The class of 2014 received a welcome as warm as the afternoon during the College of William and Mary’s annual Convocation ceremony Friday.
Provost Michael Halleran began the ceremony, one of the College’s oldest traditions, by relating the new academic year to a much older tradition of learning.
“In short, it means if you want the best education on the planet, you’ve come to the right place,” Halleran said.
College Rector Henry Wolf’s ’64 J.D. ’66 keynote address focused on the differences and enduring traditions between this year’s Convocation and his own freshman ceremony in 1960.
“I have no hesitation in saying that the last 50 years have brought a great deal of change, much for the better,” Wolf said. “But I would also submit that there are several things about this college that have indeed remained constant, and have endured unchanged notwithstanding the passage of a half a century. In fact, those aspects that have withstood the test of time are in some ways more important than those that have changed, because those are the ones that are worthy of the moniker of ‘tradition.’”
Wolf went on to describe a College with aspects unfamiliar to many of the students in attendance.
“While William and Mary was co-ed in 1960, and had been since 1918, there were no African-American students, Asian students, nor Latino students represented in the undergraduate student body,” he said. “There were no Pell Grants or student loan programs, and financial aid to attend William and Mary was virtually unknown to students of the day. And so many students secured work at the College, with Colonial Williamsburg or in local businesses to earn money to fund their college education in whole or part.”
However, Wolf also mentioned progress the College has made in diversity and facilities over the last half-century.
“Today, William and Mary is a place of diversity, where about 25 percent of our undergraduates are students of color, and we remain steadfastly committed to diversity here,” he said. “Today, financial aid is available in the form of grants, loans and federal work study programs, and Gateway William and Mary allows qualified students to secure a debt-free college education. … As you probably already know, the campus today is more than twice the size that it was in 1960.”
Tradition also factored into Wolf’s remarks.
“This is still a place of learning, just as it has been for over 300 years,” he said. “The faculty at William and Mary are just as dedicated to teaching, and the education of each and every student, today as they were when I once walked and where you will walk tomorrow. And the opportunities for learning will go well beyond the classroom, because this is a university where students can engage in meaningful research with faculty, even at the undergraduate level.”
College President Taylor Reveley echoed Wolf’s theme of tradition in his closing remarks.
“At William and Mary, our cherished traditions — like the exquisite beauty of our campus, the College’s roots running deep into America’s past and our rare combination of ‘the brains of a research university with the heart of a college’ — all this and much more set this university apart from all others,” Reveley said. “There truly is only one William and Mary. To be from William and Mary is a unique distinction. It is a privilege and an honor of surpassing value.”
For many of the freshmen in attendance, the ceremony and reception afterward succeeded in inducting them into the College community.
“It was amazing. It was something that we couldn’t experience at other schools,” Sun Joung ’14 said. “I feel like we are welcome.”
Adam Drici ’13 said that the large presence of current students present at the reception was particularly significant for transfer students.
“It means everything,” he said. “As a transfer I wasn’t even expecting to be part of this, but I feel like such a part of the community. They make you know that you’re welcome here. I had no idea about the traditions, but I love them.”