Last Friday, the College of William and Mary celebrated its 322nd birthday with the annual Charter Day ceremony. There were speeches, awards and the usual fanfare, but something was noticeably absent. Not a single speaker acknowledged that in the past two weeks, two students have passed away. At a time when many students are still grieving, this baffling oversight seemed to run contrary to the sense of pride, community and solidarity that Charter Day promotes.
Whenever a student dies, the administration informs the student body about the mental health resources on campus and encourages students to give their support to the friends and family of the deceased. This is all well and good, but those sympathetic words feel hollow when they are followed by silence.
Granted, Charter Day is not only about students — it is one of the College’s biggest and most distinctive community events. It is a reminder of the College’s longevity and importance; it encourages us to reflect on the College’s mission to its students and to society. It also enables students, faculty and administrators to come together and celebrate the College as an extended family, giving thousands of alumni the chance to visit on a regular weekend, rather than on Homecoming. This allows them to glimpse the day-to-day life of the College and its students.
When the Charter Day ceremony and festivities failed to recognize these tragedies, the administration showed a lack of consideration for those still reeling from loss. Even among those who did not know the deceased, the omission felt cold, especially when considering the temporal proximity to the deaths.
At last semester’s convocation, College President Taylor Reveley asked for a moment of silence to honor Peter Godshall. Perhaps there is no precedent for such a thing during Charter Day ceremonies. If not, we should establish one. Acknowledging our community’s pain would make a significant impact and require very little time and effort on the part of the administration.
When alumni return, we should show them that we mourn our own. And when current students gather for such a momentous occasion, we should show them that their pain is our pain, and that we are here for them. That is what a supportive community looks like.