For thousands of soon-to-be graduates, each Commencement Weekend proves to be both a time of long-anticipated celebration, as well as impending anxiety about launching the next stage of their lives.
One of the ways that the Alumni Association helps graduates in their post-Commencement lives is by helping them to celebrate their uniqueness as they prepare to continue their individual journeys beyond the walls of campus. Three of William & Mary’s alumni affinity groups – identity and interest-based alumni groups that seek to engage alumni worldwide – support Commencement Weekend ceremonies that bridge the narrow divide between these students and their alumni counterparts.
For the Association of 1775, William & Mary’s military and veteran alumni affinity group, that means providing graduating student veterans with red, white and blue military cords commemorating their service to our country. The ability to display our nation’s colors on their graduation robes allows them to celebrate the sacrifice they have made for us. Each May, we are reminded through those cords of the vibrant student military presence on our campus.
The Hulon Willis Association (HWA) has been celebrating the accomplishments of graduates since 2012 through their support of the Donning of the Kente. Along with the Lemon Project, William & Mary’s black alumni affinity group funds the ceremony that celebrates students of color and the multicultural community on campus. Each student is donned with a stole by someone important in their life or college career, and the stole includes a symbol that stresses unity in diversity. As students prepare to leave the university, HWA wants them to know that their community stands behind them no matter where they go.
Finally, this year the LGBTQ Alumni affinity group jumped at the chance to support the Center for Student Diversity as it staged William & Mary’s first ever Lavender Graduation. As LGBTQ students are donned with a rainbow-adorned stole in a room filled with friends, family and allies, they are reminded that who they are is worthy of celebration. Alumni who graduated before 2018 never had the opportunity to stand proudly during Commencement Weekend and express their pride in their identity, but the affinity group hopes that this new tradition will remind graduating students going forward that they are a part of a wide network of LGBTQ alumni ready to welcome them into their community.
There is no easy way to leave the grounds of William & Mary and enter the “real world,” but the Alumni Association tries to provide for the smoothest transition possible and for a lifelong network thereafter. In their own small way, the alumni affinity groups hope that their role in Commencement festivities leave a lasting impression on students as they become fully-fledged alumni. The Association of 1775, HWA and the LGBTQ Alumni affinity groups each exists to strengthen alumni engagement, and that mission starts with ensuring that the alumni experience begins on the right footing.