Convocation, 2009

W. Taylor Reveley, III
August 28, 2009

One of the delights of going to school is the elegant progression of the various seasons of the academic year. Fall term comes and goes, followed by the comparable flowering of the spring term, with generous interludes along the way, and of course, then there is the summer. Today marks the beginning of the annual academic seasons, yet again, in the long life of the College of William & Mary.  This is our 317th academic year.

Lest there be any confusion, I do officially declare that our 2009/2010 year has begun, and that our fall term 2009 is unleashed.

Welcome new students! Last Friday, I had a chance to tell those of you who are freshman and undergraduate transfers just how much we value each of you and how pleased we are to have you in our midst.   I had a chance to welcome our new law students during the first day of law camp on August 18th.   Now to our other professional and graduate students let me say that you, also, have been very carefully chosen and are very dear to us. Collectively and individually, you are all cherished members of the William & Mary community, both during your time on campus and thereafter - that's for a lifetime. William & Mary will be an important and proud part of your identity henceforth.

E. M. Forster began his novel Howard's End with two words: "Only connect."  "Only connect" could be the refrain of William & Mary's song each year as we welcome new students into a College family that is centered in Williamsburg but spread across the country and world, over 80,000 alumni strong.  So, new students, I say "connect and stay connected" to all that is William & Mary.

James B. Comey

Among our Convocation traditions, we honor those who serve others.  Service matters.   We are stewards of a magnificent inheritance at the College.  The privilege of participating in this inheritance carries with it the responsibility to devote part of our time and talent to the larger good.  Students at William & Mary do serve these days to an extraordinary degree, on campus, in the Williamsburg area and beyond.   And, of course, our alumni have served in countless ways over the centuries, including in the highest reaches of the government.

Our speaker this afternoon, a 1982 graduate of the College, has understood and lived this responsibility.

James B. Comey is a former Deputy Attorney General of the United States and a former Acting Attorney General. He chaired the President's Corporate Fraud Task Force and the Presidential Board on Safeguarding American's Civil Liberties.  He played a crucial and courageous role in narrowing the scope of the country's domestic surveillance policy.  He persuaded the Bush Administration to amend its wiretapping program to meet legal standards. Before Mr. Comey's service in Washington, he pursued justice as a federal prosecutor in New York City and in Richmond, overseeing terrorism cases and prosecuting serious financial crimes.  Mr. Comey is now at Lockheed Martin Corporation as its senior vice president and general counsel.

Jim Comey's ties to William & Mary did not end with graduation.  He has maintained them with great delight and steadfast loyalty over the years. He understood the importance of staying connected.  He knows what has made the College great over the generations.  Speaking of generations, Jim Comey met his wife Patrice when they both undergraduates at the College, and one of their children, Maurene, is now a rising senior at the College.

In 2008 Mr. Comey received an honorary degree from his alma mater and spoke at our Charter Day ceremonies - Charter Day is the occasion each February when we remember our origins in 1693 by the grace of King William and Queen Mary.   Precious few alumni - precious few -- have received an honorary degree and spoken at Charter Day.   To be among these precious few is to receive a ringing affirmation of the great respect and affection your alma mater holds for you.

Mr. Comey is now the vice president of the Alumni Association and on its Board of Directors.  In 2003 he spoke at Convocation and did such a smashingly good job that we had an irresistible impulse to bring him back to speak at the 2009 Convocation, that is, right this red hot moment.  Jim Comey, please come and talk to us.

President's Awards

Convocation is the time each year when we present two President's Awards for Service to the Community. One goes to a member of the faculty or staff and the other to a member of the student body. These two people also receive $500 each to donate to service agencies especially important to them.

Professor David Aday, please join me and bring with you Mohammad Torabinejad and Laura Parente from the Student Organization for Medical Outreach & Sustainability (SOMOS), and Molly Blumgart and Jacqueline Rameriz from Students for Healthy Communities (SHC). This service award holds a special meaning for Professor Aday and our William & Mary Community.  David's long-time assistant, Pat Sisson, died recently, and these two causes were very dear to her.  Pat's family is here with us this afternoon.  Thank you Calvin, Cara, Clark, Bill and Denise for helping us honor Pat's commitment to service and to William & Mary.

