Convocation highlights community values, fosters sense of belonging

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Drawing of the outline of the Wren Building, as viewed from the Wren Yard, with the numbers 2023 above the building
Graphic Credit to Riel Whittle

One of the College of William and Mary’s most iconic traditions, Opening Convocation marks the first day of classes each school year and symbolizes the newest group of freshmen officially becoming students of the College. This year was my first time experiencing Convocation as an upperclassman, and unsurprisingly, it was more underwhelming the second time around. We ate mediocre Sodexo food on the grass, and waited around in the swampy August humidity for the first sight of freshmen. Despite the discomfort, we did our duty by squishing shoulder to shoulder down the sidewalks and holding our hands out, welcoming our newest students home.

When I talk to potential students and their families on tours about the College’s traditions, I always gush about how welcoming and special Convocation is. I tell them the story of immediately bawling my eyes out as I walked through Wren, suddenly feeling like a part of this campus and knowing I made the right decision. All of this is true, though on tours I leave out the less glamorous minutiae.

My freshman Convocation last year in 2018 was the hottest on record, peaking at what felt like about 300 degrees Fahrenheit, if my memory serves correctly. My hall was not one of the lucky ones who arrived early enough to snag seats in the minimal shade of the President’s House or the gigantic white ash trees, so we fanned ourselves with programs as we baked in the sun, listening to the choir croon the alma mater and speakers offering guidance that we should have paid more attention to. In the typical fashion of school ceremonies like these, I can’t remember any of the surely valuable advice that the College’s administrators and guest speakers offered. What I distinctly remember about my Convocation is the immediate need to wash my hands after just high fiving every upperclassman from the Sir Christopher Wren Building to the middle of the Sunken Garden.

For all these uncomfortable details about Convocation, I recognize and appreciate it for the campus tradition it is and the purpose it serves. Physically, you take those steps from the Wren yard and Colonial Williamsburg onto the rest of campus, signifying the official moment that you join the College’s community. On a late August afternoon, the sun is situated just high enough that the first moment through the doors is blinding; then as your eyes adjust, you see students lined up all the way into the Sunken Garden. This moment of being greeted by hundreds of cheering peers is overwhelming in the most welcoming way. I’m certain that even the least spirited of freshmen can’t help but feel a twinge of excitement and pride in the place they now get to call home.

Though we grumbled about the heat and cramming in next to strangers, fellow upperclassmen actually do care about welcoming new freshmen, in the same way that they were welcomed. Convocation is a tradition that our whole community genuinely gets excited about, because as much as we grumble and complain about Sodexo and long nights in Earl Gregg Swem Library, we chose to be here, and we chose to stay.

Email Hannah Garfinkel at hjgarfinkel@email.wm.edu.