If I could think of one word to sum up the general mood at the start of this year — the 316th in the history of the College of William and Mary — it would be uncertainty.
Uncertainty in our case is more than the typical apprehension that many people — particularly students — feel about the future. Rather, it is an uncertainty built, in part, on the turbulence of the last year. To be sure, we find ourselves in some of the best positions that anyone our age could wish. But things have been incredibly chaotic, both in Williamsburg and all over the world, and we might benefit from taking a moment of reflection.
Campus news was dominated last year by the sudden, yet not unexpected, departure of former College President Gene Nichol. Some went about their business as usual when word of his resignation reached them. Some were furious and orchestrated sit-ins. Some had been vocal in their desire for his ousting after he removed the cross from the Wren Chapel.
What the Wren cross incident produced was a situation in which politics trumped concerns for the well-being of the College, and neither side was innocent.
It exposed some of the ugliest characteristics of human nature. It distracted students from their learning, faculty from their teaching and the Student Assembly from its favorite pastime of pretending it can accomplish anything.
Donations to the College were withdrawn, personal attacks were launched against Nichol and the former president responded by using the same modus operandi as his critics — taking parting shots at the Board of Visitors in his campus-wide e-mail and refusing to talk to concerned groups of students, including The Flat Hat and other publications on campus. After such an unnecessary, tragic fall from grace, I couldn’t blame Nichol for going down swinging. Yet I still wish that he had exercised greater discretion and thought about the students — many of whom adored him — before exiting in the manner he did.
Interim College President Taylor Reveley is in what many would consider an unenviable position. He may know more about the status of the search for a new president than the rest of us do, but the College that he inherited was not a happy one. Fortunately, Reveley has been nothing short of spectacular in his management thus far.
He is known for his service and dedication to the College’s Law School, and he deserves the support to translate that success to the broader campus, regardless of how long his tenure is.
Last year also saw the departure of Vice President for Student Affairs Sam Sadler, whose commitment and service to the College has no equal. It’s great that the College has renamed the University Center in his honor, although they unintentionally screwed over UCAB, which now has a much less desirable — although more humorous — acronym for those yellow shirts. Maybe with the new name will come some worthwhile concerts, but I’m not holding my breath.
Aside from the College itself, there are the individual uncertainties that influence all of us each day.
You incoming freshmen may have the greatest case of this. I remember not having any idea what was happening for the first several weeks of my first year here. Everything was exciting, fast-paced, humid and tiring all at once. Some of the things you experience over the next few days will seem pointless. Some of it is. But even as initial uncertainty gives way to periods of comfort and familiarity, there will always be more excitement and surprises ahead. And the best news, as most upperclassmen will tell you, is that you have the longest to figure everything out. You will be encouraged to join clubs and student organizations, to play intramural sports with your freshman hall, to explore CW and to partake in the many traditions of the College. Do it. You may have the most time here, but you will find out soon that it’s no time at all.
For this year’s senior class, our uncertainty is a mix of excitement and panic. Some of us are preparing to enter the business world and will be attending career fairs and interest meetings all semester. Some have been studying for LSATs, MCATs or GREs. Some of us have been building up endurance for Mug Night. Some may already have jobs lined up after graduation.
Regardless of where the folks from the Class of 2009 end up — my money’s on Northern Virginia — we should remember that this year is our last chance to make our mark on the College, and vice versa. We should not waste it.
Uncertainty is mainly the product of knowing that we only have a short time here. It can be combated only by doing whatever we can to make the most of it.
Alex Ely is a senior at the College.