Education will be critical in helping the nation recover from its current economic crisis, U.S. Senator (D-Va.) Jim Webb told the students, faculty, alumni and community members gathered in William & Mary’s Phi Beta Kappa Hall on Feb. 7.
“With the help of schools just like this one, we have built the foundation for strong and diverse economy,” he said. “To be sure, we are in the midst of a deep and serious recession, and we are working everyday with the new President to restore that economy and to put people back to work and to keep the jobs of those who still have. One of the forces that will hasten our recovery … is sustained support for research and development, and higher education.”
Webb, the senior senator from Virginia, was the keynote speaker at the College of William and Mary’s Charter Day ceremony. This year’s ceremony marked the 316th anniversary of the awarding of the Royal Charter from King William III and Queen Mary II of Great Britain establishing the College. As he began his remarks, Webb commented on William & Mary’s long-standing connection to his senate seat.
“We went to the Senate Historian as I was preparing for this event, and I am told that the seat that I now hold in the Senate has also been held by nine graduates of this college, two of them--James Monroe and John Tyler--as you know, ultimately served as presidents of the United States,” said Webb, whose own chief of staff, Paul Reagan (’81,) is a William & Mary alumnus. “It's rather remarkable when you think about it that in our entire history, only 29 people have had this particular seat in the United States Senate, and almost a third of them have attended this institution.”
Webb came down to Williamsburg Saturday morning after working late in the U.S. Senate Friday night on the proposed stimulus package.
“We will get this done, we will get it done in a way that will be good for the economy of the country and fair to the people who are going to have to pay the tax burden that will come along side of it,” Webb said.
Reflecting on the College’s long history, Webb compared the state of America during the time that the College’s charter was written and to how it stands today, with an ever-widening gap between its wealthiest citizens and everyone else.
“As a public institution formed in order to benefit what the British Crown in your charter called its ‘well-beloved and trusty subjects,’ William & Mary is certainly well-positioned to play a leading role in the important work of restoring economic fairness and opportunity to our country,” he said.
Among the ceremony’s attendees was College Chancellor and former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Like Webb, O’Connor noted the country’s “difficult economic times” in her remarks.
“We need the special occasions, like this, to acknowledge those who perform in special ways that elevate all of us above and beyond our daily concerns,” she said. “So, it’s particularly good to be able to do so on this absolutely beautiful day and on this peaceful, wonderful campus, which we all cherish and appreciate, and to be in the company of so many special and admirable people.”
Earlier in the ceremony, Provost Geoff Feiss, who will be retiring this summer after a decade of service to the College, read excerpts from the College’s Charter for the last time. Rector Michael K. Powell and President Taylor Reveley also acknowledged several members of the College community for their work at the College and beyond.
Katherine Kulick, Associate Professor of French and Modern Languages, received the Jefferson Award, which recognizes a person who has demonstrated a deep devotion and outstanding service to the College and whose life, character, and influence on the College exemplify the principles of Thomas Jefferson. Rowan Lockwood, an associate professor in the Department of Geology, received the 2009 Thomas Jefferson Teaching Award, the highest award given to young faculty members at the College of William and Mary.
Kelly Hallinger, a senior biology major, was awarded the Jefferson Prize in Natural Philosophy. However, because she was unable to attend the ceremony, Biology Professor Dan Cristol accepted the award for her. Devin Oller, a senior English major, received the Monroe Prize for Civic Engagement.
Five alumni were also acknowledged during the ceremony as the recipients of this year’s Alumni Medallion. The awardees, who received their medallions during a ceremony on Feb. 6, are: Sarah Kemp Brady ('64), Lynn Melzer Dillon ('75), Henry George ('65), Harrison Tyler ('49), Sunshine "Sunny" Trumbo Williams ('44).
Webb and two others received honorary degrees during the event. Webb received honorary degree of doctor of public service, and Glenn Lowry, founding director of William & Mary's Muscarelle Museum of Art and current director of the Museum of Modern Art, received the doctor of arts. John Hope Franklin, author and James B. Duke Professor Emeritus of History at Duke University, received the doctor of humane letters. Franklin, who at age 93 no longer travels, was awarded the degree in absentia.
As he closed the ceremony, President Taylor Reveley reflected on the College’s long history and pondered why the community celebrates Charter Day.
He concluded that the occasion celebrates the quality and wisdom that comes with the College’s age, its staying power and its “poise and dignity born of experience and perseverance.”
“There is very little William & Mary has not seen and very little it has not survived,” he said. “Inexperienced and untested institutions do not always respond with grace under pressure shown by those who have been around for more than three decades. So, we celebrate each year on Charter Day the College’s grace under pressure.”