William and Mary graduates prepare to head out into the world

Contact Reporterwwright@vagazette.com

Graduates from the College of William and Mary have gone on to make their marks in the nation and world.

Robert Gates became secretary of defense. Jon Stewart became an influential comedian and TV show host. Perry Ellis created an internationally known line of clothing. Then there are the presidents: James Monroe, Thomas Jefferson, John Tyler and George Washington.

They and countless others spent time studying and learning in Williamsburg before heading out into world.

Nearly 2,000 students from the college will graduate Saturday, following in the footsteps of thousands before them. Their paths to the future are as diverse as they are.

Family business

Mary Catherine knows precisely where she'll be. This summer, she'll start life anew working in the nation's capital as an attorney for Gerard Fox Law.

Catherine, who is from Washington D.C., chose William and Mary because she enjoyed the dichotomy between country and city that Williamsburg offers.

"I still wanted to be in a metropolitan area," she said. "I like Williamsburg, and I like the area. I was able to meet a lot of the professors when I was down here, and it's been a good fit."

The daughter of a two lawyers, Catherine originally rebelled against the idea of heading into the same field as her parents. Once she finished her English degree at Catholic University, law school looked more appealing.

"I really wanted to do something a little less isolated than academia," Catherine said. She'd previously considered getting advanced degrees in the fine arts field. "Law school allowed me to maintain my connections in the fine arts and with copyrights. I'm just doing it from a different angle."

Copyright law is Catherine's passion, and it comprises the bulk of the work she'll do at her new law firm.

The D.C. office is a relatively new one, she said, and it'll give her the chance to work on intellectual property issues. That her firm has multiple offices is a perk too, she said.

"I'm sure I could move in a matter of years, if I chose to," she said. "I'll be working on cases with lawyers who are in Los Angeles or in New York, anyway. It could be pretty fluid — all firms don't have that."

Following passion

Ahmed Skaljic used his time at the college to dive into a subject he has been smitten with: economics.

Skaljic transferred to William and Mary from George Mason University, where he once thought he'd go into the civil engineering field, like his father.

Though he was initially unsure about changing his course of action in college, he says the move has paid off.

"I knew the job security that comes with engineering," he said. "(Economics) isn't something like a guaranteed job, like you could have if you had an engineering degree. I knew if I wanted to chase my passion, I had to change."

The professionalization of the economics field has shifted the weight of an economics degree, Skaljic said.

"Unfortunately, unless you're going to get your master's or Ph.D on top of it, there's isn't much you can do with just a bachelor's degree," he said.

One of the reasons Skaljic chose the college over Virginia Tech and the University of Virginia was his perception that the student body was very close and that he did not feel an implied pressure to conform to many social norms.

"It's subtle, but it's there," Skaljic said about different social dynamics at the other schools. My sister went to the University of Virginia and had a great time there, but it felt a little bit different. You have to fit in."

As an orientation aide, Skaljic has taken the walk across campus that the graduating seniors will take on Saturday morning. He's led freshmen into and around the campus many times, but his last trip across the campus will be the most special.

"I've done it before," he said. "Those other times won't be like Saturday. When I take that walk, I'll be thinking of William and Mary as how much I've enjoyed my time here."

Drawn to politics

Sahil Mehrotra's mother worked in Richmond during his high school years, and she first put the idea of attending William and Mary on her son's radar

The school's political science program intrigued the Bridgewater, New Jersey native.

Politics is where Mehrotra sees himself at least in the short term. He'd like to work for a campaign in the state.

"I've been looking at a few campaigns," he said. "All of them are based in Virginia, and I haven't chosen one just yet."

Though he looks back on his time at the college fondly, Mehrotra is dissatisfied with some of its aspects.

"When you come to William and Mary, it's easy to think that William and Mary is perfect. It's not," he said. "I still love the institution, but I can do that and still recognize its flaws. That realization took a little bit."

Mehrotra immersed himself in the school and community by getting involved with student groups.

"You always wish you'd given less time to one group and more time to another," he said. "I think that's a natural part of being reflective on your college experience."

The institution has a long way to go, he said, but he valued the chance to do what he could.

"It's obviously bittersweet. I had the opportunity to learn and do so much here, and now it's coming to an end," Mehrotra said. "William and Mary was truly my home for the years I've been here."

Second chance

When issues in her family forced Dorie Arthur to drop out of high school, she figured she'd end up working in a clerical job.

Her chief motivation to attend college was to find a better, higher paying job.

"When I first came to Willam and Mary, it was really about just checking the box," she said. "As I've been here longer, that's all kind of changed."

The college's emphasis on research programs fascinated Arthur, especially once she got over her worries about the difficulty of the classes.

"Research drew me in," she said. "I was really interested in the appearance of scholarship in research. I wasn't even sure if I could compete in the classroom when I got here. Now, all I want to do is go to school and keep learning."

Arthur said she finds herself torn between heading further into academia or heading to law school once she graduates with her government degree this weekend.

"They are really two very different fields," she said. "I didn't realize I was interested in law school until recently. I'm going to take at least a year off and work at home."

Arthur previously worked in Virginia's Eastern Shore for a company that connected developmentally delayed people with jobs and volunteer opportunities.

"In community college, I was going to school at night since I was working full-time," she said. "I haven't had to do that here. I've just gone to class and hung out with my friends. The last two years have been the best of my life, and I mean that."

Wright can be reached by phone at 757-345-2343.

Graduation traditions

Dressed in their graduation apparel, students reverse the path they walked as freshmen, going through the Wren Building on their way to Kaplan Arena, where they will ceremonially leave the campus.

There are several activities that graduates have leading up to graduation, including an annual ball, and a candlelight ceremony in the Wren Yard with three speakers who are perceived as being close to the class.

Want to watch?

When: 10:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Where: Kaplan Arena, 751 Ukrop Way, Williamsburg, VA

For those who do not have a ticket to Kaplan Arena: The school has places on campus where you can view the ceremonies live:

•Sadler Center, Commonwealth Auditorium

•Mason School of Business, Brinkley Commons

•Also streaming on the school Facebook page: facebook.com/williamandmary

For a full lineup of graduation festivities and activities, go to http://www.wm.edu/sites/commencement/.

Graduation info

A college spokesperson says attendees should expect heavy traffic around campus before and after the main ceremony.

The following roads are closed on Saturday:

Compton Drive (from Monticello Ave) from Saturday morning until 1:00 p.m.

The Walk Across Campus will block traffic on Ukrop Way from both directions starting at about 8:45 a.m. on Saturday.

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