William & Mary President Taylor Reveley drew on Virginia’s legacy of firsts to encourage the General Assembly to embrace its leadership role as the Commonwealth faces new challenges.
“In the beginning there was Virginia, friends, and Virginia led,” he said. “So inspired, we must lead in our time.”
Reveley gave his address during a special commemorative session of the General Assembly Saturday held at the capitol building in Colonial Williamsburg’s historic area.
The joint session of the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates was the 26th in a series of ceremonial assemblies that began in 1934 with the dedication of the reconstructed capitol on its colonial-era foundation, according to a press release from Colonial Williamsburg.
A highlight of each commemorative session is an address on a current issue facing Virginia, the United States or the world, the release said. Past commemorative speakers have included President Gerald R. Ford, Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell, U.S. Sen. John Warner and Colonial Williamsburg founding benefactor John D. Rockefeller Jr.
Reveley’s address was titled “In the beginning was Virginia, and Virginia led.”
“In the beginning there was Virginia, the Old Dominion – at least in the beginning of the English presence in North America,” Reveley began before remarking on several of Virginia’s firsts, many of them taking place within the Historic Triangle of Williamsburg, Jamestown and Yorktown.
“All in all, the Historic Triangle where we are now gathered has seen a remarkable number of great American leaders in action, and it has been a place where profoundly important American history has been made,” he said. “But so what? Truly, friends, does it make any difference these days amid the relentless technological advances, the enormous societal flux, and the pervasively bad mood of the early 21st century – amid all this does it really matter that Virginia came first and that Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Yorktown saw gifted humans do compelling deeds long ago?”
Reveley endeavored to answer that question by looking at some of the reasons aged institutions are venerated, including endurance through difficult or even terrible times. Virginia has seen its fair share of those, Reveley said, including slavery, secession and segregation. But the Commonwealth has also enjoyed “many robustly good times,” he added, including recent decades in which national defense spending has bolstered the state’s economy.
That time has run out, Reveley said, noting that out-of-state support for Virginia has declined significantly.
“Thus, it seems that we Virginians must scramble to rebuild our economic strength,” he said. “We’ll need to scramble more than Virginia is accustomed to scrambling since the second World War to expand existing businesses and attract new ones, to develop emerging opportunities in technology and cybersecurity, to drive more international trade through our magnificent port, to lure more tourists to our extraordinary cultural and recreational attractions, to see to crucial infrastructure – highways, bridges and tunnels are high on the list – to do all sorts of things, including of course, figure out, soon, how to sustain our schools – K12, community colleges, four year colleges and research universities.”
All of that will require creative problem solving, new ways of doing business and – most importantly leadership, which is the “bone marrow of a functioning democracy,” Reveley said.
“It’s inescapable. Leaders matter,” said Reveley, adding that leaders “don’t let a quixotic search for the perfect stamp out the realization of the good. They don’t confuse their own policy preferences with the matters of principle about which there can be no compromise. Indeed, they are masters of compromise when crucial to advance the mission.
“So, Senators and Delegates of the august Commonwealth of Virginia, leaders, your mission is crucially important, and it’s vital that you take great satisfaction from helping push our extraordinarily wonderful Commonwealth forward,” he said.Read Reveley’s full remarks here.