When you are attending the second oldest university in the US, traditions become part of your everyday existence; they are everywhere. Here are a few W&M traditions I have had the privilege of participating in, and a few I am eager to be part of in the near future!
Honor Code Pledge
William and Mary students have been pledging to follow the Honor Code—swearing not to lie, cheat, or steal—for nearly three centuries. During orientation, all in-coming students find themselves in the great hall of the Wren Building, the oldest academic building still in use in the United States, where they meet the Honor Code Council and take the pledge. It is all highly ceremonious, and a bit intimidating because the students in the Honor Code Council dress in stately black formal wear and try to look as stern as possible, but you quickly realize that it is not something to be anxious about, it is a welcoming ceremony which is meant to impress a sense of personal responsibility and honesty on all students. The Honor Code is the backbone of the W&M Tribe community, and taking the pledge was one of my favorite parts of orientation.
I had no idea that Convocation was supposed to be a big deal until it happened. After the first day of classes, all first-year students gather in front of the Wren Building for the Convocation Ceremony. After an address from our beloved president and one from an honored alumnus, all of the new students process as slowly as an ocean draining through a pinhole through the Wren Building into the courtyard on the other side, accompanied by the ringing of the Wren Bell and the music of the W&M Pep Band. Once you get to the courtyard, things get interesting because the rest of the student body forms a never-ending tunnel to give each new student more high-fives they any of us had ever dreamt of.
The Raft Debate
My only regret about being in the St Andrews Joint Degree Programme is that I will only be on the W&M side to see two Raft Debates. Here’s the story: three professors, one in the physical and mathematical sciences, one in the humanities, and one in the social sciences, are shipwrecked on a dessert island with a life raft big enough to hold only one of them. Who will raft to safety? It is up to the audience: each professor must present a case on why his or her area of study is of the most value to humanity in order to win the raft. When they are done arguing, the audience votes with applause, and the professor who gets the loudest applause wins, naturally, they bring in experts with decibel counters to keep things fair. However, there is one more thing: the Devil’s Advocate (my personal favorite). The Devil’s Advocate suggests that all of the professors be left on the island, because humanity could not survive with only one of their academic disciplines. The debate is always full of hilarity as the professors will stoop to anything to win votes (sing-alongs led by chorus members hidden in the back of the auditorium, giant baby costumes, imitations of Charles Darwin, anything).
The Yule Log Ceremony
Even in the shadowy midst of exams, there is cheer to be found on campus. The Yule Log ceremony is the proof of that. In preparation for the holidays, students flock to the Wren Courtyard. They are greeted by carols being sung by a choir and students handing out sprigs of holly. The ceremony features leaders of various campus religious organizations who speak on the importance of the season for their respective traditions, a clever rendition of “‘Twas The Night After Exams” written by the vice-president, and President Reveley’s, oops I mean “Santa’s,” reading of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. This year there was great lamentation when he told of how the Grinch took the Whos’ roast beast. After that, students process (even more slowly than in Convocation) through the great hall of Wren to toss their holly sprigs onto the burning Yule Log to signify the casting off of the cares of the previous year. They also serve top notch hot apple cider.
Every February, the College of William and Mary celebrates its birthday! The College was “born” from the Royal Charter signed by the William and Mary of Orange, the king and queen of England, in 1693. This is one I have not been a part of yet, but I am really looking forward to it! It sounds like many of the events will resemble the kind of alumni and student festivities of Homecoming, with speakers, pomp, and live music. My goal is to be wherever they have the spectacular green and gold birthday cake.
Every school has traditions, and, in my humble opinion, William and Mary’s are some of the best. It is always magical to attend events that have taken place for centuries in the same locations, with the same ceremonies, and the same atmosphere, though with an ever-changing crowd of beaming faces.