W. Taylor Reveley, III
February 8, 2013
So, as the Chancellor said, happy birthday to us all! The school that binds us together has reached its 320th glorious year.
What do you do for a 320-year-old? Is there some precious metal expressive of our deep appreciation and affection? Some special tradition beyond those involved in these Charter Day ceremonies?
I couldn't think of anything. But check with us in another 180 years, on the occasion of the College's 500th birthday, and I'm sure we'll have it nailed.
I did look back to 1693 to see what else happened the year the College was born. Turns out pickings weren't all that frisky. There was Louis XIV's attack on Heidelberg, the French fleet's defeat of the Dutch and English at the Battle of Lagos and the eruption – yet again – of Mount Etna. Cleary William & Mary's birth was the hit of the year. Like Mount Etna, we have lasted, even erupting occasionally.
Of course, we expect rocks to last. Even exploding ones. We have a separate academic department founded on that simple proposition. We expect buildings to last. Europe is scattered with monuments – churches and castles, mostly – testifying to the excellence of medieval architecture and engineering.
But human institutions – like humans themselves – are more vulnerable, more likely to be gone with the wind.
And William & Mary could easily have been gone with the wind, swept up and blown away by two wars. Each of which blew squarely to the campus, with great destructive force.
First the Revolutionary War came our way -- the campus occupied by the British and later, more hospitably but still destructively, by the French, with a complete loss of financial support from England.
Then our campus became a front line during the Civil War, caught between converging armies for three years, federal forces moving up the peninsula toward Richmond and confederate forces moving south to protect the Confederate Capital.
They met in Williamsburg, on our campus, around the Wren Building.
We were undone, our facilities lacerated, burned, and for all practical purposes destroyed. Our endowment gone, our people scattered.
But the College rose – phoenix-like – from the ashes, proving itself an indomitably durable human institution in spite of catastrophic human failings.
The future does often go to the broken field runner.
What remains for William & Mary after 320 years is the dignity and poise, the self-confidence and staying power, the pervasive excellence that comes from rising above life's outrageous slings and arrows. This magnificent institution, full of life's promise, marches on to even greater heights.
In sum, William & Mary came early and will stay late. Of that, I have no doubt.
So, happy birthday indeed, to all us members of the College's tribe. William & Mary, you richly deserve our admiration and affection, indeed, our unabashed love.
Time to cheer the alma mater of the nation on its 320th birthday! I'll propose the cheer and then all of us should shout 3-20, 3-20, 3-20!
Friends, please join me a resounding round of 3-20s to celebrate our college of William & Mary on its 320th birthday.
No birthday is complete without singing Happy Birthday. Ebony Expressions will now do this deed.