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Statues, students join forces for Jefferson's birthday

  • Statues come alive
    Statues come alive  The AVAdventure was led by likenesses of the statues Thomas Jefferson, Lord Botetourt, James Blair, and Tina and Johnny, as well as the sculpture Oliver and a William & Mary student "Cara"  Photo by Ameya Jammi '12
  • Awakening James Blair
    Awakening James Blair  To awaken the statue of Reverend James Blair, the crowd had to make funny faces at each other while maintaining a serious demeanor.  Photo by Ameya Jammi '12
  • James Blair's Homecoming
    James Blair's Homecoming  The statue of James Blair, who espoused order and decorum, led the crowd to march in unison when recreating the first Homecoming parade.  Photo by Ameya Jammi '12
  • Swemming
    Swemming  "Wren Botetourt" addressed the crowd on the steps of Swem Library before he led them inside.  Photo by Ameya Jammi '12
  • Club Swem
    Club Swem  Students held a dance party on the third floor of Swem.  Photo by Ameya Jammi '12
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On April 13, the College narrowly escaped losing its history when a brave throng of several hundred students wielding their MP3 players joined forces with statues from across campus that had come “alive.”

Marking the 250th anniversary of Thomas Jefferson’s completion of his studies at the College and his birthday, the Office of Student Affairs, the President’s Office and the Student Assembly sponsored an AVAdventure, titled “Statues of Limitations.” Students had to download an MP3 file that day and play it exactly at 8 p.m. for the adventure to begin.

The AVAdventure is a part of a wider effort to honor Jefferson during April. In addition to hosting the event, the College partnered with Colonial Williamsburg to promote its Jefferson blog, which explores his thoughts on education and a variety of other subjects.


When the AVAdventure began on the Friday-the-13th night, throngs of students convened at the statue of Thomas Jefferson near the Sunken Garden where they were greeted by a character named “Cara.” The William & Mary student had procured an “official timeline of the College’s history” from the Sir Christopher Wren Building after researching a legend that statues can be awakened on anniversaries important to their lives by “honoring their legacy.”

A flesh-and-blood likeness of Thomas Jefferson arrived as students honored Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence by acting independently, ready to celebrate his birthday and “work on his bill for more general diffusion of knowledge” by awakening other statues on campus, starting with Lord Botetourt, whom Jefferson described as “a jovial man, the life of the party.”

Lord Botetourt, a very severe Reverend James Blair and the couple Tina and Johnny from the sculpture “Spring” in the Crim Dell Meadow were awoken as several hundred students, prospective students and members of the community danced and joined in activities such as curtsying to Lord Botetourt’s statue and imitating popular campus groups such as the W&M Bhangra Team, a capella groups and the 7th Grade Sketch Comedy troupe.

“The adventure was engaging, humorous, creative, and endearing -- it was the essence of William & Mary through and through,” said Vice President for Student Affairs Ginger Ambler ’88, Ph.D. ’06. “I loved watching the crowd dancing, acting, singing and playing together as one collective ‘cast’ in a live action play.”

As a consequence of a few statues awakening at the wrong time, statues all across campus “awoke” on their own accord, including the sculpture “Oliver” from Barksdale Field. Cara’s scroll of the College’s official timeline also went blank. The College’s history had been erased.

At President Taylor Reveley’s suggestion, the students and statues went on a mission to save the College’s history by recreating it. For instance, to recreate the inception of the secret society the Flat Hat Club in 1750, Thomas Jefferson made everyone a member of the newly formed “Thomas Jefferson Club” -- or TJC -- with a pledge and a secret hand sign.

“I especially loved the moment on the Terrace when Thomas Jefferson initiated us all into the Thomas Jefferson Club with a special sign of greeting which we all then shared with one another,” Ambler said. “It was a sign of belonging in a community that knows the value of not always taking ourselves too seriously.”

After a stark few minutes of reliving the years 1881 to 1888 when the College was closed, the crowd enjoyed a Sadie Hawkins Dance where women chose their dance partners to commemorate 1918, when women were first admitted to William & Mary. The participants then marched down Landrum Drive, recreating William & Mary’s homecoming parade. After an homage to Small Hall, which was named after Jefferson’s close friend and professor William Small, the crowd went to Swem Library, where they enjoyed a dance party.

“I dashed up to the third floor because, come on, how often do you get let into Swem after it closes and are allowed to boogie down on the third floor?” Alex Villanueva ’13 said.

After playing with beach balls at Barksdale Field, the crowd followed each of the “statues” back to their locations. Jefferson was the last to leave, reluctant to end celebrating his birthday.

“Thank you, thank you dearest friends, for all you have done and all that you will do for the College, past, present, future, and tonight,” Jefferson said before finally leaving. “It has been a pleasure and an honor and the best birthday anniversary gift I could’ve received. I bid you farewell.”

“The story was pretty interesting, because I love time shenanigans and magic statues,” Villanueva said. “I wanted to go because I thought it'd be fun, and I was not disappointed. The only problem was that dancing around campus for two straight hours in my Chucks made me a little sore the next day! Totally worth it, though.”

Sara Rock ’14 had previously attended another AVAdventure as a high school student.

“At the time, I had been accepted into William & Mary and didn't know where I wanted to go to school,” Rock said. “Going to AVAdventure in 2010 was actually a big reason why I chose to attend this college. I thought the whole event was so creative, and really made me excited about going to the College.”

Rock enjoyed this AVAdventure just as much. 

“It's one of those things to do on a weekend that's really unique and memorable -- something you actually want to tell your friends about after the weekend is over,” said Sara Rock ’14. “I think AVAdventure works really well for this college. It just goes to show that students are really close community, so running around campus dancing and doing ridiculous things ends up being a lot of fun.”