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W&M's original Griffin set to graduate

  • Graduating Griffin
    Graduating Griffin  Andrew Gardner '12, a religious studies and history major, was the original Griffin mascot. He will graduate from the College in May.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
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Two years after President Taylor Reveley demanded, “Get me the Griffin,” the student inside the mascot costume is being revealed – and just in time for him to graduate.

Andrew Gardner ’12, a religious studies and history major, was the original Griffin mascot.

As the mythical beast, Gardner won the hearts of the William & Mary community through his antics, hugs and high fives.

However, Gardner explains, “It’s not like Ironman, when Robert Downey, Jr. says ‘The suit and I are one.’”

Becoming the Griffin

Gardner grew interested in becoming William & Mary’s mascot as the campus avidly followed the mascot search in 2009 and 2010. He had been involved in several theatre productions and had even had some experience as another kind of mascot.

“Having a theatre background, I’d done some puppetry,” Gardner said. “I’d done some pantomime and some roles where I couldn’t communicate verbally. And, I’d been the Chick-fil-A cow about two or three times, so I’d had some experience in that realm.”

When he applied to be the Tribe mascot, the mascot selection process had narrowed the field down to five finalists -- Griffin, Phoenix, Pug, Wren or King and Queen.

“I auditioned not knowing what it was going to be,” Gardner said. “I was prepared to walk into a room to get into a pug costume and practice being the William & Mary Pug, because, again, William & Mary is a bigger institution than little old me, and I’m going support the decision it makes because it’s my school.” 

After undergoing rigorous interviews and an audition process conducted by David Raymond, who had been the Philly Phanatic, Gardner got the Griffin gig.

Friend to all

Gardner set out as the Griffin with a daunting task ahead of him.

“I went out there [knowing] people were going to be skeptical,” Gardner said. “I had to win over an entire campus and an entire community of alumni to make sure that this thing stuck around.”

As the mascot, Gardner had to attend different types of activities. The majority of his events were athletic events such as basketball games, football games and baseball games.

At games, Gardner quickly developed relationships with people such as security guards and a few referees through high fives, interactions and skits.

“It makes me very emotional, actually, to think of some of the relationships I have with the guys that do the security at those games, game in and game out,” Gardner said. “Some of them, I have specific routines with, which is why I kind of fear for the people that are going to be mascotting next year, because there are going to be a lot of people that are going to be like ‘All right, Griffin, what’s up? Ready for our handshake or whatever?’ and this new Griffin’s going to be like ‘I don’t know what handshake you’re talking about.’”

In addition to sporting events, Gardner – as the Griffin -- attended events such as Old Guarde meetings, alumni receptions and student organization events.

But it’s the quiet moments that he shared with people that Gardner feels most strongly about, whether it was listening to a fan talk about his Thanksgiving or giving a hug to a student who seemed tired.

Gardner also enjoyed finding his boundaries as the Griffin. For instance, he always went in to hug Reveley and rub the head of Dean of Admission Henry Broaddus. He also liked to play around with faculty members.

“I feel like it comes down to the people that are in the trenches day in and day out that I tried really hard to form relationships,” he said.

Double identity

Gardner admits that he had a Superman/Clark Kent situation with some of the people closest to him.

“Once I got the position, I decided not to tell as many people as I could that I would be it,” he said. “If it’s just me in a costume, that isolates everyone who cares about the Griffin to people who know me. It’s not about the person inside it. It’s about the Griffin and about William & Mary.”

An avid sports fan who had attended most Tribe games before becoming the Griffin, Gardner had to suddenly stop attending games with his friends. So, he developed several strategies to deflect questions and assuage suspicious friends, such as the “typical William & Mary response” -- “‘I had a lot of work, I couldn’t go” -- or explaining that his parents were in town. (Oftentimes, they were, to watch him as the Griffin at the games.)

Finally, at a home men’s basketball game this year, Gardner was revealed as the man behind the Griffin mask.

Spreading his wings

As a graduating student, Gardner is headed to Wake Forest School of Divinity with an interest in American religious history, and he hopes to teach at the collegiate level in the future.

As for his time as the Griffin, he is “taking away what it means to be a person who’s deeply committed to bringing a smile to someone’s face and deeply committed to being present for people.”

“It’s difficult to really articulate how blessed I feel to be able to have [this experience],” Gardner said. “I’ve been able to see William & Mary from a perspective that pretty much no one else has. Just being able to see William & Mary from that perspective, from behind a masked face of a ball of fur that represents Tribe Pride, it’s just amazing.”