Commencement, 2012

W. Taylor Reveley, III
May 13, 2012

Be of good cheer everyone – we are nearing the end of these ceremonies. According to the program, it is now time for the president to offer a few closing words. At this point in the proceedings, as I said last year, I always feel like the corpse at an Irish wake. They need you to have the party, but they don’t expect you to say anything. So, brevity will rule.

Undergraduate Class of 2012, you got started at William & Mary at the same time I got started as the College’s 27th president. Thus, 2012, you and I are joined at the hip. This is a very special relationship.

My theme is the Griffin, adopted as the Tribe’s mascot early in our time together. After an exhaustive search, involving scrutiny of over 300 proposed mascots, I ultimately had to make the pick. There was no consensus on what to choose, a number of contenders had passionate supporters, the stakes were high -- we needed a unifying symbol for the Tribe, it had to make sense for William & Mary, and it needed to look good on t-shirts. It was also likely to invite the gimlet-eyed scrutiny of our alumnus Jon Stewart on national television.

Talk about pressure! Well, the unavoidable moment of decision came, I picked up the red “hot line” phone on my desk and took the plunge – I barked, “Get me the Griffin!”

Today, as we now all know, the College’s very first Griffin, Andrew Gardner, is a member of the graduating class. I guess that makes the Griffin a member of the Class of 2012 too.

Now our new mascot did come to the attention of W&M alumnus Jon Stewart, and he did say on the Daily Show back in April 2010, that William & Mary had chosen as its new mascot a “pantless-tailed eagle.” This caused some concern about whether we should buy pants for the Griffin. To which I finally replied, albeit not on national TV, “lions do not wear pants.”

William & Mary’s Griffin – think about it, a marvelous beast, mating the majestic, all-seeing head of an eagle with the perfectly formed, muscular, pantless body of a lion; and of course, all those spectacular green and gold feathers. What a glorious combination! Just like William & Mary, where we mate the heart of a liberal arts college with the brains of a research university, where we are both public and ivy, where our varsity athletes are also students in fact.

The griffin – half lion, half eagle -- is the perfect mascot for William & Mary. Think about it. The lion, symbol of British monarchs, evokes our royal origins. The eagle, symbol of the United States, evokes William & Mary’s seminal role as alma mater of the nation and it reminds us of the leaders we have trained for the service of our country.

Then there is this: since ancient days, griffins have guarded precious treasure – it’s what they do: They guard precious treasure. And what is more precious than the College of William & Mary?

There is more. A griffin adorns the coat of arms of George Washington, our first American Chancellor and one of the four U.S. presidents intimately associated with William & Mary. A griffin also adorns the coat of arms of George Wythe, who taught Thomas Jefferson law and who, at Jefferson’s request, began our country’s first law school at William & Mary.

And, finally, griffins do live in tribes – or at least that is the conclusion I reached after an exhaustive search of the literature on what griffins, collectively, are called. Actually, I couldn’t find any relevant literature, Not even Wikipedia had a view. This left me free to reach the obvious conclusion – tribes clearly; of course griffins live in tribes and have great affinity for other tribes.

In short, the real question is not why we chose the Griffin as our mascot, but why it took us so long. But, then, perhaps it is the Griffin who chose us in his, her or its good time.

Like the Griffin, each of you has a wonderful blend of talents. I am very proud of what you’ve accomplished while at William & Mary. I look forward to seeing you make a serious difference for the better in the world. And, remember, your ties to William & Mary are for life!