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Rhian Horgan: Opening Convocation remarks

  • Rhian HorganThe 1999 graduate of the College returned to campus to deliver the keynote speech during the Opening Convocation ceremonies.

    Rhian Horgan

Following is the prepared text of Rhian Horgan's keynote remarks during Opening Convocation ceremonies at the College of William and Mary on Aug. 29.  —Ed.

Class of 2012, President Reveley, Provost Feiss, Faculty, Staff, Students and Alumni of the College of William and Mary, it’s a pleasure to be here with you today, in the courtyard of the Wren building. I stood here myself in the fall of 1995 having no idea of the adventure and opportunity which lay ahead of me during my time at the College.

It’s my honor as an alumna to welcome the Class of 2012, new transfer students from the Classes of 2010 and 2011, and new graduate students to the College of William and Mary.  Today you begin an adventure which many of us here today experienced and remember very fondly. While the orientation games you played over the last week might conjure up memories of summer camp, pretty soon your attention will turn to classes, the sports fields, student organizations, volunteer activities and hopefully a few parties along the way!

It may be hard to fathom as you look around at your classmates today, but ninety years ago this fall, women first matriculated at the College. That fall, the first ‘Mary’ walked through the College doors, forever changing the direction of the College.  In her 1988 thesis “When Mary Entered with her Brother William: Women Students at the College of William and Mary,” William and Mary graduate student Laura Parrish discussed the opposition to this amendment amongst alumni ‘on the assumption that women would somehow defile Mr. Jefferson’s bastion of chivalry.’  But change was afoot, and new doors were opened.  In the spring of 1918 the Commonwealth of Virginia approved a bill making William and Mary the ‘first state-supported four year College in Virginia to admit women on an equal basis with men.’  This move was necessitated by the start of World War I resulting in a dramatic reduction in enrollment as young men went off to fight for our country.  ‘The Petticoat Invasion,’ as it was called, forced the doors of the Wren Building open, and as the motto of the Alpha Club—first women’s association on campus stated “The first, but looking to the future,” these women recognized that they were the first females through the doors of Wren, but they must now take advantage of the opportunities which lay ahead rather than dwell on the inequalities and gender roles of the past.

Much like these women, you are about to walk through a new door in life. The Russian Poet Miroslave Holub wrote in his poem titled ‘The Door’

Go and open the door.
Maybe outside there's a tree, or a wood, a garden, or a magic city.
Go and open the door.
Maybe a dog's rummaging. Maybe you'll see a face, or an eye, or the picture of a picture.
Go and open the door.
If there's a fog it will clear.
Go and open the door.
Even if there's only the darkness ticking, even if there's only the hollow wind, even if nothing is there,
Go and open the door.

I want to talk to you briefly about the doors that the College will be opening for you but also the opportunity for you to ‘go and open the door’… for others.

Doors the College will open for you
Much like the College did in 1918 when it opened its doors to women, today the College opens its doors to you— the Wren Building, classrooms, professors office, the Sadler Center, the Rec Center, Swem Library….. all are opened for you.  As these doors are opened, the weeks will fly by, even with five full days of classes (until you are a senior, and perhaps then you are savvy enough to schedule classes Tues – Thurs, you are unlikely to have a 3 day week again!).

You come to the College today with the support of family and friends who have shaped the years of your life to date. Today as the College opens its doors to you, you will encounter new people, ideas and experiences which will have a tremendous influence on your future.  Having been down this path before you, I can assure you that this community will not only shape and support you during your years at the College, but for the many years that follow your graduation.

The College has opened its doors to alumni like Thomas Jefferson, Glenn Close, Dave Brown, and Jon Stewart to name a few.  Like each of you, these alumni came to the College with unique backgrounds and perspectives.  I bring up the names of famous alumni not to dazzle you with their fame but to highlight their diverse successes as examples of the many paths that may lead from the doors which are opened for you today.  Among you there are likely to be award winning scientists, passionate philanthropists, record breaking athletes, artists, bankers & brilliantly pithy lawyers, to name a few.  In the Colleges laboratories, in the music rooms, and on the playing fields, professors and coaches will open doors as they share with you their knowledge of various academic subjects, their experiences on the field, and guide you on career decisions and graduate studies.  

