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Tomlin gives class of 2008 'pre-game' pep talk

  • Mike TomlinMike Tomlin, head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, delivers the 2008 keynote commencement address at the College of William and Mary.

    Mike Tomlin

William and Mary’s Class of 2008 graduated today after getting a “pre-game” talk from Pittsburgh Steelers head coach and College alumnus Mike Tomlin, and sharing in a separate surprise announcement of plans to honor a retiring campus icon.

During the commencement ceremony held in William and Mary Hall, Rector Michael K. Powell announced that the University Center will be renamed the Sadler Center for Sam Sadler, the College’s vice president for student affairs who will be retiring this summer after more than four decades of service to his alma mater.

Sadler (’64, M.Ed. ‘71), who also received the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award during the ceremony, received thunderous applause as he gave a final emotional farewell.

“It’s hardly seems possible that it’s time to say goodbye,” he said. “But I can’t let you go without saying one thing to you: I love you.”

Earlier in the ceremony, Tomlin, a member of the Class of 1995, told the graduates that they were about the start in a “game” of their own. The game of life, Tomlin said. 

“This is like a team here today, and those are the locker room doors,” he said. “And on the other side of those doors awaits the game of life.”

Likening his speech to a pre-game pep talk, he complimented the graduates on what they had already accomplished. The game of life was something they are prepared for – even if they don’t realize it now, Tomlin said.

“Whatever it is your heart’s desire to do, you can do,” he said. “Your experience here has sharpened your sword for battle. I encourage you to trust that preparation.”

Tomlin also told the graduates that first five minutes of action never determines the outcome of the game. “Life is more than the scoreboard, it’s how you play,” he said.

“We have to exhibit the honor, the integrity, the class that’s indicative of a William and Mary alum,” said Tomlin, closing by encouraging graduates to never stop dreaming.

“Don’t let the realities of the world that waits on the other side of that locker room door diminish those dreams,” he said. “Make a conscious daily decision to take action to make those dreams a reality, and our paths will cross again in the victory lane.”

Tomlin received an honorary degree during the ceremony, along with Rabbi David Ellenson president of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and member of the Class of 1969. Both Tomlin and Ellenson received honorary doctorates of humane letters, which were presented to them by the Powell and the College’s Chancellor and retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

O’Connor, who also served as the speaker at the law school’s commencement ceremony today, said she looks forward to what the graduates will do in the future. 

“I wish each and every one of you happiness as you go forward,” she said. “If you apply what you’ve learned here and dedicate yourself to helping others as you go along your lives and try to do some good along the way wherever you find yourself, you’ll be fine and you’ll lead happy lives and you’ll make all of us proud of you.”

Student speaker Josh Lovell, who received his master’s degree in education today, encouraged his fellow graduates to take the College’s sense of community with them.

“Wherever you go from here, take this notion with you,” he told his fellow graduates. “Oftentimes, the strength of community lies mostly in showing up for each other.”

The College awarded 1,276 undergraduate and 480 graduate degrees during the ceremony. Among the graduates, 28 will go on to serve with Teach For America, an organization that brings college graduates and professionals into urban and rural public schools to teach for two years. This year’s volunteers make up the largest group to ever come out of the College. Also among today’s graduates were seven ROTC cadets, who were commissioned yesterday. 

Interim William & Mary President W. Taylor Reveley III provided closing remarks at Sunday’s ceremony and reminded graduates about the special nature and history of the College. William and Mary may not have a surplus of funds, Reveley said, but its history, its beauty, its academic reputation, its ability to overcome adversity – and its legacy were things that could not be purchased. He told the graduates that their alma mater was proud of what they had accomplished and looked forward to what they’d achieve in the years to come.

“Your academic excellence, athletic prowess, and commitment to serve others, your interest in the world and your understanding that embracing diversity is key to life in the 21st century, all this and more, make you an extraordinary group of people,” he said. “As you leave William and Mary and move through life, I have steely confidence you will make a serious difference for the better.”

Reveley concluded the ceremony by leading the 14,000 or so people in attendance at William and Mary Hall in a cheer for “William” and “Mary.” The event closed with Reveley then leading three thunderous cheers for the Class of ‘08.

“Keep your memories of William and Mary close, so you never leave this place,” Reveley said.

Several students, faculty and staff members received awards during today’s ceremony:

Ashwin Rastogi, a double major in physics and mathematics, received the Lord Botetourt Medal. The medal was established in 1772 “for the honor and encouragement of literary merit.” It is given today to the graduating senior who has attained the greatest distinction in scholarship.

Judd Kennedy, who majored in Middle Eastern Studies and was recently selected as a Marshall Scholar, received the James Frederic Carr Memorial Cup. The cup is given to the graduating senior who best combines the qualities of character, scholarship and leadership.

The Thatcher Prize for Excellence in Graduate and Professional Study was presented to Jody Lynn Allen, who recently completed her Ph.D. in history. The award is presented to an outstanding student in graduate or professional study, and the winner is selected on the basis of scholarship, service and character.

The student winners of the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Awards this year were Jeree Harris, who helped save a local alternative education program, and Shaun Loria, who got fellow students to tutor local children. The award is given based solely on the characteristics of “heart, mind and helpfulness to others.” 

The Thomas Ashley Graves, Jr., Award was presented to Deborah Morse, a professor in the English department. The award was established to recognize sustained excellence in teaching. 

Tom Meier, senior electrical technician for the biology and psychology departments, was also recognized during the ceremony for his commitment to the College. Meier was this year’s recipient of the Duke Award, given annually to an outstanding College employee.