In case you couldn’t tell from the green and gold banners that bedecked campus this weekend, the College of William and Mary just celebrated its 318th birthday. And what has the College accomplished in 318 years? The usual spiel contains a list of our most prized alumni, including several former U.S. Presidents, ground-breaking researchers and successful entrepreneurs. Indeed, many of the United States’ most fertile minds have attended the College. As the second oldest institution of higher education in the United States, it would be impossible to quantify the magnitude of intellect and prosperity that has walked the halls of the College.
Alumni can themselves be counted physically, but their stories live on intangibly in the legacies they left behind in Williamsburg. Despite changes, this school has clung to the unstable colonial ground on which it was planted for 318 years now. It has survived war, economic depression and an ever-shifting ladder of social change. It has reconciled its past with the future countless times. The College could not have risen above any of these challenges without its students and alumni. Charter Day is therefore less a celebration commending the day our Royal Charter was signed than recognition of the hundreds of thousands of people who’ve known this place. The campus we walk upon is ancient; take a better look at the bricks the next time you’re on your way to Tyler Hall.
It makes sense to have a festival to honor this date. Yet, for 318 years, we have upheld this honor with only a formal ceremony. Although it is an enjoyable and important event honoring of the College, until 2011 there had never been a wild side to Charter Day. And while it was mildly entertaining to hear Congressman Eric Cantor’s speech about tradition transition into his own political agenda, I have to say that the concert given by The Roots adheres more closely to the jubilation that such an occasion requires.
As I was walking back from the Kaplan Arena on Saturday night, I began to swell with pride for this school. First of all, that act will be a difficult one to follow. AMP could not have selected a better band or artist to play at the concert — those who attended the show were witness to musical legends and visionaries.
Years from now, I will be able to remember that I was there when the College hosted one of the greatest bands of all time on its 318th birthday. I will recall the way in which my senses absorbed everything happening around me in William and Mary Hall —the excitement and satisfaction that came from attending such a historic and prestigious college.
No matter how much we emphasize the historic founding of the College in 1693, we can’t quantify anything about tradition here with numbers alone. In its purest form, our tradition is a feeling that is as infinite as the sentiment that rests here.