You have matriculated at the second oldest College in the United States.  The Wren Building where we stand today is the oldest academic structure still in use in America.  The doors of the Wren which the College opens today will provide you with a unique opportunity to prepare for your future, while being surrounded by history. As I was preparing for this speech today, I worked with the University Archivist to learn more about what it was like in 1918 when women matriculated at the College.  From New York City, I surfed the web which has highlights of Swem Library’s Special Collection titled “Mary comes to the College with William”. I must admit that when I was a student at the College, the idea of being able to access the archives remotely didn’t even cross our minds! I was surprised to then learn that all of us here today would become part of the living archives which documents the lives of students at the College…. The video recording, the Flat Hat’s articles, photos etc will all be archived so that future students can look back and learn what we discussed this beautiful day in August 2008!  The archives of Swem Library may open doors to the past, but Swem’s Media Center will open doors to future generations as our ability to record life at the College is enhanced by 21st century technology.

Go and open the door for others

Today the College opens its doors to you, granting you the opportunity to pursue any path you choose.  I encourage and challenge you during your time at the College and later as alumni, to not only walk through the doors which will be opened for you, but also to then open doors for others whenever possible.  I say this having myself been the beneficiary of many doors being opened for me while I was a student at the College, the most obvious being the effort of William & Mary Alumni at JP Morgan opening their doors to young graduates which resulted in my employment at the bank.  In turn, I have then tried to open doors for other students, whether it be through recruiting efforts at JP Morgan or through my partnership with the Mason School of Business and Career Services on the Wall Street Program which provides W&M students with access to some of the top firms on Wall Street.

The student body at William and Mary is well known for opening doors of hope and opportunity to those outside of the direct College community who may be less fortunate; there are many established student organizations such as the Alan Bukzin Memorial Bone Marrow Drive which has registered over 12,000 people with the National Marrow Donor Program in its 16 year history.  This effort has a special place in my heart, as seven years ago I was privileged enough to donate my bone marrow to a woman suffering from leukemia… I am among 275 matches from the campus registry drive, the most recent matches resulting in successful bone marrow transplants in the fall of 2007 and the spring of 2008, with both donors being members of the class of 2009.  Other examples include Building Tomorrow which builds schools for children in Uganda, W&M’s school being the first school opened, and Students Helping Honduras which provides support for underprivileged children.

The culture of civic engagement has emerged as a vibrant force at William and Mary. In 2007 the student community dedicated over 323,000 hours of service, with more than 75% of seniors reporting that they volunteer on a weekly basis and 90% indicating that they planned to continue service activity following graduation. Ten years ago there were no overseas volunteer programs, today there are 16, ranging from AIDS Tanzania to William and Mary Medical Relief in Belize, Costa Rica and Honduras.   In recognition of these efforts William and Mary received the prestigious designation of membership on the President’s Honor Role for Community Service with Distinction, a recognition reserved for only 3% of College or universities in the US.  Additionally, one of the remarkable hallmarks of William and Mary students is your ability to start new volunteer efforts.  If none of the organizations I’ve mention captivate you, then you might find yourself as the founder of a new campus charity or organization. The College will support you as you open doors for those less fortunate than those of us sitting here today.

Our newest William and Mary students
Go and open the door.
Maybe outside there's a tree, or a wood, a garden, or a magic city.
Go and open the door.
Maybe a dog's rummaging. Maybe you'll see a face, or an eye, or the picture of a picture.
Go and open the door.
If there's a fog it will clear.
Go and open the door.
Even if there's only the darkness ticking, even if there's only the hollow wind, even if nothing is there,
Go and open the door.
Today we will literally open the doors of the Wren Building for you and welcome you into the William and Mary community. Go and open other doors.