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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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!