Beyond Bricks: A William And Mary Experience

by Jessica Edington

When they told me I could write a blog post, like any good William & Mary student, I did my research. There were no guidelines, just “write whatever you want!” with a mutual unspoken understanding that “whatever you want” meant “whatever you want that has something to do with either W&M or community service or both. Don’t write about your love for making pickles or your opinion on bad drivers.”

So I went and read some of the lovely posts written by other W&M bloggers. And as I read, I noticed something: almost every one of the bloggers was writing about experiences outside the classroom. That’s interesting, I thought, that W&M chooses to feature experiences outside of class when so much of what we do here is take classes. This person is interning in Washington, DC, this person is studying abroad, that person is working with Admissions, that person is volunteering… the list goes on.

I thought at first it was because these experiences make the most interesting stories. Everyone knows what it’s like to take classes. But then it occurred to me that I had personally had many of these experiences– the community service, the summer job, the DC internship, the virtual internship, the summer job on campus, studying abroad. And when I did the math, I realized that while I have spent about 20 months on-campus taking classes since I arrived in August 2011, I’ve spent (collectively) 16 months doing all these other things. That’s almost half my time here at W&M.

And I wondered, how many other students have spent almost half of their time at W&M doing other things? From the looks of these blogs, it’s quite a few. I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that the reason so many of the blogs about W&M experiences aren’t about taking classes because all these other things, the things that too often get lumped as things that “look good on the resume,” are half of the W&M experience. It’s not all about taking classes in old buildings and lounging on the Sunken Gardens on warm spring afternoons and cramming in Swem during finals week and shenanigans with your freshman hall. (Don’t get me wrong, though, it is also a lot about those things.)

When you come to W&M, you’re signing up for a lot more than some of the most rigorous classes in the nation– you’re signing up for an endless buffet of opportunities. They hide in the listserv emails and the bulletin board flyers, the professor’s office hours you keep telling yourself you should go to and the casual conversations with the person next to you in class. They might not always be obvious, but trust me, they’re there.

For me, it was the opportunity to work with people in the Williamsburg community, learning as much from the children I tutored as they (might have) learned from me. It was the opportunity to intern at the Library of Congress. It was the opportunity to go to Iceland, hike to the top of a volcano and work in an organic bakery. It was the opportunity to work on a sustainable farm, to get my hands dirty and find what it was I cared about. It was the opportunity to return to the office where it all started (when I became a Sharpe Scholar as a freshman) as an employee. For so many other students, the opportunities are the same, but what they choose to do with them is different.

As I get ready for my final year at W&M, with all the anxiety about the future that it necessarily brings, I’m reassured by remembering all the opportunities W&M has provided me in the past. I know that these will continue through my senior year and beyond, because after all, W&M doesn’t start and end with the classes I take. It includes all the things I do beyond the bricks, when I wear my W&M sweatshirt with pride and beam when someone recognizes it, shrug when they don’t. The opportunities will be there, if sometimes hiding; it’s just up to me to seek them out and make them my own.