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Maintaining Connections Order of the White Jacket Undergraduate Experience

Order of the White Jacket – 50th Anniversary

By Gwendylan Turner ’20

Hello all! My name is Gwendylan Turner, and I graduated in 2020 with a B.S. in chemistry and minor in physics. After a year of working in industry during COVID-19, I started the continuation of my studies in analytical chemistry at Purdue University (West Lafayette, Indiana). Please do not hesitate to reach out if you find yourself amongst the Indiana corn!

Fortunately for us (but unfortunately for this post), the William & Mary experience cannot be reduced to a mere 600 words. That said, I was able to trade a weekend in the Midwest for a visit to our alma mater this past Homecoming & Reunion Weekend, and I had a chance to ruminate on a few things. Particularly, I attended a reception celebrating the 50th anniversary for the Order of the White Jacket (OWJ), an organization centered around giving scholarships to William & Mary students working in food service. I was a recipient of this scholarship for three of my four years of undergrad, and its altruistic intentions beckoned my involvement post-graduation; I began serving on OWJ’s board in December 2020.

The “white jackets” in the “Order of the White Jacket” refers to the jackets the founders wore during their time at W&M. The founders of OWJ attended William & Mary on sports scholarships. At that time, working in the university dining hall (the uniform being white jackets) was a condition of said scholarship. Rather than fall to acridity over their position on the serving, rather than the celebrating, side of festivities, they decided to ascend to philanthropy, starting a scholarship foundation centered around this shared experience. There is so much to love about this organization: participation in an intergenerational legacy; a community of diverse, well-intentioned people; and most of all, a unique appreciation for food service. No one is exempt from the necessity of nourishment, and, ultimately, serving someone food and providing them with an experience is one of the most humbling, yet ordinary tasks.

Having worked seven years in food service during my most formative time, I have a novel’s worth of material to pull from. Here, I hope just to give some insight.

As a first-generation, low-income student, I consistently chose food service positions to support myself because they guaranteed at least one thing in addition to the pay: a hot meal. Working for the campus Qdoba gave me so much more, though. My full-time coworkers gave me a sense of familiarity in a way that my more affluent peers could not, my student coworkers gave me much-needed company (and shenanigans) during all the football games I could not attend, and my participation as part of OWJ has given me an opportunity to give back to an experience that I heavily value.

As part of the OWJ celebration, we started a project with SWEM archives to piece together parts of OWJ’s history. I was pleased to see that my amazing former coworker and current scholarship recipient, Sophia, donated her Qdoba uniform. It is pictured to the left next to Jim Anthony’s original white jacket. Though the color of our uniforms may change, our spirit and dedication to the William & Mary community remains unchanged.

I appreciate this platform to tell my story, but I welcome yours, too. If you are a past recipient of an OWJ scholarship, Dre Taylor is heading our OWJ oral history project. You can reach out to me at gaturner@email.wm.edu or anyone on the board for a link to a short survey or Dre’s contact information for a more extensive interview. If you are a past or present recipient and interested in getting involved or serving on the board, please don’t hesitate to contact me at the same address.  

Thanks so much for reading! Enjoy your October!

Follow along with Gwen on Instagram and connect with her on LinkedIn.

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Maintaining Connections Tribe Athletics Uncategorized

Embracing Every Opportunity

By Kristie Wei ’15

When I began college in the Fall of 2011, I never expected my experience would end up the way that it did. Unlike most William & Mary students, my journey to the ‘Burg didn’t begin until the end of my freshman year (of college). Being a student-athlete, I was recruited by schools around the country and initially landed at a school 3,000 miles away in California. After a brief health scare, leading to a suboptimal freshman year, I knew I needed to put myself first and began seeking new opportunities closer to home.

The transfer process was challenging for many reasons, but ultimately I found my way to the small, quaint town of Williamsburg, VA – funny story, I actually committed and submitted my deposit to attend before I even had a chance to visit in person. Luckily, it all worked out – I was welcomed with open arms by the entire community and never looked back.

My three years at the College absolutely flew by – from early morning cardio workouts during pre-season, to the many, many late nights at Swem (and the Delis, too), I completely immersed myself in this new college experience and didn’t take a single day for granted. Sure, there were some trying times throughout – but I can confidently say that I have absolutely no regrets.

William & Mary not only offered me a second chance to live out my childhood dreams of competing as a Division I athlete, it also helped shape me into the person I am today and gave me some pretty cool lifelong friends in the process.

