The following are the 2011 Convocation remarks of Vice President for Student Affairs Ginger Ambler ’88, Ph.D. ’06 - Ed.
Notice to the William and Mary Community: This is NOT a campus safety message, nor is it a hurricane update, a warning of suspicious activity on campus, or a test of our emergency notification system! What a start to the semester it has been! As we gather today -- at last! -- to greet the new year together, I couldn’t be happier NOT to be delivering administrative information of any sort. The truth is, it is a tremendous personal honor to have been asked to be your Convocation speaker this afternoon.
The College’s tradition, for many years now, has been to invite an alumna or alumnus to address new students at Opening Convocation. In Judge Smith’s absence, I have been graciously handed the baton (as well as the challenge of seeing if I can still, in fine W&M-style, pull off a coherent writing assignment at the very last minute). I will be addressing you today NOT in my capacity as Vice President for Student Affairs. No, on this occasion, I have a chance to speak to you simply as Ginger Ambler, member of the Class of 1988. For today is about the William and Mary experience we all share, it is about your new home on this stunningly beautiful campus, it is about a journey that is even at this moment unfolding, and it is about each of you taking your place in this proud Tribe family.
Most of us have a sense of what it means to savor something. I certainly savor a warm cup of coffee in the morning, large with cream and extra sugar. We savor good books, the crescendo in a powerful piece of music, and the smell of fresh cookies baking. Then there is the crunching of autumn leaves underfoot, the extra 9 minutes of sleep that come after hitting the snooze alarm, and the tenderness of feeling someone else’s hand in our own. Psychologists have actually studied the concept of savoring and how that conscious act of “attending to, appreciating, and enhancing” our positive life experiences can contribute to personal well-being. If there is but one message I can convey as you begin your William and Mary journey, it is this – savor it. Savor the moments, savor the gatherings, savor the legacy.
As a student here, I savored many moments, snapshots now in the album of my memory. . . . sitting in the Sunken Garden eating bread ends and house dressing from the Cheese Shop, singing Shenandoah with the William and Mary Choir, seeing the sunrise through a window of the 2nd floor lounge in Old Dominion and realizing my new friend and I had somehow talked the whole night away (that particular friend, by the way, has been my husband now for 23 years). As a graduate student, I savored too-tired laughter with classmates as we studied endlessly for comprehensive exams, and that moment of excitement in my advisor’s office when the multiple regression analysis I was running produced really cool, statistically significant results. You will have your own moments to savor . . . maybe it will be the feeling of scoring the game-winning run, discerning that ideal direction for your thesis, or hearing the sound of applause the first time you perform on the main stage in Phi Beta Kappa Hall. It could be breathing in the scent of worn wooden staircases here in the Wren Building, knowing the satisfaction of giving outstanding oral presentation, or being invited by a faculty member to partner in research. There is a part of the William and Mary experience that will be yours, and yours alone. Savor those personal moments of meaning.
While there may be other fine academic institutions in the world, I would argue there is no college or university with a sense of community to rival William and Mary’s. That sense of community, and our many gatherings which serve as its outward and visible sign, are just as much to be savored. At this Convocation, for example, savor the pomp and circumstance of the academic procession, the sound of the Wren Bell ringing, the collective voice we will raise in singing the alma mater, and the enthusiasm of a community welcoming you into our midst. In just over a week’s time on September 11, we will gather again here in the Wren Courtyard to mark the 10th anniversary of that fateful day in 2001 that changed our world. I hope you will come and savor the strength and solidarity that comes with a community’s pausing to remember and to honor life. At the Yule Log ceremony each December, we have a chance to savor crisp winter air, the crackle of fire and sparks dancing around colonial cressets, and the laughter of friends as we take a collective break in the midst of exams. Take in the Green and Gold of Zable Stadium at a home football game, appreciate the creativity flowing during a group brainstorming session, feel the passion and purpose that come in planning a service initiative or fundraiser, and indulge your dreams of “dancing with the stars” at our annual King and Queen Ball. These gatherings are to be savored – they give us a sense of unity, common purpose, and connection to something larger than ourselves.
Above all, I hope you will savor the legacy that is now yours as members of the William and Mary family. Remember what it felt like to raise your hand and pledge with your classmates to live in accordance with America’s oldest collegiate honor code. Ours is an enviable legacy of honor. Savor also the intellectual discourse that flows both within and outside of your classes. That legacy of academic excellence should never be taken for granted – it draws the finest faculty to teach here and it challenges you to appreciate multiple perspectives, question your assumptions, and clarify personal values. Ours is a rich legacy of civic engagement. Savoring that legacy means recognizing ways to use your talents for the greater good. Finally, savor the rich relationships that are now your legacy as members of the Tribe. Those ties reach back through generations of graduates who paved the way for us, they are strengthened in our daily lives on campus, and they will continue to bind us one to another, even when the time comes for you to take your talents and your Tribe pride out into the world.
University of Chicago professor and bio-ethicist Leon Kass once said, “There's an ancient tension between wanting to savor the world as it is and wanting to improve on the world as given.” As members of the William and Mary family we are well suited to thrive within that tension – to appreciate our lived experiences even as we commit ourselves to asking hard questions, broadening our understandings, and improving the human condition. That marvelous tension lies at the very heart of the academic enterprise here. So as you continue your earnest seeking, I hope you will savor the moments, for they are yours and yours alone. Savor the gatherings, for they help define our community and reaffirm belonging. Savor the legacy, for ours is a rich and honorable inheritance that defines our relationships – to one another and for a lifetime.
Welcome to the Tribe!