This weekend, when dozens of Mary Baldwin students receive their class rings during Junior Dads and Family Weekend, they’ll be taking part in a tradition that has spanned generations.

Although the annual event is rooted in Mary Baldwin’s residential College for Women (RCW), the event is open to non-traditional members of the campus community. And this year, Jessica Coates, a student in the college’s Baldwin Online and Adult Programs, is taking full advantage.

Coates lives in Richmond County and takes classes at Mary Baldwin’s Rappahannock Regional Center .

Jessica Coates

“I maintain good grades and am proud of my accomplishments as a student, so I want to share in the experiences that all Mary Baldwin students have the opportunity to enjoy. I do not let distance hinder my own experiences with the school,” said Coates, a 21-year-old English major.

Billed on the college’s website as a “rite of passage and a time to celebrate family,” Junior Dads, as it is affectionately known, was conceived by the Class of 1969 as a way of recognizing the day juniors receive their college rings, one of the highlights of their time at Mary Baldwin. Today, the event celebrates the important role of family and/or friends in supporting students’ successes. The main event remains the ball, when students invite a special person — traditionally, their fathers — to present them with their rings at a formal ceremony, followed by a dance.

This year’s dance will be held at the Stonewall Jackson Hotel in downtown Staunton on November 20.

Coates’ husband, Brian, as well as her mother and father will be accompanying her from the Northern Neck to Staunton for the festivities. Coates’ father will present her with her class ring.

“My family and husband support me full-heartedly … I look forward to hearing my name announced as I receive that class ring in front of the people I care about the most,” she said.

The Baldwin Online and Adult Programs program, established in the late 1970s, offers a personalized, flexible, and affordable way for adults to earn their college degree. Over the years, the program has enjoyed incredible success. This year, 1,272 students enrolled at Mary Baldwin are enrolled in Baldwin Online and Adult Programs compared with 784 students in the RCW.

Nancy Krippel, dean of adult and graduate studies, acknowledges that many of the college’s undergraduate traditions are still celebrated primarily by RCW students, but the doors are open to Baldwin Online and Adult Programs students as well.

“We, as a program, appreciate the challenges of blending academics with work and family,” Krippel said. “We understand that adult students have busy lives, but we encourage our students to experience all the college has to offer.”

After graduation, Coates hopes to become a teacher. For now, in addition to taking classes at Mary Baldwin, she is working in the library at Rappahannock Community College.

“Mary Baldwin offers so many opportunities to its Baldwin Online and Adult Programs students, so I make sure to take advantage of these great opportunities,” she said. “I am proud to be an Mary Baldwin Squirrel, and will always show my dedication and support for the school that has had an immense impact on my life.”