David Aday is a Professor of Sociology and American Studies and Special Assistant to the Provost.  He has pulled his oar at the College in countless ways, but especially in recent years through his leadership on accreditation matters.  On the service front, he has worked closely with our students through SOMOS in the Dominican Republic, and SHC in Nicaragua.  Each year David and his student colleagues set up week-long free medical clinics, staffed by volunteer medical providers, and   they raise funds to supply medicine free of cost to those who need it.  While the clinics are in session, students come face to face with the causes of persistent health problems and look for long-term solutions.   So far, Professor Aday has made a difference for the better in the Dominican Republic for five years, and he is beginning his fourth year of service in Nicaragua.   In the words of one of his nominators, "Dr. Aday strives for the enrichment of his students and to lessen social injustice in the world."  In 2008, SOMOS was named William & Mary's International Service Trip of the year.

David, we thank you for all that you do.  Here is a plaque in your honor and $250 for SOMOS and $250 for SHC. These dollars will be seed corn for an endowed scholarship in memory of Pat Sisson.

Our student recipient of the President's Award for Service is Mallory Johnson, a member of the Class of 2010. Mallory, please come up with  Marion Werkheiser, from the Phoenix Project.

Mallory participated during her sophomore year in a service trip to Biloxi Mississippi to help with Hurricane Katrina reconstruction.  Later, as part of a program sponsored by the Phoenix Project, she spent the summer in Petersburg, Virginia working to help lessen that city's economic distress.  While there, Mallory forged strong ties to the members of the community.   She returned to Petersburg during her fall break, organizing a day of service when William & Mary students joined with others from the community to clean up seven miles of highway leading into the city.  Mallory has also launched a student group named "William & Mary in Petersburg" to raise awareness of the challenges facing that city and increase the College's help to it.  According to one of her nominators, "Mallory epitomizes all things great about William & Mary in her service to others."

Mallory Johnson has chosen the Phoenix Project to receive a donation in her name. Here is your plaque, Mallory, and $500 for the Project.

Closing Remarks

The program says the President will make remarks.  It is still hot and we have sat long enough.  Let me simply mention four matters to guide us through the end of Convocation.  First, we have a memento for our new students of your lifetime membership in the William & Mary family. Very shortly, a hardy band of alumni will move among you with a gift for everyone.  You will become the first to wear green and gold lapel pins, a symbol of the connection to your alma mater that you have begun to forge.  We hope you will wear these with pride as new members of your class.   Since not all new students are from the Class of 2013, pins for transfer, professional and graduate students will be available, with appropriate numerals, from alumni standing by these steps.

Second, our collective rendition of the alma mater is yet to come. We sing the alma mater often at William & Mary.  It sounds a lot better when everyone sings -- and when everyone sings not in tiny mouse-like voices, but with full-throated abandon. Our new undergraduates have already worked on learning the words and tune.  This is heartening.  It bodes well for the future.  We will be led in song by William & Mary's superb choir.

Third, after the alma mater, comes the new students' walk through  the iconic Wren Building, symbol of the great inheritance that is ours at William & Mary.  New students, as you march through the Wren its bell will toll and people will cheer as you emerge on the other side and move down the steps into the Wren Yard.  It's ok to smile and wave at the crowd.  Enjoy the moment!  It's not going to be often that people cheer as you walk down steps.

Once we've sung the alma mater, everyone except our new students should move briskly to the other side of the Wren so you can greet the new members of the William & Mary community. New students, please stay where you are right now until Sarah Rojas, the marvelous new president of the Student Assembly, and I lead you through the Wren Building.

Fourth, in due course, we should all head for food, drink and music in the Sunken Garden.

Now, let's sing.  Please rise for the alma mater.  Let's belt it out.