William & Mary Traditions

Anything but traditional.

{{youtube:small:right|cpojmGZCAAI, Opening Convocation}}

Convocation

It all begins with Opening Convocation, the official start of the academic year and a chance for the entire W&M community—students, faculty and staff—to welcome the incoming class. After listening to a convocation speaker, the president of the College leads the new students through the Wren portico to the wild cheers and warm handshakes of the crowd. Afterwards, everyone digs into a delicious picnic dinner with live music.

Raft Debate

The Raft DebateSome William & Mary traditions are patently strange (just the way we like them). Consider the Raft Debate, a rhetorical royal rumble between faculty members representing different academic disciplines at the College. Here’s the set-up: four survivors of a shipwreck are stranded on a deserted island with only one tiny raft. Each must convince the audience that he or she is the most worthy person to sail back to civilization. What follows are wildly theatrical appeals by otherwise normal professors and lots of semi-civil name-calling. The audience picks the winner by the volume of its applause.

{{youtube:small:right|_2JD8pgI8xU, Yule Log}}

Yule Log

Right before students take off for Winter Break is the long-awaited Yule Log ceremony. On a chilly Williamsburg night, the whole student body squeezes into the Wren Courtyard, where festive “cressets” (wood-burning torches) warm the crowd. The students are treated to live holiday music and student speeches explaining international holiday traditions. The climax is when the college president takes the stage dressed as Santa Claus and reads a rousing rendition of a story like Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Afterward, frozen students pile into the Great Hall to toss ceremonial sprigs of holly into the Yule log fire for good luck. Then it’s hot cider and sugar cookies for everybody.

Charter Day

February brings the annual celebration of William & Mary's Royal Charter—think "Happy Birthday William & Mary." Charter Day brings speakers of note, the distribution of honorary degrees and many prestigious awards to students, faculty and alumni, and (in recent years) a Charter Day Concert.

{{youtube:small:right|--Lrcc_RhSo, Seniors ringing the Wren bell}}

Last Day of Classes (LDOC)

On the last day of classes in the spring, there are official and unofficial traditions galore. As each senior finishes his or her final class at the College, they’re invited to ring the ceremonial Wren bell. The cheerful echo of the bell can be heard all day long as seniors line up with their friends and hall mates for this unforgettable moment. Then W&M throws a huge party with food and games in the Sunken Garden. The last day of classes is celebrated with live bands, free tacos and late-night pancakes.

King & Queen Ball

The whole W&M student body celebrates the end of the academic year with a huge formal party called the King and Queen Ball. Held under the stars in the Sunken Garden, the celebration includes food, live music and dancing late into the night. The party is capped off by a toast from the president of the College and a rousing chorus of the alma mater.

{{youtube:small:right|ens6mmIswb4, Commencement Weekend}}

Candlelight Ceremony & Commencement

The night before graduation, all the seniors flock to the Wren Yard for a magical candle-lighting ceremony. Tradition holds that the seniors select three speakers – one faculty member, one administrator and one fellow student – each of whom has had a close relationship with the class during their years at William & Mary. The atmosphere is fun and nostalgic, culminating in the illumination of the Wren Yard as light from a Wren Candle is passed from classmate to classmate. And, of course, with candles aloft, we sing the alma mater (it’s a catchy tune!).

Then it’s time for William & Mary’s unique Commencement, which completes the symbolic circle begun by the opening convocation ceremony. Four years after they emerged from the Wren portico to the cheers of their classmates, the seniors now return in the opposite direction, passing back through the portico dressed in their full graduation regalia. From there, they continue their “Senior Walk Across Campus” to William & Mary Hall, where commencement ceremonies are held.