W. Taylor Reveley, III
May 15, 2011
By long William & Mary tradition, the president gets the last words at Commencement. Last words fall sweetly on the ears of people who have sat too long only if they are brief, very brief.
Approaching these last words, I do feel a bit like the corpse at an Irish wake. They need you there to have the party. But they don't expect you to say much.
I take as my text the phrase: there is only one William & Mary – and now it's yours. This is what we say to high school seniors when they're admitted to the College and get the fat envelope in the mail.
But "there is only one William & Mary and now it's yours" speaks to you graduates far more directly than to high school seniors trying to pick a college. It's you who have spent enormous amounts of energy climbing William & Mary's steep academic mountain, and it's you who now stand at its summit, ready for the journey ahead. And it's you who a few minutes ago were anointed with a William & Mary degree when I intoned the magic words making you alumni and alumnae.
In my view, your William & Mary degree will nurture you richly for the rest of your lives, until you shuffle off your mortal coils. Why do I say this? Why will your William & Mary degrees stand you in good stead going forward? Three reasons in particular.
First, consider the caliber of the education you've received at the country's second oldest university. Your capacity to think rigorously, your ability to write effectively, your understanding of the great issues that have confronted human beings for millennia and still do, and your awareness that there are no easy answers to most of these issues, all this radically exceeds the grasp of most students graduating across the United States this season, indeed, it exceeds the grasp of the overwhelming majority of them. Thus, your elegant education provides you with a huge comparative advantage going forward.
Second, many in the Class of 2011, most of you I imagine, have made friends for life while in William & Mary's embrace. Friends for life are precious. They rejoice with us in good times and help sustain us in bad. They provide continuity across the years. It's warmly satisfying to have friends who roll through the decades with you and remember, along with you, what it was like when you walked William & Mary's red brick paths together, played on teams together, and did any of the other countless things at William & Mary that unite us. Keep those friendships alive. Friends for life are a rare blessing.
Third, a degree from William & Mary is a serious distinction, an important personal credential, a key that opens opportunities not otherwise readily accessible. People who know higher education in America understand the high caliber of our faculty and students and the superb education inherent in a William & Mary degree. As many of you have already discovered, graduate and professional schools love to recruit William & Mary alumni and alumnae. Employers who have hired William & Mary graduates speak lyrically about them and return wanting more. It helps, and it feels good, to have a degree that commands attention and respect.
So, a compellingly good education, wonderful friendships for life, and a powerful credential rooted in the College's renown -- quite a constellation of pluses for the road ahead.
Truly, there is only one William & Mary – and now it's yours!