As America presses further into the 21st century, the world looks to it for the type of leadership that can confront issues of “the human condition,” Sen. Chuck Hagel (R.-Neb.) said during his keynote address at William and Mary’s Charter Day celebrations on Feb. 10.
The senator, who has become known as a maverick Republican on Capitol Hill in recent months for challenging the premises of U.S. political strategy in Iraq, looked beyond the destructive realities of the day toward a time of rebuilding global trust. Referring to President Dwight Eisenhower’s second inaugural address, Hagel said the nation’s purpose must be “the building of a peace with justice in a world where moral law prevails.”
“The world knows America’s power,” Hagel said. “No nation rivals us in terms of military and economic might, but in the 21st century, it will be the next global generation’s trust in America’s purpose, not their fear of our power or envy of our economy, that will determine our future.”
Acknowledging both the upcoming 400th anniversary of the settling of nearby Jamestown as well as the College’s own contributions to the experiment in democracy in the New World, Hagel traced the transformation that began with those histories to the need for a “21st-century frame of reference” to “deal with 21st-century challenges and opportunities” today. The new challenges, according to the senator, include energy security, global climate change, the threat of terrorism, immigration and other issues that are “complicated and global” and that are “not confined to defined enemies, nations or ideologies.” As America exercises leadership in relation to those challenges, it will be successful only to the extent that the world trusts its “moral purpose,” the senator said. That purpose, he warned, must focus on the “human condition,” which he characterized in terms of poverty, including the half of the world’s people who live on less than $2 per day, the more than one billion people who do not have potable drinking water and the two billion people who lack proper sanitation and electricity. Failure to continue to address problems at that most basic level will mean “our children and grandchildren will inherit a very dangerous world,” Hagel said.
“Our nation is imperfect,” he continued. “Like the group that settled at Jamestown, we have known failure and tolerated injustice. But like the group that settled at Jamestown, we have persevered and pushed ourselves to be better and right the wrongs of injustice and intolerance.”
Addressing his closing remarks specifically to the students who were in the audience, Hagel said, “You are part of that next generation that represents the greatest force for change in the world.” Despite the “complexities” of the issues to be faced and the “uncertainties” ahead, Hagel expressed his optimism that they would contribute to the necessary leadership. “William and Mary has prepared you well,” he said.
Hagel’s remarks were the highlight of a ceremony that began with an announcement by President Gene Nichol that the College had surpassed its $500 million goal for the Campaign for William and Mary six months ahead of schedule. Nichol thanked the alumni and friends of the College who were present for that evidence of support, which proves, he said, that “none love more, care more or are more powerfully committed to their college.”
Nichol’s announcement was followed by presentation of the College’s Thomas Jefferson awards. Faculty members honored were Kate Slevin, Chancellor Professor of Sociology, with the Thomas Jefferson Award, and Vladimir Bolotnikov, associate professor of mathematics, with the Thomas Jefferson Teaching Award. Senior Kendra Letchworth received the Thomas Jefferson Prize in Natural Philosophy. Also during the ceremonies, senior Cosmo Fujiyama received the College’s James Monroe Prize in Civic Leadership in recognition of her efforts to serve disadvantaged youth in Honduras and Nicaragua as well as her attempts to make positive differences in the local area. In a first for the Charter Day proceedings, the five alumni who had received Alumni Medallions during the past year were recognized. They are Constance Warren Desaulniers (’75), Thomas P. Hollowell (’65, J.D. ’68, M.L.T. ’69), Susan Aheron Magill (’72), Theresa Thompson (’67) and Winfred O’Neil Ward (’54). Afterward, Michael Powell, rector of the College, conferred honorary doctorate degrees upon JoAnn Falletta, music director of the Norfolk-based Virginia Symphony, A. Marshall Acuff Jr. (’62), a former Salomon Smith Barney executive and former rector of the College’s Board of Visitors, and Hagel.
Nichol closed the ceremony by presenting formal remarks that, as did Hagel’s, played off the accomplishments of history to point toward the challenges that are ahead.
At Jamestown, “the convergence of European, African and Native American cultures, marked by tragedy, conflict, inspiration, strength, courage, transcendence and renewal, would forge a singularly American identity and offer unparalleled opportunities to explore who we have been, who we are and who we mean to become,” Nichol said. Acknowledging that the College’s chancellor, Sandra Day O’Connor, former Supreme Court associate justice, has said that the struggles for democracy and human progress that are the “legacies” of Jamestown “have never been as relevant as they are” this day, Nichol outlined the College’s ongoing commitment to “train a new generation of leaders for a complex and frequently troubled society.” The College attempts, he said, “to lift sights,” to place the “mind in powerful service to society” and to create a “community of head and heart that pushes past old exclusions and separations and polarizations to face a global set of challenges that are boundless and evolving.”
Referencing the direct link between the Jamestown settlers and the founders of William and Mary, Nichol said, “It is not just the ships, the adventures, the stories, the struggles of Jamestown that mark our destinies, but also the foundations of human dignity, self-determination, equal justice and common cause that, despite harrowing and tragic exclusions, ultimately define and measure our national calling,” Nichol said.
“The large work of achieving our purpose,” he added, “remains our own.”