William & Mary

Clemons at Charter Day: ‘It’s what we all add’

  • Michael "Pinball" Clemons '89
    Michael "Pinball" Clemons '89  served as the keynote speaker for W&M's 2017 Charter Day ceremony.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Charter Day:
    Charter Day:  W&M Chancellor and former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates ’65 provided welcoming remarks.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Charter Day:
    Charter Day:  Millie West, a longtime Tribe coach, administrator and athletic supporter, received an honorary degree at the ceremony.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Charter Day:
    Charter Day:  Ben Zhang ’17 received the Thomas Jefferson Prize in Natural Philosophy.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Charter Day:
    Charter Day:  Kara Thompson, assistant professor of English and American studies, was presented with the Thomas Jefferson Teaching Award.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Charter Day:
    Charter Day:  Daniel Delmonaco '16 received the Monroe Prize in Civic Leadership.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Charter Day:
    Charter Day:  Sharon Zuber, senior lecturer of English and director of the Writing Resources Center, received the Thomas Jefferson Award.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Charter Day:
    Charter Day:  Michael "Pinball" Clemons '89 greeted his former Tribe football coach, Jimmye Laycock, during his Charter Day address.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Charter Day:
    Charter Day:  The Accidentals, an a capella group, sang a rendition of "Happy Birthday" at the event.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Charter Day:
    Charter Day:  W&M President Taylor Reveley closed the ceremony by reflecting on the resilience of the university.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
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It is a community’s collective greatness that makes it special, Michael “Pinball” Clemons ’89 told students, faculty, staff, students and community members gathered in Kaplan Arena Friday afternoon.

“It’s what we all add,” said the former football All-American and member of the Canadian Football League Hall of Fame. “It’s not just [Tribe Football] Coach Laycock. It’s not just [honorary degree recipient] Millie West. It is not just our eloquent and savvy chancellor. It is all of us.”

Quoting U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt, Clemons said that a stream can’t rise higher than its primary source.

“If the stream can only rise as high as the main source, what you need to understand is that you are the main source,” said Clemons. “So when you rise, we rise.”

{{youtube:medium:left|-icFAWSbJ6g, Clemons' keynote remarks}}

Clemons’ remarks were part of the keynote address he presented at William & Mary’s 2017 Charter Day ceremony. The annual event marks the day on which the university received its royal charter in 1693 and is celebrated as the institution’s birthday.

In offering welcoming remarks at the event, W&M Chancellor and former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates ’65 discussed the negative reaction that the Rev. James Blair received from when he first sought to establish William & Mary — a reaction similar to that of people today when encountering ideas different from their own.

“Though many claim to detest this behavior in our politicians and the resulting gridlock in Washington, many of us simultaneously perpetuate the behavior we say we detest,” said Gates. “Many of us increasingly occupy ever narrower echo chambers, reinforcing our own views without challenge. It is of course a grave mistake to think one’s views are actually strengthened without challenge.”

William & Mary’s mission to increase knowledge and illuminate what is unknown is important in altering that tendency, Gates added.

 “So on this, William & Mary’s 324th birthday, let us recommit ourselves to that mission, that this will be a place and that we will be a people seeking sincerely and respectfully to engage one another’s views with a humility acknowledging that our own may need to be challenged, not just reinforced,” he said.

Couriers of freedom

Throughout his speech, Clemons was rarely behind the podium, even at one time jumping from stage to get closer to the audience. He also led the crowd in intermittent rounds of clapping and shouts of “Go, Tribe!”

He said that despite offers from other institutions including Harvard and Columbia, he came to William & Mary as a student because it offered the most comprehensive academic and athletic opportunities.

“Why W&M? It was obvious. It was the obvious solution. William & Mary, well, membership has its privileges,” he said.

Clemons encouraged other members of the Tribe to be sensible stewards of that privilege and recognize their role as “couriers of freedom.”

“We are couriers of freedom, why? Because true freedom is intellectual emancipation,” he said. “It is the freedom of the mind that is true freedom. I want to challenge you today to protect that, to be lifelong learners. Never stop learning; never stop growing.”

Relaying the story of a drifter who built a bridge between brothers after being hired to build a fence, Clemons asked the audience to let diversity begin with them.

“Ask yourself, ‘Am I the fence or the bridge?’” he said.

{{youtube:medium:left|eAYQEFXxyDA, The meaning of paper}}

Awards and honors

Clemons received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree at the ceremony along with West, a longtime Tribe coach, administrator and athletic supporter. In addition, several faculty members and students were recognized for their work.

Sharon Zuber, senior lecturer of English and director of the Writing Resources Center, received the Thomas Jefferson Award, and Kara Thompson, assistant professor of English and American studies, was presented with the Thomas Jefferson Teaching Award. Both faculty members offered brief remarks.

Caroline Golino '17Xinzi "Ben" Zhang ’17 took home the Thomas Jefferson Prize in Natural Philosophy, and Daniel Delmonaco ’16 received the Monroe Prize in Civic Leadership.

Troy Keen ’96, Jeff Trammell ’73, Ted Dintersmith ’74 and Fred Malvin ’55, M.S.T. ’58, who received the W&M Alumni Medallion on Saturday, were also recognized at the event.

Caroline Golino ’17 served as the student speaker for this year’s ceremony, reflecting on the use of the word “forever” in the university’s charter and the actual malleability of the institution, with change often led by students.

“You don’t get to be one of the oldest colleges in the nation by being a single, immutable entity,” she said. “You must be as amorphous as your student body, embracing the growth and change as it comes with the individuals who are passionate enough to drive it.”

As W&M President Taylor Reveley closed the event, he reflected on the staying power of the university through fires, wars, financial struggle and other issues.

{{youtube:medium:left|mzNeY6HU1J8, Reveley's closing remarks}}

“Great universities, like great countries, inevitably encounter hard, challenging times, as well as times when everything seems right side up and extremely promising,” he said.

“I believe, actually I have complete confidence, that both William & Mary and the United States of America are enormously resilient human creations, full of people of compelling ability. Both the College and the country have made their way through terrible times as well as glorious ones. Both have their best days yet to come.”