The revolutionary power of residential liberal arts education and the critical role of citizen leaders in today’s society were among the topics that Longwood University’s 26th president, W. Taylor Reveley IV, touched on in his inaugural address Friday, Nov. 15, 2013.
Describing Longwood as a historic institution standing “at this Virginia crossroads, where the Civil War ended and civil rights began,” Reveley IV called for leadership in a changing world, progress in a global society, accountability within higher education and purpose in facing the future.
Joining him at the outdoor ceremony were his father, College of William & Mary President W. Taylor Reveley III, and close friend and colleague former Virginia Gov. Gerald L. Baliles. A reflection written by his grandfather, the late W. Taylor Reveley II, who served as president of nearby Hampden-Sydney College from 1963-77, was read at the ceremony.
“You know that you ride a tide of history, with fulcrum years ahead,” said Reveley IV, addressing the student body. “You know indeed that we live in hard times, with a future of vast possibility. With powerful desire, you want to be citizen leaders.” Citizen leadership—the unique blend of education, service and values at the heart of Longwood’s mission—is central to the concept of residential liberal arts education, which, in Reveley IV’s words, is “one of the great revolutionary forces in all of history.”
Longwood’s impact has been felt throughout the state since the university’s founding 175 years ago—first as a school for women, then as one of Virginia’s leading teacher colleges and finally as a model of professional preparation with grounding in the liberal arts, Reveley IV said.
“Longwood in three centuries is the alma mater of citizen leaders; citizen leaders—you, here and now, joined with the generations running before you and those still yet to run ahead—are the coursing heart of Longwood. …
“The liberal arts of citizen leaders are for the challenges of free society, perennially the same, perpetually new, as when two millennia ago Cicero in a republic forbearer to our own in an era of gathering clouds first exhorted the liberal arts,” he said, issuing a challenge to students to meet the call for 21st century leaders,” Reveley IV said.
Baliles noted that he and Reveley worked together “every day for a decade” at the law firm of Hunton & Williams and later at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, a nonpartisan institute focused on the U.S. presidency, policy and political history. He said Reveley IV is perfectly poised to guide Longwood in the changing higher education environment, adding that tackling challenges such as the funding of higher education and the role of the liberal arts in the 21st century has been a “constant thread” of their joint efforts.
“That Taylor is in a powerful position to give practical care to these issues…gives me powerful optimism,” he said. “Having worked with governors, senators and U.S. secretaries of state to bring issues into clarity for U.S. presidents, Taylor—at heart—relishes simply being of help and doing good.”
W. Taylor Reveley III called his son “the right person for the job at this particular moment in Longwood’s long life.”
Reveley III said he has “tried not to share any advice” with his son about being a college president. However, he did share some thoughts about what it’s like to lead a university when Reveley IV was considering the presidency at Longwood.
“It’s a wonderful job if you believe in the school you’re leading,” Reveley III said he told his son. “When you get up in the morning and peer into the mirror, you don’t have to wonder whether what you’re going to do that day matters. It’ll matter—the only question is whether for good or ill.”
In the end, the younger Reveley heeded the call, with his father’s support. “It’s always good to see one of the offspring go into the family business,” Reveley III joked.Founded in 1839, Longwood University is one of the oldest universities in the United States. Today nearly 5,000 undergraduate and graduate students are enrolled in the university’s five colleges. A member of the Big South Conference, Longwood competes at the Division I level in athletics.