W&M students deliver message in 'Road to Richmond'

  • Road to RichmondWilliam & Mary students traveled to the state capital to meet with legislators on behalf of the College on Jan. 26.

    Photo by Stephen Salpukas

    Road to Richmond
  • Road to RichmondRain did not deter the students on their mission in Richmond.

    Photo by Stephen Salpukas

    Road to Richmond
  • Road to RichmondState Sen. Tommy Norment (R-James City) speaks to William & Mary students at the Virginia State Capitol.

    Photo by Stephen Salpukas

    Road to Richmond
  • Road to RichmondNorment, who also teaches law and government courses at the College, told the students about his own history with and love of Williamsburg before doling out a few pointers for speaking with state legislators.

    Photo by Stephen Salpukas

    Road to Richmond
  • Road to RichmondJohn Wells (left), dean and director of VIMS, talks with Scott Sandridge and Jennifer Latour.

    Photo by Stpehen Salpukas

    Road to Richmond
  • Road to Richmond(Left to right) Barret Sowers, Virginia Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel '92 (R-Winchester), Sarah Atkinson and Emily Gottshalk-Marconi talk at the Virginia State Assembly.

    Photo by Stephen Salpukas

    Road to Richmond
  • Road to RichmondChase Koontz and Nick Hampton meet with Del. Charles Poindexter (R-Franklin County).

    Photo by Stephen Salpukas

    Road to Richmond
  • Road to RichmondStudents overlook the Virginia State Capitol during a break in the day.

    Photo by Stephen Salpukas

    Road to Richmond

It was 6 a.m. Wednesday morning when a bus filled with about two dozen William & Mary students prepared to pull away from the Sadler Center.

“Thanks a lot for coming,” Lori Oppenheimer ’11 told those on the bus. “It’s a really great thing you’re doing.”

The “great thing” in question was the annual “Road to Richmond” trip, wherein William & Mary students of all social classes and backgrounds spend the morning traveling to the state capital to meet with legislators on behalf of the College. The topics of interest this year included funding for higher education, and a proposed bill in the Virginia General Assembly that would decrease the out-of-state student ratio at the College from 35 percent  to 25 percent.

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Accompanying the students on the trip again this year was William & Mary President Taylor Reveley. The president briefly addressed those who made the trip during a breakfast with legislators, faculty, alumni and College officials held at the Library of Virginia. Reveley emphasized why the College was opposed to cutting the percentage of out-of-state students, citing the diversity the students bring to campus and future financial benefits they provide the Commonwealth by remaining in Virginia and becoming part of the state’s workforce.

And, Reveley joked, “they are bags of gold on two feet.” Out-of-state students make up roughly 67 percent of the College’s tuition revenue (out-of-state students pay $21,500 more in tuition than in-state students), he also explained why any reduction in the percentage would translate into a budget cut of millions. Like other public universities in the state, the College has already experienced significant budget cuts due to the economic crisis. Since 2008, the state’s portion of William & Mary’s operating budget has been reduced $16.7 million, or 32 percent. The College also is faced this year with closing a budget gap of $6.8 million – a reduction by the state in 2010 that was covered last year by one-time federal stimulus dollars.

Reveley also noted that the College needs to remodel its financial foundation in order to adapt to changing monetary times, but reminded students to tell their representatives “how much we appreciate all the bricks and mortar that the state has provided us… and say we are grateful for the governor’s interest in higher education.”

Following breakfast, the students walked across the street to the General Assembly building, where they were greeted by State Sen. Tommy Norment (R-James City). There, Norment, who also teaches law and government courses at the College, regaled the assembled students on his own history with and love of Williamsburg before doling out a few pointers for speaking with state legislators. These included the aphorism that “nothing scares a politician more than a registered voter in election year,” a remark that Reveley followed up by urging students to “be their usual charming selves.”

Following the Norment pep talk, the students broke up into smaller bands of two or three, each with pre-prepared lists of key legislators to visit in the building. Armed with temerity and gift bags of green and gold M&Ms - or as one student pointed out to a state senator “W&Ms” if you turned some upside-down – these representatives of the College dropped in on legislators such as Delegate Tim Hugo ’86 (R-Fairfax) and State Sen. Fred Quayle (R-Suffolk) to plead their case on behalf of the College.

Students were instructed by Oppenheimer, one of the trip organizers, to focus on the out-of-state issue when talking with representatives, but were also urged to convey gratitude on behalf of the College for all of the recent capital investments on campus, as well as for the governor’s recent focus on higher education. When not meeting with delegates and senators, the students had the opportunity to sit in on open legislative committees, as well as to meet with legislators and observe firsthand how state politics function on a day-to-day basis.

For Samantha Sedivy ‘12, who works as an intern for Norment, the practice of getting up at the crack of dawn for a trip to Richmond is a normal bi-weekly occurrence. Nevertheless, Sedivy said she was moved by the show of support from William & Mary students.

“It’s great to see other students coming up and reaching out for the College because the College means so much to everybody,” she said. “Plus, [Senator Norment] loves the College… and I know it means a lot to him and all of the other members to see students coming up and being interested and reaching out for their school.”

Many of the students on the trip felt that although their message occasionally met with opposition, it was the physical show of support by simply being there that made the difference.

“Road to Richmond is an opportunity for students to meet with legislators, but it’s also a chance to lobby and do a good thing for the school,” said Student Assembly Senator Mike Young ’11.

Nick Hampson ’13, echoed Young’s sentiments on the entire experience, adding that “it’s a unique experience to be able to take part in the democratic process like this, and it gives you a little bit of hope in public policy that we can make a difference in some way.”