When freshman roommates Wendy Livingston ’03 and Rebecca Hernandez ’03 graduated, they hoped to remain in contact and perhaps even see one another at the occasional Homecoming. But with Hernandez pursuing graduate studies that soon took her to Cairo for years, the friends never expected to work within walking distance from each other as they had done as students.
“We remained in touch in that way that you do when you leave college,” Livingston recalled, laughing as she said that it took at least a wedding for their paths to cross.
Today, however, Livingston and Hernandez are once again spending their days at William & Mary only a few minutes’ stroll down the brick walkways from one another. For both Livingston, now an associate dean of admission, and Hernandez, visiting assistant professor of religious studies, their professional paths have brought them back to their William & Mary roots.
Meeting at Monroe
Freshman halls have always been special places at William & Mary, where new students settle into their new college lives as they begin forging lifelong friendships. On one sweaty August day in 1999, the new roommates and their families met for the first time as they hauled the ubiquitous freshman assortment of a mini fridge, microwave and an ample supply of ramen to the third floor of Monroe Hall—room 325.
“We were randomly matched by the roommate questionnaire—which in reflection, I’m not sure we would have filled out terribly similarly anyway—but it worked out very well,” Livingston said.
“And yet that’s one of those delightful things,” Hernandez added, “We’re so different in some ways, but they put us together and we learned so much from each other.”
“Different” perhaps puts it a bit lightly. The two were Monroe Scholars, but after that, the similarities rapidly run out. Hernandez told people that she was “from Richmond.” And she was—for the last few years of high school. Before that, she grew up in Cairo as one of a set of triplets. Livingston was raised in Clive, Iowa, a suburb of Des Moines, which Hernandez found as exotic as Livingston did a Cairo childhood.
Like most Monroes, the roommates quickly became involved in the hall community as they made a number of traditions and memories. The pair bonded over watching Lawrence of Arabia—“We had this nice big poster of Peter O’Toole on the wall, with his scary face staring down on us,” Hernandez remembered—as well as having Hanukkah in front of Monroe and weathering Hurricane Floyd without electricity for a whole day.
The most memorable tradition, however, was the daily tea time the roommates shared with their group of friends at Monroe.
“The teas are what stand out the most because they were so different than anything I was used to, but they were a great way, no matter how busy we were, to spend an hour with this particular group and talk about whatever,” Livingston said. “There were three Rebeccas in that group, so that was always fun.”
“And we are still friends with all of them,” Hernandez added. “In fact, I was later in a triple room with the other two of them, so we were the Rebecca triple.”
Two roads diverged
Although both roommates’ paths eventually led them back to William & Mary, one route was considerably more circuitous than the other.
In truth, Livingston never actually left.
“I’ve been at William & Mary since I graduated,” she said. “I started working at the Admission Office in August 2003, and I’ve been there ever since in various positions.”
Livingston began as an admissions counselor and became an assistant dean of admissions in 2005. One of her flagship contributions to the admissions program was the introduction of an on-campus interview program for applicants, a program that has since become a key—but optional—component of many applications.
After earning a master’s degree in higher education at William & Mary and shifting her focus to marketing and communications in 2009, Livingston became a senior assistant dean of admission. In 2012, she reached her current position of associate dean of admission.
Like Livingston, Hernandez also had her eyes set on a career in higher education. She wanted to be a professor.
In 2003, she began work on a master’s degree in Arab studies at the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown University. She spent a year abroad with the American University in Cairo after earning her master’s, then returned to Georgetown to pursue her doctorate with the Department of Arabic and Islamic Studies. Following more research in Cairo, Hernandez worked as an adjunct professor in that department before returning to William & Mary as a visiting professor where she is now teaching classes she took as a student.
Reinforcing the William & Mary community
Hernandez had married and had two children in the four years before her return to William & Mary. With her hands amply full and needing help with the move back to Williamsburg, Hernandez knew exactly who to call for help.
“I know that I can call on Wendy and that she will help me out. She’s a font of information since she’s been in this area so long—she probably knows William & Mary better than anyone,” Hernandez said.
Livingston lived up to her reputation and eagerly assisted with the transition, rekindling a warm friendship that easily survived the decade-long separation.
“One of the things I’ve always loved about William & Mary is that even if you haven’t had a significant sit-down in a while, once you do, you just pick up where you left off,” Livingston said. “It’s a reinforcement of the William & Mary community where no matter how long it’s been since you talked, the connections that you’ve made and the times that you shared bring you together when the timing is right.”
Livingston believes that the long-lasting connections she made as a freshman are not rarity, but the norm for William & Mary. In fact, every time a family expresses concern about the random roommate matching process for freshmen, she shares the story of her friendship with Hernandez.
“I always say that if I ever get to the point where I feel that I’ve given back to William & Mary as much as it has given to me, that will feel like the right point to leave,” Livingston said. “I haven’t gotten there yet.”