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William & Mary Traditions

Anything but traditional.


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 university leads the new students through the Wren Building to the wild cheers and warm high-fives of the crowd. Afterward, everyone digs into a delicious picnic dinner with live music.


Raft Debate

Some 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 university. 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.

Yule Log

Each December brings the long-awaited Yule Log celebration. 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 university president takes the stage in holiday attire and reads a specially-selected story book to the crowd. 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 the granting of William & Mary's Royal Charter by King William III and Queen Mary II in 1693 — think "Happy Birthday William & Mary." Charter Day festivities include 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 or show.


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 William & Mary, 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 university and a rousing chorus of the alma mater.

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.


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 Building to the cheers of their classmates, the seniors (joined by all of our graduates) return in the opposite direction, passing back through the portico dressed in their full graduation regalia. From there, they continue their “Walk Across Campus” to the commencement ceremonies.