At Graduation, Professor Williams Marches to the Beat of a Different Drummer

Linda Williams, an academic advisor and adjunct professor, has played tenor drums at Commencement for the past six years

Linda Williams practices the tenor drum for CommencementST. LOUIS, MAY 9, 2013 - When it comes to graduation, School of Communications Academic Advisor Linda Williams marches to the beat of a different drummer, literally.

As a tenor drummer in the bagpipe band that will lead the graduates in to this Saturday's Commencement, Williams will be listening for the beat of the bass drum, and then working to add to the complex rhythms.   

“The tenor drums add flourish in between the beats,” Williams said. But it's more than that. The tenor drummers also synchronize how they twirl their sticks, so that the performance is enhanced visually. “That takes a lot of practice. When I was first learning it, I hit myself in the face with my sticks often, and even managed to get one of the bag pipe players.”

She has improved significantly since she started drumming about 26 years ago and says no one is in immediate danger of her twirling drum sticks Saturday.

Williams has been appearing as a drummer in commencement for six years as a guest artist with the John Ford Highlander Pipe Band. On non-commencement weekends, she plays with the Saint Louis Caledonian Pipe Band.

“I absolutely love Commencement, so I initially asked John Ford if I could play with them in the procession,” she said. “Since then, they have asked me every year to join them.”

Instead of wearing her traditional Scottish garb of a kilt and knee-high socks that most bagpipe band drummers wear, Williams will be in full academic regalia to reflect that this is arguable the most important academic event of the year for Webster.

Her gig with the bagpipe band surprises her students, she said. Every year during Commencement, several graduating students will point at her, yell her name, or quickly snap her photo, mostly out of surprise and glee of seeing a professor in a bagpipe band. More recently, Williams said she ran into a student who graduated several years ago. She wanted to find out how he was doing. He wanted to talk about her bagpipe band appearances.

“He was still excited that I played drums at his graduation,” she said.

Williams pointed out that she isn't the only Webster academic in the bagpipe band. Peter Sargent, the dean of the Leigh Gerdine College of Fine Arts, leads the band in to Commencement as the official drum major. He too wears academic robes.

When she isn't playing drums or advising, Williams teaches broadcast television history in the School of Communications. Additionally, she takes a group of journalism students to Scotland (of course) for a two week study abroad program. And while she loves teaching, advising and yearly trips to Scotland, she said Commencement is still her favorite day of the year.

“It is a great day for me,” Williams said. “My love of teaching, academics and Scottish culture all come together for this one fantastic celebration.”