Neural Bling

  • 'Now I'm going to give you your brain (cells).'
    'Now I'm going to give you your brain (cells).'
    Randi Lassiter received a neuron pin for her neuroscience interdisciplinary degree during a W&M reception.
    Photo by Stephen Salpukas

It's expected that some graduates of William and Mary's interdisciplinary neuroscience program will wear their hearts on their sleeves as they march for commencement — but all of them will be wearing a bit of brain on their robes.

The professors in charge of the program, John Griffin and Pamela Hunt, started handing out cerebral pins at graduation time. They started with brain pins, but for the past couple of years, switched over to nifty models shaped like neurons—brain cells. The graduates receive their pins at a neuroscience program reception a week before commencement. The graduates are encouraged to wear their brain pins on their academic garments for the big day, as do Griffin and Hunt.

At William and Mary, our individual academic departments conduct their own diploma ceremonies following the big, College-wide commencement ceremony. Even though it’s a big program, neuroscience doesn’t have a diploma ceremony of its own, since it’s an interdisciplinary program, offered by the cooperative efforts of several departments.

“Neuroscience grads go to commencement, then they go to whatever diploma ceremony they want," Griffin said. 'Most of them go to biology or psychology, since those are the professors they know best. Some of them this year have decided to go to government, though."

Without a ceremony of their own, the brain pins provide a bit of program solidarity for the neuroscience grads, many of whom will go on to some of the nation’s top medical schools and most competitive Ph.D. programs. The pins also add another small facet to the dazzling array of gowns, tams, hoods, sashes, yokes, mortarboards and cords that make up the display of traditional academic regalia at commencement at the College of William and Mary.

The practice is well on its way to becoming another of William and Mary’s many traditions, but the switch to neuron-shaped pins scuttled Griffin’s opportunity to practice his traditional joke: "As I address the students," he says, "I tell them, 'now I am going to give you your brains.'"