Change and tradition can coexist positively together and have done so for more than 300 years at William & Mary, U.S. District Judge Rebecca Beach Smith ’71, J.D. ’79 told the College’s new students Wednesday afternoon in the Wren Yard.
“I challenge each of you to not only take advantage over the next four years of all the wonderful options – academically and socially – at the College of William & Mary, but also to take the time to grow with the College and to contribute to its changes into the future while at the same time being sure that the great things about William & Mary remain constant,” she said.
On the 45th anniversary of her own freshman year at the College, Smith spoke to the students during one of the William & Mary’s long-standing traditions, Opening Convocation, which saw its own changes this year.
The annual event that serves to welcome new students to campus and officially open the academic year was previously held on Friday afternoons in the Wren courtyard. However, this year, the day was changed to enable more students to attend, and the location was switched due, in part, to the deterioration of the balcony on the Wren courtyard side of the building.
Hundreds of new students – including freshmen, transfer students and graduate students – attended the event, along with alumni, faculty, staff and family members. The crowd enjoyed the shade of the Wren Yard’s trees – a benefit of the change in location – while Provost Michael R. Halleran welcomed everyone to the ceremony.
“If you want the best education on the planet, you’ve come to the right place,” he said.
After President Taylor Reveley officially announced the opening of the academic session, the Class of 2016 unfurled its banner on the balcony of the Wren Building.
Smith recalled her own experiences at the College during her remarks, including traditions – such as the wearing of “duc” caps by freshmen – that have since fallen by the wayside. She also noted more significant changes that the College has seen since her time at the university, including its increase in diversity.
Although the College has seen significant changes in its history, it also has upheld some important traditions, including its focus on the liberal arts, Smith said.
“William & Mary doesn’t need to take back the liberal arts because they never gave them away,” Smith said. “This is an opportunity for you, as an entering freshman, to experience coursework and subject matter that you otherwise may never have pursued. Take full advantage of this opportunity.”
The College is not only a place of academic excellence but of community, Smith said.
“Modes of studies may change … but the constant of the institution itself as a place of higher learning and valued relationships remains the same,” she said.
Following Smith’s speech, Reveley presented the 2012 President’s Awards for Service to the Community to Associate Professor of Hispanic Studies Regina Root and Delaney Janson ’13. Root was recognized for her work on ethical fashion, and Janson was recognized for her service at the Lackey Free Clinic.
Like Smith, Reveley spoke about some of the College’s traditions as he closed the ceremony, including the one the students were about to embark on, the walk through the Wren Building.
“As you walk through the Wren in a few moments, think of the countless William & Mary people who have shared this place with you,” Reveley said. “As you emerge from the Wren into our applause, remember that you now have a place in the long William & Mary line reaching back to 1693. The College of William & Mary really is yours now.”
Minutes later, the walk began. On the other side of the Wren Building, hundreds of current students as well as faculty and staff members lined the brick pathway leading from the Wren’s steps down into the Sunken Garden. As the new students began to emerge into the sunlight, they were met with uproarious cheers, applause, high-fives and hugs.
Angela Tran ’13 stood at the end of the line in the Sunken Garden, one of the last people to wish the new students welcome as they made their way through the huge reception line. Tran said she went to the event that day because it was her last chance to experience Convocation as a student.
“It’s such an age-old tradition and special part about the beginning of the school year at William & Mary, and it’s such a beautiful day, too, so I thought it would be a special way to start my last year here,” she said.
And though she has experienced the event on the other side of the Wren for the past three years, Tran said that she thought the change in location made a lot of sense.
“Because, as a new student, you are walking toward the university, and then, when you graduate, you exit and go toward the real world, so I think that it’s fitting,” she said.
Catherine Mingee, a first-year adjunct professor of psychology, attended the event to because she wanted to see the Convocation tradition.
“It’s pretty impressive,” she said. “I have never seen such a welcome for first-year students or transfers. It’s really nice to make them feel a part of the community.”
According to Jami Ivory, a new graduate student at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, that’s just how the welcome made her feel.
“It was pretty nice,” she said. “My undergrad university didn’t have a lot of traditions, so it was really nice to experience a tradition and it was cool to see how this new class and will feel. I never got that, so it was nice.”
Freshman John Ponder White, too, was impressed by the boisterous reception he and his classmates received.
“This was just excellent, just so many people,” he said. “I was at the end of the line, and yet just about everyone was still there, still cheering, the pep band was still going. The enthusiasm hadn’t slacked off at all.”
White saw his orientation aides and resident assistants in line, and at one point – to fill a gap in the crowd – started running down the line.
“I just held up my hands and ran, and everybody just ran to meet me and were giving me high-fives,” he said. “It was absolutely great. I’m so pleased to be here.”
White said the event was a great way to end his first day of classes at the College.
“I think, more important, it’s a great way to just begin my experience here, and I love it already,” he said. “This is home.”