Sara Strehle Duke ’06 is a Bell Society member who has given back to the university for 10 consecutive years. She says that supporting her alma mater comes easy, considering the rich experiences she had as a student. Duke, who runs a theatre company in Arlington, Va., says William & Mary provided her top-notch theatre training, which gave her the freedom to be creative in her chosen craft.
We recently asked her a few questions about the importance of giving back to the university. Here are her responses:
What does William & Mary mean to you and your family?
W&M will always be close to my heart. I remember visiting Williamsburg as a middle school student and deciding that William & Mary was the most beautiful university and the only place I could ever imagine attending. It’s a good thing I was accepted. It’s also where my husband and I met when we were freshmen. Our son, Thomas, made his first campus visit in 2015 when he was just a few months old — and now he loves cheering on the Tribe at football games with his grandfather (Class of 1970) and his dad (Class of 2006).
In honor of our For the Bold campaign, will you share one of your own “bold” W&M moments?
As a senior, I had the opportunity to direct a production of the musical “Ragtime" as the student lead at Sinfonicron Light Opera Company. This musical calls for a diverse cast of more than 40 actors, a full orchestra and a working replica of a Model T Ford. My husband and I drove all the way to Tallahassee, Florida, to borrow a car that another theatre company had created to use in the show. We put the car in a U-Haul trailer on the back of my mother’s minivan.
I run a theatre company now and the thought of producing a show like this makes me stressed. William & Mary gave me the freedom to try something new and to be bold. I’m thankful that it was a place where I could truly challenge myself artistically, but it was also a safe space if I had failed. Fortunately, the production received great reviews and had sold out performances.
What are your favorite memories of your time on campus?
Being ridiculous with my improvisational group, weekend brunches with my friends, autumn trees around the Sunken Garden, being an orientation aide, singing in the Women’s Chorus — so many great memories.
What faculty/staff members made a difference in your experience while at W&M?
William & Mary faculty are special in that they are deeply involved in the life of the university. For example, I got to know Clay Clemens, a government professor, despite never taking a government course. He supported several of my student activities, including Mortar Board. I have great memories of playing putt-putt with Clay.
I enjoyed all of the relationships I had with my theatre professors. We worked side-by-side on productions in different capacities and, even though I was a student, I always felt like I was treated as a peer. It was empowering. If I had attended a larger theatre program, I would not have had these opportunities at an undergraduate level.
Your involvement with William & Mary did not end with your time on campus. How would you encourage others to stay involved, even years after graduation?
I received a research scholarship from the Charles Center after my junior year to live and study in New York City. When the time rolled around for our senior class gift, I felt strongly that I needed to pay it forward so that other students would be afforded a similar experience. I would encourage others to stay invested in the health and growth of the university. I continue to give to William & Mary because I want future students to receive the amazing foundation I received.
Why do you support William & Mary?
I deeply believe in the value of a liberal arts education. I’m thankful that I was afforded the opportunity to explore the performing arts in equal measure with other disciplines.
One of the top priorities of the For the Bold campaign is to increase our alumni participation rate to 40 percent. In your view, why do you think this is important?
A strong William & Mary serves the interest of the entire W&M community — students, faculty and alumni. I frequently rely on my W&M network in my professional life. I hire William & Mary graduates because I know their intellectual strength and work ethic. I recognize that giving to the university is one way to ensure that the W&M community can stay strong now and in the future.
Why would you encourage other alumni and friends to support William & Mary?
Give to what you loved as a student. Extracurricular activities, academics and scholarships – honor your time as a student and pave the way for future students.
How have you seen your support impact the university?
My husband and I have made giving to scholarships a priority. When we read profiles about students who have received financial aid we feel like we are making a difference.