Sandra Day O’Connor’s first appearance—albeit unofficial—as chancellor of the College occurred when she spent 20 minutes meeting with first-year graduate students in The Thomas Jefferson Program in Public Policy who were in Washington, D.C.
The students were in Washington learning about public-policy opportunities. As part of their visit, they attended arguments before the Supreme Court concerning Oregon’s assisted-suicide case, Gonzales v Oregon, which they had been studying. O’Connor, who has announced her decision to retire as an associate justice, remains on the Court until her replacement is confirmed.
Elaine McBeth, associate director of the public policy program, recalled that she became informed of O’Connor being named chancellor the day before the group left on the trip. She placed a call to see if a quick meeting could be arranged—at least a photo opportunity, she said. McBeth was thrilled when O’Connor came into the room and actually sat down to spend time with the group.
According to McBeth, O’Connor talked about her relationship with Williamsburg, including her stint of service on the board of directors of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, and the fact that one of her aunts had been admitted to the College in the 1920s.
"She was very cordial, very nice," McBeth said. "She was surprised that we had tapped into her being chancellor immediately, and she said she was looking forward to being involved with students and spending time on campus."
O’Connor entertained questions from the students concerning the proceedings before the Court. As a sitting member, however, she was cautious about what she could divulge. She did not indicate how she would vote in the Gonzales case, and she would not comment on her prospective replacement, Harriet Miers.
"She made a comment about how everybody had a lot of respect for [Chief Justice John] Roberts, but when someone said they were surprised by the levity in the courtroom, she responded, ‘That never would have happened before.’"
That response was as revealing as anything she said, McBeth explained.