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Convocation, 2008

W. Taylor Reveley, III
August 29, 2008

It is customary for presidents to make Convocation remarks. There are so many superb things to talk about when the subject is William & Mary. We could talk about the reality that the College of William & Mary is one of this country's great iconic institutions, ancient by American standards, and graced with a storied history, including a seminal role in shaping our Revolutionary and Early National Eras. We could sing about the abiding beauty of our campus, both physical and architectural, and about how walking through its precincts is a balm for the spirit. We could observe proudly that, even as William & Mary has become a serious research university, it has not lost its commitment to teaching. Our tenured and tenure-track professors still teach students, usually in small classes, know them by name, care about how they're doing, involve them in their research. This has become very rare behavior for tenured and tenure-track professors at other universities of William & Mary's caliber. It is common practice here.

But enough of these august subjects.  Let's leave them for some more nitty gritty things we can all do together this year - like putting on our cafeteria trays only those morsels it's likely we'll eat, or not using trays at all, turning our computers off when we go to bed, killing the lights when they're no longer needed, printing on both sides of the paper and not making a copy of everything that crosses our paths, walking rather than driving, or taking a bus if it's too far to hoof it, getting interested in what sort of energy, and how much energy, our dorms and houses are using, helping make recycling a reality in all parts of the campus. This is hardly a complete list but I imagine you get the point. We're talking about what has become know as "sustainability" - developing environmentally friendly patterns of behavior.

We're already on the right track. Last year William & Mary's student body voted overwhelmingly to impose a green fee on itself (or at least on its parents if they're footing the tuition and fee bill). The fee, $30 per student per year, will generate about $230,000 annually to support sustainability projects and research. These funds will be administered by a hard working, knowledgeable committee of students, faculty and administrators, joined together in a group called - its name will not surprise you - the Sustainability Committee. Coupled with the other resources the university has already committed to environmental matters and spurred by a willingness on all our parts to help in the ways just sketched (among others), the green fee is going to make a material difference for the better here.

My hope - and my expectation - is that William & Mary will quickly become a model for other schools, showing that real progress can be made on sustainability even by colleges and universities that are not awash in income. I have confidence we're up to the challenge and now is a good time to take it seriously, right at the beginning of a new academic year, when we're all fresh for the race.

A final thought on sustainability. People convinced that global warming is real have no difficulty embracing steps to protect the environment, especially moves away from fossil fuels to environmentally benign forms of energy. People not convinced about global warming can also embrace sustainability, in my view, for at least two reasons: first, because sustainability can play a major role in national security - in moving the United States back to energy sources that come from this country rather than other countries that are unfriendly, unreliable or unstable; second, because sustainability will be powerfully good for the national economy by lessening the massive outflow of dollars to other countries to pay for foreign oil and gas, an outflow that seriously reduces our national wealth and welfare.

Galvanized by the green fee, let's see how much progress we can make during 2008/09. Let's make sustainability a vibrant presence at William & Mary.