They entered William and Mary with Hurricane Isabel at their heels, and ended it with one of the most exciting months in the College’s history. Today, they received a blessing from one of the highest ranking alums in public office, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates. And, if their newest member could have been there, a crown may have mixed into the sea of black caps topping the Class of 2007.
“2007 may not sound like a special year. It’s not a round number or the turn of the century. But we are truly a significant class, what with the Queen of England joining us as an honorary member and this year marking the 400th anniversary of America’s birthplace,” said graduate Crystal Hamling.
William and Mary awarded degrees to 1,762 graduate and undergraduate students today during its commencement ceremony, marking the end of a remarkable four years.
Gates, a member of the Class of 1965, served as the commencement speaker, noting the effect a William and Mary education had on his life.
“What William and Mary gave me, above all else, was a calling to serve – a sense of duty to community and country that this college has sought to instill in each generation of students for more than 300 years. It is a calling rooted in the history and traditions of this institution,” he said. Gates last spoke at William and Mary on Charter Day in 1998, when he received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters.
During his address, Gates quoted from a letter from John Adams to one his sons, saying, “Public business, my son, must always be done by somebody. It will be done by somebody or another. If wise men decline it, others will not; if honest men refuse it, others will not.” Gates concluded his remarks by asking the Class of 2007, “Will the wise and the honest among you come help us serve the American people?”
During the past four years, the students of the Class of 2007 experienced a dorm fire and snowstorm, lost the Tribe feathers and Pluto as a planet, saw campus buildings renovated and expanded, started service organizations and made existing ones thrive, and provided aid in the wake of hurricanes, a tsunami and the Virginia Tech tragedy, said College President Gene R. Nichol. Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, returned to campus on May 4, 2007 – 50 years since her previous visit to William and Mary. She was made an honorary member of this year’s graduating class.
“A class so remarkable that the Queen of England herself crossed the ocean to become one of your members, which should make your future reunions fascinating,” he said.
Class speaker Elizabeth Derby reminded her fellow graduates of their shared history during her address.
“The past we share with the College and each other is ripe in its reflection of our growth. Each one of us carries the secret of a million little triumphs, and let that be celebrated today,” she said.
She concluded her address with congratulations to the graduates.
“We have lifted ourselves by the force of our passions, coursed with the current along curves of surging time, and today, as we finally pause to catch our breath, we can see ourselves as we now stand: triumphant on the shores of history, ready to dive into the great glittering sea of our future,” Derby said. “We have done this – nurtured by family, resuscitated by friends – and now the whole shining world lays limitless at our feet.”
William and Mary Chancellor and retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor was also in attendance. O’Connor congratulated the graduates and encouraged them to remember the friendships they had made at the College.
“The world really needs you,” she said. “Find a place to start and take a step. Then another step. And just keep walking.”
During the commencement ceremony, several awards were presented:
Laura Elizabeth Smith, a double major in music and anthropology, was awarded the Lord Botetourt Medal. The medal was established in 1772 “for the honor and encouragement of literary merit.” It is given today to the graduating senior who has attained the greatest distinction in scholarship.
Ryan Michael Scofield was awarded with the James Frederic Carr Memorial Cup. The Cup is given to the graduating senior who best combines the qualities of character, scholarship and leadership. Scofield was one of few Student Assembly presidents to be elected to consecutive terms, and he graduated today summa cum laude and a member of Phi Beta Kappa. “No student body president in the last 50 years has achieved an academic record as strong as his,” said Nichol.
The Thatcher Prize for Excellence, presented to recognize an outstanding student in graduate or professional study, was presented to Kristin Emily France. France, a leader in her research lab at VIMS and a mentor to high school and other College students, received her doctorate in marine science today.
The student winners of the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award this year were Richael Faithful and Christopher Lemon. The award is given based only on characteristics of “heart, mind and helpfulness to others.” The other Sullivan Award, presented to a person who has a close working relationship with the College, was given to Louise Kale, executive director of William and Mary’s historic campus.
Professor Alan E. Fuchs of the Department of Philosophy was recognized with the Thomas Ashley Graves, Jr., Award. The award was established to recognize sustained excellence in teaching.
Capt. Ed Davis, William and Mary’s deputy police chief, was also recognized during the ceremony for his outstanding support of the College. Davis was this year’s recipient of the Charles Joseph Duke, Jr., and Virginia Welton Duke Award.
Additionally, alumnus and history department lecturer William M. Kelso, director of archaeology for the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities and the Jamestown Rediscovery Project, and William T. Coleman, Jr., former secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation and noted civil rights advocate and legal scholar, received honorary degrees at the ceremony. Kelso received an honorary Doctor of Science degree, and Coleman received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree. Both were presented by Chancellor O’Connor and the College’s Rector, Michael K. Powell.
Among the graduates today were four ROTC cadets. Prior to the commencement ceremony today, Gates reaffirmed the oaths of the four cadets, along with two from Christopher Newport University in a ceremony in the Wren Chapel. During his remarks at the chapel, Gates recognized the strong ROTC traditions at both William and Mary and CNU.
“With your credentials, you could have chosen something easier, safer,” Gates said. “You have chosen to serve your country in a time of war.”
Gates also thanked the cadets’ families for their support.
“You are entrusting the nation with your most treasured possession,” Gates said. “And we are grateful.”
More than 12,000 people attended the ceremony, which was held in William and Mary Hall. The ceremony came on the heels of a busy weekend of events for the graduates and their families, including an alumni induction ceremony, senior class dance and a candlelight service. The events gave families and friends a chance to get to know the campus and its community a little better.
“I was impressed by William and Mary,” said Bryan Massery, Hamling’s cousin who came in from Picayune, Miss., for graduation weekend. “It seems they give students personal attention, and the university is real involved with students. Crystal’s been allowed to experience that personally, and I’m glad I am able to be out here and experience graduation with her.”
Among today’s graduates, Nichol noted, were four students with a perfect 4.0 grade point average: Smith, Erin Morgan, Lanora Pettit and Brandon Wolfe. The English Department graduated the most students with 112 people.
As the students filed out of William and Mary Hall following commencement, they left behind them a legacy that will be hard to follow, but those who nurtured them at the College are excited to see what they will accomplish next as alumni.
“You have learned much from us, but more, I would guess from one another. You have discovered much of the world, but even more, perhaps of yourselves. You have developed what I pray are unbreakable habits of curiosity,” said Nichol. “Amidst ambitions that burn hot, as they should. And talents that amaze. The poet writes that ‘the truth must dazzle gradually, or every man be blind.’ But you have dazzled quickly, impatiently, powerfully. And still we see.”