Fast forward to today, although it’s been seven years since I walked across the Crim Dell with the class of 2015, the experiences I had at W&M still guide me in my journey post-college. It has been through the connections that I’ve built and lessons that I’ve learned that have propelled me into a successful career spanning multiple industries including finance, consulting and now cybersecurity.
The most valuable lessons I learned at W&M are ones that can’t be found on my transcript or resume – work hard, don’t be afraid to take risks and embrace every opportunity that comes your way. In life, every ending may just be the best new beginning. I’m forever grateful for my time at W&M and am looking forward to connecting with more of the Tribe in years to come!

One Tribe, One Family.

Follow along with Kristie on Instagram and connect with her on LinkedIn.

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LatinX Maintaining Connections

William & Mary Feels Like Home

By Thalia Hernandez ’18

William & Mary feels like home. With a parent in the Air Force, I moved around constantly as a kid so whenever people asked me where I grew up, I could only come up with non-answers: “everywhere,” “I moved around a lot,” “kind of Northern Virginia but only for half of my childhood?,” and on it goes. I hadn’t realized I never had a well-prepared answer to this question until freshman year at William & Mary, when this get-to-know-you question came up again and again. However, by the time I graduated in 2018, William & Mary had forever woven itself into the tapestry of where I’m from.

Like many 17 year olds, I came to college with just a slight idea of the kind of person I hoped to be. Ultimately, my time at W&M left me indelibly changed as a stronger, more well-rounded person. For this I have to thank the people I got to know: friends, classmates, club leaders, engaging and caring professors, my coworkers at Sadler Center and Campus Center, and those special strangers I made eye contact with who always went to the dining hall at the same time as me.

My friends brought experiences from all over the country and the world, unwavering support, and a life-long community stronger than I’d ever known. My professors expanded my worldview (thanks, French department), gave me the tools to do my own digging (thanks, Anthropology), and taught me how to thoughtfully see the power dynamics in every situation (thanks, Linguistics)! I especially valued the LGBTQ community on campus – diverse and diffuse as it is – which was unapologetic, authentic, and brimming with leaders.

I was lucky enough to find community in a variety of clubs focusing on LGBTQ campus life, environmental issues, reproductive justice, Latin American student community, and more. These organizations taught me not only the importance of leadership and service, but also how to be a leader with real hands-on experience. This included the necessary skills of planning, teaching, facilitation, how to build and hold together communities, plus lots and lots of organization (Google docs galore).

Without knowing it at the time, this would be crucial to helping me figure out my next career steps after college, as I eventually applied to work at nonprofits, especially those working with the LGBTQ community. Not to mention, I could point directly to my years of student organization leadership as direct job experience. I continued to use these skills in my jobs after college so I’m grateful for those who encouraged me to get involved with campus life. 

Looking ahead as I transition careers, I’m hoping to gain experience abroad teaching English in France. This exciting possibility is only open to me because I had great relationships with French professors, an unforgettable summer study abroad in France, a strong foundation in the studies of culture and linguistics, and experience as a mentor and facilitator thanks to student organizations. And of course, the friendships I made have continued to support me every step of the way. William & Mary allowed me to cultivate my passions and build long-lasting relationships that continue to shape who I am and where I’m going. For these reasons, William & Mary is a place I will always call home. 

Connect with Thalia on LinkedIn.

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Maintaining Connections

Life After

By Adam Siegel ’15

The first year out of college was both exciting and terrifying for me. I, like many of my friends, moved to a new city to start a new job, where I had to do new things like figure out the difference between an HMO, PPO, and HDP. There was an overwhelming amount of change happening, and on top of everything, I was beginning to feel some existential dread about my career. I didn’t yet know how to do my job (or if I even liked my job) and all I could think was, “Is this it? Is this what the rest of life is?”

The only thing that made it feel manageable was being surrounded by a community of great friends from William and Mary, most of whom were going through the exact same challenges and asking themselves the same questions.

In those first few years, we all got better at our jobs, navigated the healthcare system, and discovered what got us excited about work. We met up for happy hours to commiserate over how much we missed college, and to remind each other why we chose our respective career paths. We celebrated the big moments–engagements, promotions–and the small ones. Each year we would gather for “Friendsgiving”, and it felt like just as much of a family celebration as any traditional Thanksgiving dinner. The highs and lows continued, but we didn’t endure them alone.

My William and Mary circle has continued to expand over the years, no matter what city I move to. Some of these new friends have come through mutual connections, and others I’ve reconnected with during Homecoming. This annual pilgrimage back to Williamsburg is a chance for me to reinvigorate and re-center myself. In the midst of my constantly changing life, Williamsburg is familiar, my second home. Maybe more importantly, my time back on campus helps me to remember that there are more important things than promotions, new apartments, or the next job. Everyone always says it’s the people that make William and Mary so special, and it’s true. But sometimes I need to be back where it all started to remember that and reconnect.

