W. Taylor Reveley, III
February 6, 2010
Let's conclude with a quick riff on birthdays. When Charter Day is stripped to its essentials, laid bare, that's what it is - a birthday, a celebration of another year in the long life of the College of William & Mary. As our charter indicates, William & Mary was born on February 8, 1693. So, today, February 6, 2010, almost 317 years later, is close enough for purposes of this year's birthday celebration.
When we humans are young, our birthdays come around very slowly and once the magic moment finally arrives, it is glorious. The wild animal excitement of birthdays subsides as the years accumulate, and the birthdays begin to pile up, rolling in more and more quickly, relentlessly, like the surf rushing to shore. Some birthdays remain special, though - when we get to be 21 - or 300!
William & Mary had celebrated its 83rd birthday when the Colony of Virginia declared independence from Great Britain in June 1776, creating the State of Virginia. Our state was born right here in Williamsburg. W&M people played leading roles in creating it as well as in giving birth to the United States of America. As Dumas Malone put it, "our continent has provided no greater seedbed of greatness than the one square mile of this old colonial capital, and no American institution of learning has ever surpassed the record of this little College, in Jefferson's generation, as a nursery of statesmen." With shy modesty, we at William & Mary do call ourselves the alma mater of a nation.
William & Mary has been alive and kicking for more than three centuries. It's hard to think of any other institution in North America that's older - well, Harvard, of course, but it came first only because the first attempt to start a college in Virginia fell short in 1619. This was well before Harvard was even a gleam in Pilgrim eyes. But I digress. What's so striking is that William & Mary has been around for more than three centuries and is still glued together, moving ahead, full of current excellence and future potential. That's quite something!
Let me end this birthday riff with a few epigrams. As you'll see, I've been ecumenical in my sources. They range from two Popes to Dr. Seuss. Their common theme is a celebration of age. If anyone enjoys celebrating age, it's those of us at the College:
Pope John XXIII - "Men are like wine. Some turn to vinegar, but the best improve with age."
Pope Paul VI - "The older the fiddler, the sweeter the tune."
Pablo Picasso - "We don't grow older, we grow riper."
German proverb - "To remain young while growing old is the highest blessing."
Pablo Picasso again - "It takes a long time to grow young."
Oprah Winfrey - "The more you praise and celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate."
Henry Ford - "Anyone who keeps learning stays young."
Abraham Lincoln - "And in the end, it's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years."
Finally, Dr. Seuss - "Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You."
There is only one College of William & Mary. So we do say to this marvelous university on its 317th birthday, in the words of Dr. Seuss, truly "there is no one alive who is Youer than You."
And now, let's stand for the Alma Mater. During the recessional, please stay where you are until the official party has made good its retreat.