College of William and Mary Wren Courtyard, April 7, 2006
Thank you, Rector Magill and members of the Board of Visitors, President Nichol—what was that, Big Nick? —distinguished guests and members of my new William and Mary family.
Now growing up as I did in a very arid, dry region of the southwest, you can imagine I am unaccustomed to this finery. Justices in this country wear plain, black robes–that was at the urging of Thomas Jefferson, who didn't approve of anything fancy. I don't know what he would have thought of the Chancellor's robes.
But I am wondering if all of you out there sense what I sense. These are times of tremendous changes in our world. The polar ice caps are melting. They're gone up there. If you go to the North Pole today, you have a hard time finding a chunk of ice. And the whole nation seems to be turning westward. And certainly the College of William and Mary is. Can you believe you have a new president born in Texas and a new chancellor born in Texas and growing up in Arizona? Now that's pretty remarkable for this institution.
On the grounds of this wonderful college and in the Marshall-Wythe School of Law, the people who studied and participated in the events of this institution are some of our nation's founders and some of our greatest leaders. And to sit here as we do today next to the Wren Building is to soak up the atmosphere of the likes of Thomas Jefferson, our great Chief Justice John Marshall, James Madison, the father of our constitution and many, many others.
Now it takes more than the stretch of our imaginations to imagine that our nation's second-oldest institution of higher learning, here in the great state of Virginia, has decided to accept as its chancellor, a cowgirl from Arizona. After all, since 1693, the College of William and Mary has had 23 chancellors, most of them Anglican bishops. Now I suppose you know that we took our legal and judicial system largely from that of Great Britain, and for many years in England, the judges were selected with the approval of the king, who had the power to remove them. And it was not until the Settlement Act in England in the late 1700s that finally that power of removal of judges was taken away from the king. But they still all had to be Anglican. Now when it came time to draft our own Constitution, the framers, most of whom lived right around here—and James Madison engineered the whole deal – kept the part about allowing our federal judges to serve for good behavior, but it left out the part about the Anglicans. But that was still a holdover for the College of William and Mary, because you had Anglican chancellors for a long time. And actually I guess you can relax, because I am, at heart, an Anglican.
I doubt that any of you can even begin to imagine what a special honor it is for me to join the likes of George Washington, our first president; John Tyler, our 10th president; and more recently our former beloved Chief Justice Warren Burger, and Lady Margaret Thatcher, whom I so enjoyed and admired, and former Secretary of State Kissinger. That's a very impressive roster. I am thrilled to join that list. I will treasure the privilege of my association with this great college and its role in our nation's development and history and to participate in finding ways today to provide leaders in our nation's fourth century of existence.
William and Mary has played host to many American and world leaders, past and present, who have come here as students; they've come as faculty, sometimes as speakers or honored guests.
There is going to be a special event in this area that's going to bring leaders from around the globe to this college, this very place, in September 2007 for the World Forum on the Future of Democracy. It will be a global summit with leaders from both mature and emerging democracies, and it's going to provide the platform for exchanges among scholars, civic leaders and experienced governmental and political practitioners about the future of democratic institutions around the world. And that event is going to be the culminating event of America's 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown, a little town down the road here, where American democracy and the rule of law and free enterprise and cultural diversity first took root.
These legacies continue to inspire and shape our lives today, and the Jamestown 400th anniversary, the start of which begins next month, gives all of us a chance to reflect on and renew our commitment to those qualities and contributions that have strengthened our nation for the past 400 years. At the very least, we should look on it as a time to recognize the importance of promoting civic learning, teaching our young people about democracy and citizenship. And the more that people understand and appreciate our history and our system of government, the more likely it is that we will continue to develop techniques and ways of living together in this complex world of ours in greater peace and security. And I hope that this college will find ways to prepare all the students not only for higher education and careers, but most importantly for their role as citizens. I think the future of democracy will start here as it did in our founding 400-some years ago.
Now the challenges of leadership today are as great as they were at our founding. And you know what? We all have to learn to be bridge builders. There's a little poem I like about building bridges, and I'm not going to recite it all, but it describes an old man who went along a narrow road across a deep chasm and over a river, and once he got across, the old man stayed a while to build a bridge over that chasm.
"Old man," said a fellow pilgrim near,
"You are wasting strength in building here.
Your journey will end with the ending day;
You never again must pass this way.
You have crossed the chasm, deep and wide,
Why build you the bridge at the eventide?"
The builder lifted his old gray head.
"Good friend, in the path I have come," he said,
"There followeth after me today
A youth whose feet must pass this way
This chasm that has been naught to me
To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be.
He, too, must cross in the twilight dim;
Good friend, I am building the bridge for him." *
Our nation is one built on pride and sacrifice and commitment to shared values, on the willingness of our citizens to give time and energy to the good of the whole. We're the nation we are today because of the great bridge builders we've had in the past, some of whom worked right here in this very community in this very college. We've been a nation that has produced citizens willing to engage in public service.
Now this work of bridge building, of public service, can be both difficult and rewarding. The efforts will call for sacrifice, sometimes emotional, sometimes financial, sometimes personal. Those who engage in public service also open up themselves for a lot of public review, but if we focus our energy on sharing our ideas, on finding solutions, and using what's right with America to remedy what's wrong with it, we can and we will make a difference.
So as you students at this college move on in your lives, I hope you will also commit yourselves to being bridge builders. Our nation needs you. And those who cross the bridges you will build will thank you.
I look forward so much to meeting with all the students, with faculty here at the College of William and Mary in the coming years to find those bridge builders of the future.
I thank all of you—and President Nichol—for the great honor and this new experience of being what I never thought I would be as a cowgirl in Arizona, chancellor of this wonderful College of William and Mary.
*The Bridge Builder by Will Allen Dromgoole