The College Yard on the campus of William & Mary looked like a scene straight from College GameDay Thursday for the live broadcast of CNN’s “John King, USA.”
But instead of green grass, painted white lines and metal seats in the background, the hour-long television news show featured William & Mary’s historical Sir Christopher Wren Building and hundreds of cheering students.
Students, faculty and staff arrived hours before the event, sporting green and gold apparel. Colorful signs welcomed CNN to the college campus, with the messages “Alma Mater of the Nation” and “William & Mary: Jefferson’s FIRST University.” All were held for the world to see on national TV.
The crowd, estimated at more than 700, was playfully creative. One student mounted a cutout of the head of Robert M. Gates ’65, William & Mary’s new Chancellor, onto a long stick that was gleefully passed through the crowd, and almost always in the camera shot. It’s safe to say that Chancellor Gates, who is this year’s speaker for Charter Day, loomed head and shoulders above the crowd.
“I’ve watched John King, USA at home, so for him to come to William & Mary and represent such a great college is really exciting,” said transfer student Kelsey Shivers. “It’s especially exciting with Robert Gates as our new Chancellor.”
Gates, former Secretary of Defense, sat down earlier in the day in the Great Hall of the Wren Building for a one-on-one interview with King, CNN’s chief national correspondent. They discussed the Republican campaign trail, the Iraq War and recent talks out of Washington of an Afghan drawdown.
“The key, I think for us, is not in the end game to get too impatient,” Gates said of the combat in Afghanistan. “We’ve invested too much, in terms of lives and sacrifice and dollars, to get too impatient just because we’re tired.”
“But, overall, the notion of a change of mission beginning in 2013 and gradual drawdown to the end of 2014 does not represent a significant change,” he noted.
Junior Matt Levey, a Russian-international relations double major, said he admired Gates for his successful career in public service. Gates, who served from 2006 to 2011 under former President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama, is the only defense secretary in the nation’s history to serve two presidents from different political parties. Prior to becoming defense secretary, he served in numerous capacities in the Executive Branch and worked for eight presidents. He is also the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency. From 2002 to 2006, Gates was president of Texas A&M University.
“I really like that Gates has had three or four different careers, and has excelled at all of them,” said Levey. “Whether it be as the president of Texas A&M, director of the CIA, or secretary of defense under two different presidents, he’s just done so much and it’s something we should all look up to.”
During the live show, King joined in on the "Alma Mater of the Nation" spirit and held up a sign telling his CNN correspondent, Kate Bolduan, “This is what they call William & Mary – Jefferson’s first university.”
“I love it,” she replied.
As did everyone affiliated with the College for this special, exciting evening.