William & Mary

Taylor Reveley's 2016 Commencement remarks

  • Wishing them well:
    Wishing them well:  President Taylor Reveley addresses the Class of 2016 during the Commencement ceremony May 14.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
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The following are the prepared closing remarks of President Taylor Reveley for the 2016 Commencement ceremony - Ed.

Be of good cheer everyone – we approach the end of these ceremonies.

The president is now supposed to lay parting thoughts on our graduates. At this point in the Commencement proceedings each year, however, I feel like the corpse at an Irish wake. You need me to have the party, but you don’t expect me to say anything.

But I have the mike! Fear not, this will be quick.

I take as my text an age-old question: Is it possible to be old and bold? 

In this instance I do not refer to myself. That is a subject for another day.

I refer to William & Mary, now in her 323rd year. William & Mary is clearly old.

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Indeed, few universities in the world can claim as long or distinguished a life as our own Alma Mater of the Nation. We cherish our storied history and marvelous traditions even as we stumble over our venerable brick paths – that is, stumble when the bricks are dry, float along them when wet. Our ubiquitous red brick walks, extending over the horizon in every direction, are truly a piece of work. 

But I digress. 

Most human institutions, say corporations or cultural organizations, have much shorter lives than William & Mary has already enjoyed. Often, they barely outlive the creativity and energy of their founders. How many corporations, or symphony orchestras or zoos, even those that burned brightly for a time, have lasted more than a century? Not many. The list is short.

Most colleges and universities, on the other hand, have materially greater staying power. Perhaps this is because schools are continually renewed as fresh waves of students arrive to reinvigorate the academic community each year, as new professors join the faculty, as new questions emerge from research, as new ideas and discoveries are engaged in classrooms. 

Perhaps, too, universities are long-lived because they are much more able than corporations to hunker down and survive bad times, even brutally bad times. 

Perhaps, also, people simply won’t let colleges and universities with glorious histories die. This was certainly true for William & Mary after the Civil War. People simply wouldn’t let the alma mater of Thomas Jefferson, John Marshall, James Monroe and John Tyler die, even when the campus lay in ruins, the students and faculty were scattered, and the endowment lost. 

But you can’t keep flourishing if all you’ve got is a glorious past and the capacity in days gone by to rise from the flames. You also have to be doing significant things in your own time. Schools in the early 21st century must have the right stuff to do important deeds now, today, and then tomorrow. Great universities are always under construction; they are always evolving to meet the new needs and challenges coming their way.

And great universities have the confidence to be bold, to take well considered risks, to be the rare duck unlike all the other fowl in their species. 

So, sure, it’s possible to be old and bold if you’re William & Mary. Class of 2016, your alma mater is doing unusually bold things these days, and that bodes very well for the future of your beloved school.

But that future cannot be assumed. It must be earned. All of us have the obligation to pass on our legacy, not just intact but enhanced by our support for one another and for Alma Mater. We are One Tribe.

So stick together, Class of 2016, stay connected with other William & Mary people where ever you find yourself on the globe. Wear green and gold with pride. Come back to campus often.

And be bold!