie Medrano ’20, enjoyed about the experience.
“It’s a lot different than just talking to them on the phone, because I can tell them on the phone one thing like, ‘I’m going to class in the Integrated Science Center.’ But, it’s another thing to walk them from the dorm to the class," he said. "So, it’s a lot more of an experience of showing them rather than just telling them."
Half a century ago, W&M hosted its inaugural Family Weekend, or “Parents’ Day” as it was called then. Spurred by parents expressing their desire for an annual program, W&M organized the inaugural event in order to vitalize “its communications with parents,” according to a letter from the then-president, Davis Y. Paschall, to an attending parent.
The schedule of activities throughout the years strongly resembles the agenda from the 50th anniversary event, although it has expanded and diversified over the years.
The wide range of festivities began bright and early at 8 a.m. on Sept. 23. Throughout the day, visiting family members had the opportunity to experience a typical day-in-the-life of their students by attending classes, touring Earl Greg Swem Library, which also celebrated its 50th anniversary this year, and exploring the brand new wing of the Integrated Science Center.
In addition to walking in the footsteps of students, parents had the opportunity Friday evening to view two exhibitions at the Muscarelle Museum of Art, dance the evening away with both salsa and swing lessons and catch the first performance of “The Laramie Project,” produced by the W&M Department of Theatre, Speech and Dance.
Amid the Friday events was the Harvest Moon Festival, organized and performed by the Chinese Student Organization. Students and families took their seats in Commonwealth Auditorium in Sadler Center to watch the presentation of a modern rendition on the traditional tale of the Mid-Autumn Festival, a Chinese National Holiday.
While the Harvest Moon Festival was nearing its end in the Sadler Center, the Family Weekend Concert was just commencing in Kaplan Arena. Since 1966, the Family Weekend Concert has been featuring the choral and instrumental talents of the W&M Symphony Orchestra, Wind Ensemble, Choir and Women’s Chorus.
The performance consisted of a mix of diverse compositions and even one that was played at the first Family Weekend Concert 50 years ago, “Procession of the Nobles.”
Continuing into Saturday, highlights included the picnic on the Wren lawn, an a cappella showcase, the W&M varsity women’s soccer game against James Madison University and the Tribe football game in the newly-renovated Zable Stadium against Elon University, which, after a brief comeback at the beginning of the third quarter, W&M lost 10-27.
Wrapping up the weekend on Sunday, families were invited to have breakfast with the Baptist student organization, brunch with Catholic students and take a boat ride on Lake Matoaka.
Since the beginning, W&M Family Weekend has been largely centered on emphasizing the importance of a liberal arts education and the benefit of the student and faculty interaction that happens throughout students’ individual studies. For this reason, the weekend also included faculty lectures, panel discussions and a study-abroad fair.
At the welcome and presidential address Saturday morning, President Taylor Reveley highlighted the value of a liberal arts education and allotted parents and families “extra credit” for being at Phi Betta Kappa Hall at 9 a.m. on a Saturday.
The Parent and Family Council reciprocated W&M’s appreciation by presenting a $1,029,000 check to W&M, the largest donation on behalf of the Parents Fund, to continue support for the numerous student activities on campus.
The donation demonstrated the extent of the support that parents and families provide for W&M students. James and Annette Thompson, parents of Adrienne Thompson ’18, attended Family Weekend for the third year to visit and see their daughter perform in the W&M Choir.
“It means a lot to her for us to come. … Just to see her evolve from the first year, she’s a junior now, has been really great,” said Annette Thompson.
James Thompson echoed his wife’s sentiments.
“What’s important to her is important to us,” he said.