William & Mary's new students aren't just embarking on their college careers, they are joining a family, James B. Comey ('82) said at the College's annual Opening Convocation ceremony Friday.
"Your membership in this family will change your life," said Comey, a former U.S. Deputy Attorney General. "But the nature of this family, this Tribe, is a gift, purchased for you at huge personal and financial cost by those who went before. As a new member of the family that has always guided the life of this great country, you have obligations to which you must be faithful."
Comey spoke to more than 2,000 William & Mary students, faculty and staff members who gathered in the Wren Yard for the annual event despite a rainy afternoon. The ceremony welcomes William & Mary's new students to the campus and officially marks the beginning of the academic year.
President Taylor Reveley addressed the crowd during the ceremony and welcomed the new freshmen, transfer and graduate students to campus.
"Collectively and individually, you are all cherished members of the William & Mary community, both during your time on campus and thereafter," he said. "William & Mary will be an important and proud of your identity henceforth."
Quoting E.M. Forster, Reveley encouraged the new students to connect with their new "family" members.
"'Only connect' could be the refrain of William & Mary's song each year as we welcome new students into a College family that is centered in Williamsburg but spread across the country and world, over 80,000 alumni strong. So, new students, I say ‘connect and stay connected' to all that is William & Mary."
William & Mary's new Provost Michael R. Halleran also welcomed the new students.
"If you want the best education on the planet, you've come to the right place," he said.
The event's keynote speaker is closely connected to his alma mater. A member of the Class of 1982, Comey met his wife, Patrice, when they were both undergraduates at the College, and their daughter, Maurene, is currently a senior at William & Mary. He is also a frequent guest on campus. Comey spoke at the 2003 Opening Convocation, and he received an honorary degree from William & Mary and served as the keynote speaker at the 2008 Charter Day celebration. Currently, he serves as the vice president of the William & Mary Alumni Association's Board of Directors.
During his remarks, Comey said that being part of the William & Mary family comes with perks, but obligations, including a willingness to help other members of the Tribe and a duty to give back.
"The long line of patriots and servants that began at this spot three hundred years ago now stretches down and includes you," he said. "By joining that line, you have made it much better. Welcome to the Tribe. I am honored to call you sisters and brothers."
During the ceremony, two members of the William & Mary community were recognized for fulfilling that duty to give back with the 2009 President's Awards for Service to the Community. Senior Mallory Johnson received the student award for helping with Hurricane Katrina reconstruction, working with the Phoenix Project and creating the student group William & Mary in Petersburg. David Aday, professor of sociology and American studies, received the faculty/staff award for his work with the Student Organization for Medical Outreach & Sustainability and Students for Healthy Communities. Aday's award was dedicated to the memory of his long-time assistant Pat Sisson who strongly supported the causes. The monetary component of the award will be used to create an endowed scholarship in memory of Sisson. For members of the William & Mary family who were unable to attend the ceremony, members of the William & Mary Web team updated their Twitter feed and posted photos on the College's Flickr account throughout the event.
After Reveley closed the ceremony, the new students walked through the Wren Building to be greeted on the other side by cheering, high-fives and pep band music. This year, the new students donned new green and gold lapel pins for that walk, "a symbol of the connection to your alma mater that you have begun to forge," said Reveley.
Ralph Cook, a sophomore transfer student, was impressed by the reception he and the other new students received as they walked into the cheering crowd.
"I thought the whole experience was very special," he said. "Walking through the Wren building, and seeing all those people there congratulating me and cheering me on, high fiving everyone, it's something I'll never forget, I thought it was really cool."
Miden Wood, also a sophomore transfer student, agreed.
"It was really cool seeing people you knew, that were older than you, welcoming you to the school and high-fiving you," said Wood. "It was a really exciting experience."
Senior Scott Foster was one of the hundreds of William & Mary students, staff and faculty members who ignored the rain and welcomed the new students.
"It's fun to see everybody," he said. "It's really my first William & Mary true traditional memory. I really enjoy it, I've been here at every one since freshman year."
Junior Clara Vaughn also enjoyed welcoming the new members of the Tribe family.
"It was really fun, and I missed it last year so I'm really glad I got to go and welcome in the new class," she said. "It was exhausting and it was hard to stay peppy the whole time but I felt like every freshman deserves because that's what they did for me when I came here."