This time last year, we were heading to UVA. By “we” I mean our only child, Katie. And I mean “we” because the college search/apply/decide process is so intense that it honestly felt as if my husband and I were deciding our own college futures all over again.
When it really was our turn three decades ago, Barry and I chose William and Mary. We met there. In marching band. Katie pretty much owes her being to W&M and its music program. But there was no way she was going to join the Tribe. It was the school of her parents. She would go her own way, to paraphrase Fleetwood Mac. Or, to directly quote Steely Dan: “Oh, no, William and Mary won’t do.”
So she settled on UVA. The University had said “yes”. Vanderbilt said “maybe”. Duke said “no”. And the verdict was still out on W&M. We waited for the old school notification to arrive in our mailbox.
It was a tough wait. Other kids heard. We tracked the responses by zip code and tried to figure out when we would be next. For someone who had made up her mind not to attend W&M, Katie was certainly anxious. The college emotions were compounded by wisdom teeth extraction. (For those of you who consider timing dental surgery for your child during spring break of senior year, NOT a good idea, given that college letters coincide.)
On a beautiful spring afternoon, we heard the “grrr” of the mailtruck. Katie was on the deck, reading and I was halfway down the driveway when our mailman Bob pulled in. He had been briefed that we were hoping for a packet and he dangled a nice fat envelope out the window. He zoomed up to the house—a knight in a white postal vehicle–and handed W&M’s acceptance to Katie. Hollywood couldn’t have scripted a better delivery.
The contents were beautiful. A folder of spring green and pale yellow that echoed the new grass and daffodils in our yard. The words on the front were perfect: “There’s only one William and Mary…and now it’s yours.” The College not only belonged to the Classes of ’81 and ’82, but to The Class of 2014. Had they written this just for us? Inside, the info documents were neatly stacked, color coded and punctuated by the word “your”…your college, your calendar, your invitation, your costs, your website, you’re cool. They floated above a quotation from Jon Stewart ’84.
Three hundred seventeen years old…and hip.
As Katie lingered through the packet, I could see a subtle change of attitude. It was by far the coolest, most personal communication she had received from any college. Great layout and design. Off-center cipher. Classic but fresh. The juxtaposition of old and new summarized by the bottom line of Henry Broaddus’ letterhead: “Chartered in 1693. www.wm.edu”.
The folder took a prominent place on her desk. We waited for Admitted Students’ Day April 17th.
It became “Admitted Students’ Day Weekend” for us. We signed up to attend UVA’s program on Friday and then W&M’s on Saturday.
Being “on grounds” on a Friday at the University of Virginia is a pretty cool experience. Factor in a beautiful spring day, an admissions dean and her dog as a welcome committee, and Monticello gazing down on you—pretty impressive. We opened with lots of panels and Q&A sessions, then kids split off to attend classes and parents were on our own. Barry and I wandered the bookstores, awed by the magnitude of the t-shirt offerings and car sticker options. Then we saw this:
We found them this way. We didn’t do it. I swear.
Our visit to The University ended with naps on the lawn under a brilliant sky and dreams in blue and orange. It was a good day. Not a great day, but a good one. We packed up and headed to Williamsburg. We pulled in, got out of the car and Katie said to me, “Mom…will you be really disappointed if I go to UVA?”
“No, honey, but keep an open mind. Give W&M its chance tomorrow.”
Tomorrow came and…it began with rain. A thousand kids and parents navigated slippery bricks and poured in to William andMary Hall. Ushered in to the a cappella sounds of The Gentlemen of The College, Barry and I found seats and stuffed our dripping umbrellas under them. Katie scampered off to sit with a high school friend who waved her down.
The cheerleaders were there. And the griffin. And President Reveley. And the entire admissions team plus student interviewers. Videos. Music. We did audience participation surveys. We stood up if we were early admittance/legacy/alumni. We looked at each other. We waved. We laughed. We cheered. In that one-hour orientation, we felt what it felt like to be part of the William and Mary Family. After singing the Alma Mater and President Reveley’s benediction of “We want you here,” we exited to the fist-pumping beat of The Black Eyed Peas. The kids, of course, knew the lyrics by heart: “I gotta feeling…Tonight’s gonna be a good night….”
Outside, the rain was done and the walkways were lined with W&M students in sunny yellow tees with the caption on the back “Ask me”.
We found our way to the Mason School of Business and were awed by the entrance that felt more like a home than an academic building. We were more awed by the study abroad presentations and a panel of students who each had accomplished so very much in so few years.
Lunch in the Sunken Gardens was a picnic and we sat on the steps and looked down onto all the clubs and activities The College had to offer: vocal groups, pep band, Greek life, botany club, newspaper, yearbook, Jane Austen dancers, Queen’s Guard, ROTC. Tables and posters and enthusiastic co-eds were everywhere.
We lost Katie there. She scampered off again, bumping into acquaintances, meeting new people. Text messages were all we had of her for the rest of the afternoon: “I’m going to check out the Literary & Cultural Studies program.” “I’m at Sadler Center now.” “I just saw Bonnie.” “Talked with a really neat professor one-on-one.” “Hey, Ro and I are going to get a cup of coffee.”
We reconnected at a football scrimmage at Zable Stadium where she arrived with some friends and sat a section away. It was a great day. Not a good day—a GREAT day.
On the way home, in the car, the confession came: “Mom. Dad. This is going to be a harder decision than I thought.”
As an alum of The College, I have never been so proud of my school. I wanted to jump up and down and scream about what a wonderful job W&M did in rolling out the welcome mat. I wanted to cry—the day was so full of heart and pride and caring. I wanted to ask, “Is there even a choice here? I mean….you got the PRESIDENT of The College. You got the griffin!”
Instead, we talked about choosing a school with community and choosing a school with competition. We talked about size and tone and following a curriculum that is set and then about the options of designing your own course of study. We talked about choosing a new home that helps you figure you out.
As parents need to do (especially ones who are Classes of ’81 and ’82), we left her to think through things on her own. And we waited.
When May 1 arrived and time came for Katie to sign on the dotted line, she joined The Tribe.
Link to William & Mary Facebook