The legacy of William and Mary continues to grow. Every year we welcome a new graduating class to the alumni community, who will face their own challenges. The last two years have been a time of unrelenting change in everyone’s life. I know that after 18 months of virtual connection, I need to surround myself with William and Mary friends again, just like I did after graduation. That’s why I am so excited for my 5+1 Year Reunion. I can’t wait to eat a Cheese Shop sandwich, walk through CW, and hold court on the terrace once again. I can’t wait to see some old friends, and maybe–hopefully, probably–make some new ones as well.

Follow along with Adam on Instagram and connect with him on LinkedIn.

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Get Involved Maintaining Connections

Staying involved with William & Mary after the Joint Degree Programme

By Ian Doty ’21

Staying involved with William & Mary after the Joint Degree Programme

It’s an understatement to say that my time at William & Mary was unusual. From the beginning, my time in Williamsburg was limited; as a member of the St Andrews Joint Degree Programme, I entered college knowing that I’d only spend two years in Virginia. Add in the COVID-19 pandemic, and several work-related trips, and I spent fewer than three semesters physically at the College.

Yet when I graduated this past May, I left with an overwhelming feeling of gratitude towards the College, its students, its professors, and most of all, the shared community we had. As COVID brought collective difficulties, and William & Mary and its students learned to adapt, there was a certain mutual commiseration. It was the feeling of: “We’re in this once-in-a-lifetime situation, in the once-in-a-lifetime experience that is college, so we might as well get through it together.”

Nonetheless, attending St Andrews complicated my adoration for William & Mary. Indeed, having attended two universities, I have two different and simultaneously equal loves for both of my alma maters. Where one school succeeded, the other struggled, with almost no overlap. And speaking to other students and graduates from the Joint Degree Programme, I know that’s a common sentiment. Students who bounce back and forth between the United States and Scotland never experience the comfort of a permanent home – while William & Mary is a lovely place to study, it’s always accompanied by the portents of change.

The result often is that students become disillusioned and frustrated by the seemingly endless red tape surrounding grade transfer, course compatibility, and the difficulties re-making friends. For some, that dispiritedness becomes overwhelming, and they choose to leave the Programme. But for others, it becomes numbing agent, and they learn to deal with the struggles of two universities, often with a little bitterness towards both sides.

Of course, like regular students, there are things we wish the administrations (both!) did differently. But for normal William & Mary students, that doesn’t prevent them from engaging with the College and its alumni after graduation. The same should be true for Joint Degree students.

I recognize that my experience is colored by a positive experience with the Joint Degree Programme and both of its constituent universities, and that not everyone from the Programme is ready or willing to engage with either William & Mary or St Andrews. But for those who are looking to develop that deeper relationship with their alma maters, here are 6 ways to continue to be involved:

1. Stay connected to your local alumni networks.

William & Mary has a renowned alumni network, and our programming is truly one of the best in the nation. Whether it be social development, employment connections, or opportunities to rekindle relationships with old classmates, William & Mary has an outstanding capability to keep you connected to your home in Williamsburg.

More information, and a full list of alumni services and local chapters, can be found on the William & Mary Alumni Association Website.

Although still nascent, St Andrews continues to build out its alumni engagement, emulating William & Mary in creating local, regional, and national networks for alumni. These tend to be no-frills opportunities to socialize; the engagement level is lower, but once or twice a year, there’s a large party to connect you to St Andrews. The St Andrews officers–who usually are present at these events–are your key to planning for graduate study or remaining in close contact with the university.

Find out more information here.

2. Attend William & Mary homecoming.

Although St Andrews doesn’t have a homecoming tradition, William & Mary’s intimate yet exciting annual gatherings are a special opportunity to reconnect with classmates and feel the “magic” of Williamsburg in the fall. I’ve spoken to so many students who said that their decision to come to William & Mary was made when they saw students socializing in the Sunken Gardens on a Fall Visiting day. Though we might not have that freedom and proximity to campus once we graduate, every year Homecoming aims to rekindle that feeling with a weekend of connection and college revelry. It’s a genuinely tender time and one of the opportunities to really feel the pull of college once again. Homecoming is just a month away.

Register for homecoming.

3. Recognize that each university has its strengths and weaknesses.

I, like all my fellow Joint Degree Programme students, have bemoaned William & Mary and St Andrews in the past, sometimes even in the same sentence. That’s normal. But my adoration for both colleges comes out of an acceptance of their differences, and an understanding that I’m better for having dealt with the same struggles and successes as every other Joint Degree Programme student. In some ways, it’s the constant change and overcoming of adversity that sets the Programme apart from other opportunities; that’s not fun in the moment, but it is something to be respected and rewarded after graduation.

