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Convocation: What it means to be part of W&M

  • Opening Convocation:
    Opening Convocation:  William & Mary alumnus Bill Mims ’79, current Virginia Supreme Court Justice and former Virginia attorney general, senator and delegate, welcomes the new students.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Opening Convocation:
    Opening Convocation:  Katherine Ambrose '17, president of the junior class, unfurls the Class of 2019 banner, which will remain on the Wren Building for a week before being moved to the center court dining area at the Sadler Center.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Opening Convocation:
    Opening Convocation:  Yohance Whitaker '16, president of the Student Assembly, carries the College Mace. The university recently removed two Confederate emblems from the mace, replacing them with silver plates as placeholders until a decision is made regarding the permanent emblems.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Opening Convocation:
    Opening Convocation:  President Taylor Reveley watches as new students walk through the Wren Building as part of Opening Convocation tradition.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Opening Convocation:
    Opening Convocation:  A student is greeted by hundreds of members of the W&M community who gathered along the pathway to the Wren Building to welcome the newest members of the Tribe.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Opening Convocation:
    Opening Convocation:  Upperclassmen welcome the new students with cheering, clapping and high-fives.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Opening Convocation:
    Opening Convocation:  Hundreds of members of the W&M community line the pathway from the Wren Building to the Sunken Garden to welcome the new students.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Opening Convocation:
    Opening Convocation:  Upperclassmen make sure new students receive a warm welcome into the Tribe.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Opening Convocation:
    Opening Convocation:  A new student gives a thumbs-up to the cameraman as she makes her way through the receiving line.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Opening Convocation:
    Opening Convocation:  New students received dozens of high-fives as they made their way through the crowd.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Opening Convocation:
    Opening Convocation:  A new student receives a particularly uplifting greeting.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
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More than 400 years ago, William Shakespeare engaged Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, to ask the most famous question in theatre history: To be or not to be?

Albeit with a different mindset, on a late-August Wednesday afternoon in the shadow of William & Mary’s iconic Wren Building, The Honorable William C. Mims ’79 answered Hamlet in his Opening Convocation speech to incoming students.


Be realistic. Be merciful. Be curious.

{{youtube:medium:center|LI0EvQmkRKk, William C. Mims' Convocation speech}}

Mims, a former state’s attorney general, senator and now Associate Justice of the Virginia Supreme Court, asked a large audience that included students, faculty, staff and curious onlookers who ringed the fence around the Wren courtyard, “Why be realistic?” He then informed them that only six people in the Class of 2015 had graduated with no grade lower than an A. That’s out of more than 2,500 students.

“If that statistic holds for your class, each of you has a 99.6 percent chance of not having a 4.0 average when you graduate,” he said. “Isn't that wonderful? Isn't that freeing?

“No one on this campus is perfect. Thank goodness you don’t have to be. You will have highs and lows – academically, socially and emotionally. That is part of life, and it’s okay.”

Why be merciful? During their time at W&M, Mims guaranteed, students will have ample opportunity to receive – and to give – mercy.

“Mercy is the virtue that most exposes our humility and our humanity,” he said. “And it is the quiet virtue that rarely speaks its name, but is often present when we are transparent about our needs.”

Mims told the audience that the fall semester of his sophomore year was, to say the least, trying. His father had suffered a heart attack. He and his girlfriend had parted ways. He had barely passed his courses. Worst of all, perhaps, his job at a colonial tavern meant he could not go home for the holidays. He walked the campus, alone.

“So what did my roommate do? Knowing I was miserable, he came back to school early. Just to hang out with me. He didn't need to speak any words of wisdom. His mere presence was an act of mercy,” he said.

“I love the term ‘2 a.m. friend.’ There will be times when a crisis causes you to need a friend at 2 o’clock in the morning. We all do. As you follow the path of mercy, you can be that friend.”

Finally, why be curious?

“William & Mary is not summer camp. It is hard,” Mims said. “But it also should be fun, as you expand your horizons and learn outside the classroom. Embrace these aspects. The poet, Mary Oliver, asked: ‘What is it you plan to do with your wild and precious life?’ Follow your curiosity, and you can begin to find the answer here.”

Throughout the ceremony, W&M President Taylor Reveley expounded on the many customs that make the university unique, including the presentation of President’s Awards for Community Service. The staff recipient was Psychology Professor Catherine Forestell, who is faculty advisor for the Kenya Sustainable Village Project, one of W&M’s Branch Out alternative breaks. She also spearheads research activities for the William & Mary Bike Initiative, and serves as co-principal investigator for Healthy Beginnings, which helps pregnant incarcerated women, and volunteers at Riverside Regional Jail.

The student recipient was Emily Lopynski ’16, who leads a mentoring program at a juvenile detention center.  She also serves as the service/outreach coordinator for the Inter-varsity Christian Fellowship, and has participated in Branch Out alternative breaks and trips to Sierra Leone and Costa Rica among other places.

In his closing remarks, Reveley echoed Mims’ encouragement to students to be merciful, to others and themselves, as they adjust to life at the university.

“College has a rhythm and marches to a beat all its own,” he said. “It’s okay to give yourself some time to adjust. It’s okay to ask questions. It’s certainly okay to be befuddled for a while. And it’s certainly perfectly normal to be a bit homesick, or really homesick, for a while. All this will pass in due course.”

Reveley further advised the new students to not become overcommitted as they begin to “participate robustly” in campus life.

{{youtube:medium:center|Yg_5Zqt2AiI, Highlights from the 2015 Opening Convocation}}

“From me to you, from the 27th president of William & Mary to the Class of 2019 or whatever your class may be, here’s permission to take a break every now and then,” he said. “Walk around the campus or Colonial Williamsburg, take a look at College Woods … play a game with friends, read a book for pure out and out pleasure … have some fun.  It’s not just OK, it’s positively good, to take a break, to give yourself a chance to come up for air.”

After Reveley ordered that the Wren Bell be sounded – “over and over,” as he joked –  the incoming freshmen, transfers and graduate students experienced one custom that defines what it means to be “One Tribe, One Family.”

Student Assembly President Yohance Whitaker ’16, carrying the College Mace, continued the tradition of leading new students through the Wren Building to cheering members of the W&M community. The university announced on Aug. 14 that it was removing two Confederate emblems, including the Confederate battle flag, from the mace. While the president decides on permanent replacement emblems, the mace was used Wednesday with two silver plates as placeholders.

The line of enthusiastic well-wishers waiting to greet the students stretched deep into the Sunken Garden. There, a band and brimming dinner buffet tables added to the university’s first party of the year.

“Keep in mind that you now have a place in the long line of William & Mary people reaching back to 1693,” Reveley told them. “William & Mary is now yours for all time coming!”