William & Mary

Neural Bling

Pardon me, but you have a little brain on your gown.

  • 'Now I'm going to give you your brain (cells).'
    'Now I'm going to give you your brain (cells).'  Neuroscience grads receive a neuron pin during a W&M reception.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
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It's expected that some graduates of William & Mary's interdisciplinary neuroscience program will wear their hearts on their sleeves as they march for commencement — but all of them will be wearing a bit of brain on their robes.

The professors formerly in charge of the program, John Griffin and Pamela Hunt, started handing out cerebral pins at graduation time a decade ago. They started with brain pins, but for the past couple of years, switched over to nifty models shaped like neurons—brain cells. The graduates receive their pins at a neuroscience program reception the day before commencement. The graduates are encouraged to wear their brain pins on their academic garments for the big day, as do professors in the program.

At William & Mary, our individual academic departments conduct their own diploma ceremonies following the big, university-wide commencement ceremony. Even though it’s a big program, neuroscience doesn’t have a diploma ceremony of its own, since it’s an interdisciplinary program, offered by the cooperative efforts of several departments.

“Neuroscience graduates attend commencement, then they attend the diploma ceremony of their choice," says Robin Looft-Wilson, the program’s current director. “Most graduates will attend diploma ceremonies in biology, psychology, kinesiology & health sciences, or chemistry because they know these professors well, but some attend ceremonies in government, history, or other departments close to their hearts."

Without a ceremony of their own, the brain pins provide a bit of program solidarity for the neuroscience grads, many of whom will go on to some of the nation’s top medical schools and most competitive Ph.D. programs. The pins also add another small facet to the dazzling array of gowns, tams, hoods, sashes, yokes, mortarboards and cords that make up the display of traditional academic regalia at commencement at William & Mary.

The practice is well on its way to becoming another of William & Mary’s many traditions.