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.
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.
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.
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.
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.