4. Donate to the causes you care about. Fortunately for graduates, William & Mary lets you designate your donations to a specific cause (something I saw a LOT of this COVID year as a Senior Class Gift member). In recognizing that William & Mary and St Andrews have their unique areas of strength, it’s only fitting that we decide to give back to those areas we felt supported by (or even need improving!). Moreover, William & Mary lets you donate directly to the Programme, giving money to the Small Grants

Fund, to social bonding events during Orientation and Freshers Week, and hosting senior events for future graduates.

Donate to the Joint Degree Programme here.

5. Return to Williamsburg and St Andrews and reignite your passion for your alma maters.

Talking to alums, so many of them felt disconnected from their college years until, on a roadtrip down the Eastern Seaboard, they decided to stop in Williamsburg. One look at William & Mary, and their memories of college came rushing back. They were hooked.

Even though we attended two universities, the same still holds true. I’ll always have memories of my first William & Mary football game, Winter Blowout on campus, or Raisin celebrations as a green second-year at St Andrews. Some part of those memories are connected to the place, and as we head out of COVID restrictions and return to regular travel, I’m looking forward to heading back to Williamsburg and St Andrews and feeling a sense of connection our colleges and what made them so special.

6. Stay connected to other Joint Degree Programme alumni.

In the past few months, I’ve made it a priority to speak to Joint Degree Programme alumni, all of which have gone on to impressive things. They say, invariably, that there’s comfort it talking to other Programme alumni, sharing in the joys and frustrations of college and laughing about the unique experience that we all share.

Although there isn’t quite a structured alumni group for the Programme (yet!), there’s real value in staying connected through social media, in-person events, and homecomings and reunions. Much like how we stayed together during college to enjoy and survive the challenges of the Programme, there’s value in remaining close after graduation.

I’d love to hear from any Joint Degree Programme students, whether it be your stories, or ways you’re still connected to William & Mary and St Andrews. Feel free to send me an email or connect with me on LinkedIn.

Follow along with Ian on Instagram and connect with him on LinkedIn.

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Maintaining Connections

New Town, Same Tribe: Alumni Connections Around the World

By Tyler Vuxta ’13

Much like many of you, I was involved in a little bit of everything at William and Mary. I joined too many clubs, spent too many late nights and dollars at the Delis, and made lifelong friends along the way. As much as I enjoyed my experience at the College, I largely expected that I’d largely leave it behind me after graduation. Now that I’m a few years in, I can appreciate three major themes to how my college connections continue to influence me into my 30’s:

1) Maintaining remote connections: much as I hoped to avoid it, I suspected I may drift apart from connections as life took me away from the state of Virginia. Fortunately, my collegiate circle is much better at keeping in touch than I have ever been, and I’ve maintained close connections 8 years on! Beyond the joys of friendship alone, this has been invaluable as a resource to get a non-biased perspective on my day-to-day trials and tribulations. Additionally, I’ve been welcomed for overnight stays in many guest bedrooms around the country!

2) Integrating into Charlotte: the Alumni chapter was an excellent resource to help get me started with friends in Charlotte. One of my favorite aspects was the instant camaraderie I felt with people who had vastly different life experiences. I met one Class of 1968 alum at a Yule Log celebration; after bonding over a mutual love of craft beer and similar political interests, we have had monthly dinners at each other’s homes for years! William and Mary has created friendships and connections for me that I can’t imagine I would have made any other way.

3) W&M on the road: I always pack William and Mary clothing when I travel, as it amazes me how far the brand persists and how wide our alumni spread. My favorite and most random anecdote on this is from a trip to Kyrgyzstan. I was visiting a roommate from undergrad and exploring the country, traveling with two other school friends (see point 1 above!). We had a planned rendezvous with two other W&M alumna who were in the country teaching English. While the six of us were on a hike to a remote destination, we happened upon yet another W&M grad who was a college professor there – the seven of us may be the largest unofficial delegation of W&M alums ever in the country!

I don’t have any broad takeaways beyond the thanking all of you for the experience and network you’ve helped to shape for myself and others. The College wouldn’t be what it is without the community surrounding it, and in an era where social connection is at a premium amidst the pandemic, I’d encourage anyone to take the first step and rejuvenate connections they fostered at W&M and/or to find the alumni community in your new hometowns. Even if you’re far flung from the William and Mary orbit geographically, you will be surprised by how far your fellow alumni are willing to go if there’s a friendly face waiting when they arrive.

Thanks for the experiences and looking forward to many more future Tribe connections, 

Follow along with Tyler on Instagram, connect with him on LinkedIn, and email him at tyler.vuxta@gmail.com.