325 years ago, the charter of our great College of William and Mary was granted Feb. 8, 1693. On that day, those many years ago, our first president James Blair brought it back with him from the home of King William III and Queen Mary II at Kensington Palace to Middle Plantation, or what is now called Williamsburg. Construction and commencement of the alma mater of the nation began shortly after in 1695 with the Wren Building, the nation’s oldest standing college building.
The royal establishing document is fiercely ambitious, as we are today. The purpose of the College is, as it says, “for promoting the studies of true philosophy, languages, and good arts and sciences.” It talks of the intended college as being the one place world-renowned for “universal study.” And with words like this, it set an institution’s tone for centuries to come.
What the Charter did for us all by starting a little school in the Virginia colony at Middle Plantation, and what our storied history has done for us since then, was create a culture known only here.
So I fast forward some 324 years to asking one of my Orientation Aides, on day one of orientation, about a strange word I kept hearing. I asked what it meant to be a TWAMP, a typical William And Mary person, and whether that widely used term was one of endearment or derision.
She replied, “You’re in the perfect place, because you’re a total twamp for casually using words like ‘endearment’ and ‘derision.’” She then launched into a long monologue about how involved everyone is and what the College meant to her specifically. I’ve since forgotten her reasons, but I did take away the unadulterated passion of her words. There was a light in her eyes when she talked, one that I’ve frequently seen since in dedicated students, teachers and administrators here. This wasn’t a school, but a home. Friends were family for life, teachers were valued mentors, bricks were walked on by our forefathers and opportunities to get involved weren’t just opportunities, but necessities.
In the first few months of my freshman year, I questioned my position at this place of universal study. I wondered if I could find any of the zeal I saw in my OA that day. I imagine you have all felt something similar at one time, if only for a moment. Because gradually I became accustomed to the culture our charter started years ago and realized an undeniable fact: for everyone who steps on this campus, William and Mary is the land of opportunity.
Only here are there a whopping 11 a cappella groups out of almost 500 student-run organizations. Only here has half the graduating class studied abroad. Students complete over 250,000 hours of cumulative community service each year and double major at a rate higher than the national average. Five years ago we were top 35 in the country for alumni giving. Now we are top 20, and at the end of the “For the Bold” campaign, we’re expected to be top 10. I have listened, on numerous occasions, to dedicated scholars brag to each other about who spent more time in Swem over the weekend. And that is a great thing.
That is the culture represented. Being a twamp is usually said in jest. However, those involved in our community are anything but typical. “Typical” is only a description in the framework of William and Mary. Outside of the 4-foot walls bordering campus we are nerds, try-hards, perfectionists, freaks, intellectuals and overachievers. The Charter began a university unlike our peer institutions in feverish perseverance, a quality we will keep with us until death and use to effect positive change.
To conclude, there are two types of plague at William and Mary, one of which, the freshman plague, is mainly spread by Yates Hall, but the other strikes us all. At a point in our time here, whether it be freshman fall or senior spring, William and Mary’s culture becomes inescapable. That culture involves an eagerness and a passion in whatever your craft may be.
We are always asked how we will leave our mark on William and Mary. But that’s not the crucial question. The crucial question, one that you should all ask yourselves now in this time of reflection, is how will William and Mary leave its mark on you?
Email Caleb Rogers at [email protected]