Members of William and Mary’s Class of 2007 entered the College with Hurricane Isabel at their heels, and they ended their tenure as students by celebrating one of the most exciting months in the institution’s storied history. Their journey was encapsulated by President Gene Nichol during his opening remarks at the 2007 commencement exercises on May 20.
While they were students at the College, class members experienced a
dorm fire and snowstorm, saw the Tribe feathers surrendered and Pluto
downgraded as a planet, saw campus buildings renovated and expanded,
started service organizations and made existing ones thrive, and
provided aid in the wake of hurricanes, a tsunami and the Virginia Tech
tragedy, Nichol said. He also referenced the fact that Her Majesty Queen
Elizabeth II consented to become an honorary member of the graduating
class when she appeared at the College on May 4, approximately 50 years
after her previous visit.
“[The Class of 2007 is] so remarkable that the Queen of England herself crossed the ocean to become one of your members, which should make your future reunions fascinating,” Nichol said.
Nichol brought closure to the ceremony during his second address by reflecting upon the values and strengths that class members developed during their undergraduate years.
“You have learned much from us, but more, I would guess from one another,” Nichol said. “You have discovered much of the world, but even more, perhaps, of yourselves. You have developed what I pray are unbreakable habits of curiosity amidst ambitions that burn hot, as they should, and talents that amaze. The poet writes that ‘the truth must dazzle gradually, or every man be blind,’ but you have dazzled quickly, impatiently, powerfully—and still we see.”
During the 2007 commencement exercises, the College awarded degrees to 1,762 graduate and undergraduate students. Each graduate received a blessing and a plea from commencement speaker Robert M. Gates (’65), the U.S. secretary of defense, who is one of the highest ranking alumni in public office. Gates noted how his William and Mary education influenced his life.
“What William and Mary gave me, above all else, was a calling to serve—a sense of duty to community and country that this College has sought to instill in each generation of students for more than 300 years,” Gates said. “It is a calling rooted in the history and traditions of this institution.” Gates, who last spoke at William and Mary on Charter Day in 1998, when he received an honorary doctorate of humane letters, quoted a letter from John Adams to one his sons during his address. Adams wrote, “Public business, my son, must always be done by somebody. It will be done by somebody or another. If wise men decline it, others will not; if honest men refuse it, others will not.”
Gates concluded his remarks by challenging members of the Class of 2007 to consider joining him in governmental service. “Will the wise and the honest among you come help us serve the American people?” he asked.
After Gates’ speech, Elizabeth Derby reminded her fellow graduates of their shared history as she delivered the student address.
“The past we share with the College and each other is ripe in its reflection of our growth,” she said. “Each one of us carries the secret of a million little triumphs, and let that be celebrated today.” Derby concluded her speech by extending her congratulations to the graduates. “We have lifted ourselves by the force of our passions, coursed with the current along curves of surging time, and today, as we finally pause to catch our breath, we can see ourselves as we now stand: triumphant on the shores of history, ready to dive into the great glittering sea of our future,” she said. “We have done this—nurtured by family, resuscitated by friends—and now the whole shining world lies limitless at our feet.”
During the ceremonies, Sandra Day O’Connor, William and Mary chancellor and retired Supreme Court associate justice, also congratulated the graduates and encouraged them to remember the friendships they had made at the College.
“The world really needs you,” she said. “Find a place to start and take a step, then another step and just keep walking.”
During the commencement ceremony, honorary doctorates were presented to William M. Kelso and William T. Coleman. Jr. Kelso, director of archaeology for the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities and the Jamestown Rediscovery Project, received an honorary doctorate of science. Coleman, former secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation and a noted civil-rights advocate and legal scholar, received an honorary doctorate of laws. The honorary degrees were presented by O’Connor and Michael K Powell (’85), rector of the College. In addition, numerous College awards were presented, including the Lord Botetourt Medal, the James Frederic Carr Memorial Cup, the Thatcher Prize for Excellence, the Algernon Sydney Sullivan awards and the Thomas Ashley Graves Jr. Award (see story). Captain Ed. Davis, deputy police chief at the College, was recognized for his receipt of the Charles Joseph Duke Jr. and Virginia Welton Duke Award.
More than 12,000 people attended the 2007 commencement ceremony, which was held in William and Mary Hall. The ceremony came on the heels of a busy weekend of events for the graduates and their families, including an alumni induction ceremony, a senior class dance, a candlelight service and the much anticipated final walk across the campus. The events gave families and friends a chance to get to know the campus and its community a little better as well as an opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments of the graduates.
“2007 may not sound like a special year,” said Crystal Hamling, a member of the class. “It’s not a round number or the turn of the century, but we are truly a significant class, what with the Queen of England joining us as an honorary member and this year marking the 400th anniversary of America’s birthplace.”
“I was impressed by William and Mary,” said Bryan Massery, Hamling’s cousin who visited during graduation weekend. “It seems they give students personal attention, and the university is real involved with students. Crystal’s been allowed to experience that personally, and I’m glad I am able to be out here and experience graduation with her.”