An ocean of old faces. A National Septuagenarian Portrait Gallery. I didn’t recognize anyone.
As I would draw closer, there were familiar characteristics; the eye’s, the shape of the head, the nose, the smile, but when put together it was hard to remember this face as belonging to a member of the Class of 1972. Oh yes, there were showoffs who either hadn’t changed a bit or had apparently sent their kids to impersonate them, but the rest of us looked like the Wreck of the Hesperus.
When someone would call out your name, it was the ultimate high. Facial recognition software had rung a bell in their head and said, “hey that looks like good old (fill in the blank)” and it’s worth the risk to shout their name.
So why were we there? Why were we spending this beautiful spring weekend with our collegiate peers?
You see, we had rearranged appointments with podiatrists, oncologists, orthopedists, physical therapists, chiropractors, radiologists, and cosmetologists to converge on Williamsburg, Virginia to attend something called Traditions Weekend. If your recent traditions include Metamucil and looking for your car keys, you had come to the right place.
But we were so happy to be there. The College of William and Mary in Virginia is a unique place and close to the hearts of those who have walked its brick pathways in search of themselves and the person they could become. It is truly our alma mater in every ancient sense of that term. Literally “generous mother” in Latin, it has been used since the mid-17th century (only 40 years prior to the 1693 founding of our college), to mean someone or something providing nourishment. Nourishment. A word that can be associated with the mind, the body, and the spirit. Our college has and will continue to feed all three.
One of the unique elements of William and Mary is a constituent group within the Alumni Association known formally as The Olde Guarde of Their Majesties’ Royall Colledge or just “Olde Guarde” for short. It is made up of members of classes that graduated 50 years ago or more. Members are inducted in a spring ceremony rather than competing with the hoopla of the fall Homecoming.
One former member noted that “Olde” does not refer to age; it refers to the “maintenance, heritage and traditions of William & Mary.” “Guarde” refers to us as a group that has “the experiences and influences to ensure this maintenance”. Well, nice try, but I looked around the room and we’re old (without the “e”). And “guard” would be as good a piece of advice regarding the liquor cabinet as it was 50 years ago.
This weekend was the first post-pandemic induction ceremony and if that wasn’t historic enough, it was the first time that three classes were inducted into the Olde Guarde in the same event. You see, the classes of ‘70 and ‘71 had to postpone their Olde Guarde inductions due to COVID-19 restrictions, and therefore joined our Class of 1972 for an incredibly special weekend.
The serendipity of joining three classes together made for a wonderful reunion with the upper classmen who had introduced us to William and Mary. They were our counsellors, our mentors, and the leaders of the campus organizations that we joined on arrival. For me, this made the weekend extra special and reminded me of what a welcoming place W&M was for this kid from Catonsville, MD.
Class luncheons, keg party at Lake Matoaka, evening bash inside a big tent in the Sunken Garden, with a talented oldies band, great food, and world class signage to the rest rooms. What more could you ask? Well planned, well executed, and well received by all. Note: Alumni Association Advancement Staff, well done.
The Induction Ceremony was the best part. Led off with a continental breakfast on the Wren Building Portico, we filed into the Great Hall where self-serve racks of academic gowns were displayed and we were asked to complete a phonetic name card to assist the Mistress of Ceremonies in properly pronouncing our names. One-size-fits-all mortar boards were also available for pick up as we left. We were robed and ready to go.
Our class processed around the south side of the Wren Building to the strains of the William and Mary Hymn sung by the William and Mary Chorus. As we turned into the Wren Yard to take our places in rows of black folding chairs, it occurred to me that they were arranged exactly as they were 50 years ago facing that old iconic brick pile. There were fewer, but looked just as straight and true as they had on that sunny day in May,1972. And the beautiful Wren, burned three times in its 322-year history, still proudly stands as the oldest academic building in continuous use in the United States.
After welcoming remarks, we were again swept up in the emotions of the morning with a moving rendition of “Shenandoah" by the Chorus. Its slow cadence set the somber mood for what was to follow. One by one, eight volunteers (including Hayden Gwaltney Constance ’72) came to the lectern and read the names of the 382 deceased members of our three classes. Hearing those familiar names sweep across the college yard, accompanied by intermittent tolling of the Wren Bell, brought tears to our eyes and special memories of our lives together.
Then it was time for us to take our places as the newest members of the Olde Guarde. Our names were called by Anna Dinwiddie Hatfield ’96, President, W&M Alumni Association, and we each came forward to have the bronze medallion on the green and gold ribbon hung around our necks by Olde Guarde Chair Bruce Oliver ‘68. It was a wonderful moment and one that I’ll cherish for the rest of my life.
We recessed through the east doors of the Wren Building, traversed the central hall cheered on by current members of the Olde Guarde, and gathered together on the west lawn. Photos, congratulations, many smiles, followed by that nursing home question, “I wonder what’s for lunch?” Back to the big tent in the Sunken Garden for Bloody Mary’s and Mimosa’s,(huzzah!), class photos, more “remarks,” lunch and then some words from College President Dr. Katherine Rowe.
Despite a rough start in that meat grinder of intercollegiate athletics and the love affair between a university and a fired coach, Dr. Rowe has righted her ship and is back on a steady course. She is the right age, the right gender, with the right mix of academic and technology expertise to take this university to the heights that it deserves. Her subtle move from humility to recognition, her capable use of metrics, and her vision for where we need to be by 2026 is inspiring. She demonstrated a collaborative style, an ability to communicate in a clear, concise, and open manner, and enthusiasm for the task ahead. When it came time to give her the round of applause that she deserved, I noted pockets of my old friends who sat on their hands. My advice is to get over the past and walk to the sunlight. Or in the words of our generation’s poet laureate, “don’t stand in the doorway, don’t block up the hall.”
And one more thing. There is a big difference between being smart and being savvy. The best leaders are both. Who did President Rowe have accompany her to speak to the Olde Guarde? Brian Mann, the new W&M athletic director, who is one impressive young guy. It was the ultimate, “I heard you”, “I fixed it” moment and the symbolism was not lost on me.
Finally friends, the Olde Guarde is not just about a fun weekend. It is also a public opportunity for 50-year anniversary classes to dig deep and give back financially with the traditional generosity of William and Mary alumni. While I will not repeat the details here, you can click on https://traditionsweekend.wm.edu/50th-reunion/1972/index.php#class-gift and read how our class added to the $700 million in lifetime giving of the previous members of the Olde Guarde. If you haven’t done so already, join us.
So, in the poignant words of our William and Mary Alma Mater, oft-repeated as the closing tag line of one large, but short-tenured president, “Hark Upon the Gale.” While we know that the literal translation is “listen upon the wind,” we still don’t have a bloody clue what that means.
So friends, let’s just stick with “Go Tribe.”
Our first glimpse of the Wren Building as we processed to our seats
Serenaded by the William and Mary Chorus. A tradition of quality all their own.
Hayden Gwaltney Constance '72 reads names at Service of Remembrance. John Fletcher '72, Susan Aheron Magill '72, and Dr. Warren W. Buck III, look on.
"Beneath thy trees, within thy hall, dear college we give praise to thee" William and Mary Hymn