William & Mary

President Reveley's welcoming remarks for new students

The following are President Taylor Reveley's prepared remarks for the new student welcome session, held on Aug. 20 - Ed.

Well everyone, you've survived Move-In Day so far.  It's always a pretty frisky undertaking, especially in the equatorial heat of late August in Williamsburg.  I saw some of you emulating a beast of burden this morning as I made the rounds.   Now we are all ensconced in the cool of this cavernous place, and it does feel good.

Last fall, the College topped 12,500 undergraduate applications for the first time ever.  Congratulations on getting into William & Mary from amid this crush of highly qualified applicants!  This was no small feat.  You make up one of the most carefully selected student bodies in America.  You and your classmates come with sterling academic credentials and compelling backgrounds.  You come from across the Commonwealth, the nation, and the globe. We are delighted - and honored -- that you've chosen William & Mary from among all the other places you might have gone.

And transfer students, we're thrilled you are here.  You, too, are a glittering group.

It's time to watch a short flick together.  It was created by Josh Goldman, a newly minted alumnus in the Class of 2010.

There you have it-straight from the horse's mouth, straight from the experts about undergraduate life at William & Mary.  The College really is an extraordinary community.

Let me introduce the three other people on stage.  Our student speaker, Imad Matini, is a senior and one of your Orientation Aides.

Ginger Ambler is vice president for student affairs.  She will be your great friend and ally during your time at William & Mary.

Mayor Clyde Haulman of Williamsburg is also Professor Haulman of William & Mary.  He has taught economics at the College for more than 40 years.  The mayor is here to welcome you to Williamsburg, as did the banners I hope you saw on your way into town.  Our students make up more than half of Williamsburg's population.  The City cares about you very much.  And the College cares very much about Williamsburg.  Indeed, a member of the Class of 2010 was elected to City Council last spring.  His name is Scott Foster, and I'm sure you will come to know and appreciate him.

The College of William & Mary traces its origins all the way back to 1693.  The 21st century is the fifth century in which the College has lived-it made a cameo appearance in the late 17th century, was in full cry throughout the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, and now its juggernaut is rolling into the 21st century.  This century, your century, will be the best yet for William & Mary, in my judgment.

Let me take a stab in a few words at answering a crucial question.  That is, why is William & Mary so amazing - so awesome?  

Here's why.  William & Mary was founded by British royal charter in 1693 and is second only to Harvard in age among more than 4,000 colleges and universities in America.  William & Mary is a public ivy, and one of the very best liberal arts universities in the galaxy.  The College remains steadfastly devoted to teaching, especially undergraduate teaching, even while moving increasingly into cutting-edge research important to society.  Other research universities do not have tenured professors as committed to undergraduate teaching as is true here.  As one of our professors puts it, William & Mary has "the heart of a college and the brains of a research university."  Another faculty member says our students are "taught by professors, taught in small classes, graded by professors, and known by professors during college and later life."  And to quote an undergraduate, the "professors are better than I could have imagined.  They are the best teachers I have ever had.  They are passionate about what they teach."  

Thus, to a degree unknown among other public research universities, William & Mary has a low student/faculty ratio, small classes, and close involvement of its tenured faculty with undergraduates as well as graduate and professional students.  Admission standards are very high, courses are available, student research is emphasized.  Nearly half of our undergraduates study abroad at some point during their college careers.  Almost 75% of our undergraduates live on campus.  

Because William & Mary takes a liberal arts approach to education, our students hone their ability to think rigorously and critically, they learn to look for the assumptions underlying conclusions and see if there is evidence to support them, and they learn to engage sympathetically, not simply tolerate, ideas and perspectives different from their own.  They develop the cultural dexterity to thrive in a world full of differences and the intellectual dexterity to move from one career to another as circumstances change over the course of their working lives.  

Producing good citizens and effective leaders has been a William & Mary strength for generations.  In the words of Dumas Malone, "no American institution of learning has ever surpassed the record of this little College, in Jefferson's generation, as a nursery of statesmen."  Our graduates played seminal roles in creating both the Commonwealth of Virginia and the United States of America.  Three U.S. Presidents were students at William & Mary (Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe and John Tyler), and a fourth, George Washington, had close ties to the College.  His surveyor's license came from William & Mary, and he was our first American Chancellor, a post now held by Sandra Day O'Connor, the first woman justice of the U.S. Supreme Court; her immediate predecessors as Chancellor of William & Mary were Henry Kissinger, former U.S. Secretary of State, Margaret Thatcher, former prime minister of Great Britain, and Warren Burger, former chief justice of the United States.  That's a breath-taking run of recent William & Mary Chancellors.  The greatest of all chief justices of the United States was John Marshall, and he was among the first law students at William & Mary.  Two members of President Obama's cabinet graduated from William & Mary -- Robert Gates, Secretary of Defense, and Christina Romer, Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers.  

Our graduates do indeed lead in countless ways in their communities, states, and nations.  These ways include, among a host of others, being dean of comic commentators on the news, Jon Stewart, class of 1984, and head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Mike Tomlin, class of 1995; Mike won Super Bowl XLIII (43) in 2009 at the tender age of 36.  As you will soon see as you settle into life on campus, our current students spend hundreds of thousands of hours each year in service to others.   

As you will also soon come to know, William & Mary people, members of the Tribe, stay in touch with their college not just when going to school in Williamsburg but for life.  This has certainly been true of the four august graduates just mentioned - Gates, Romer, Stewart, and Tomlin - as it has been true for so many others over the generations and centuries.

Phi Beta Kappa, the most important American society recognizing academic excellence, began at William & Mary.  Student-governed honor systems began at William & Mary.  The oldest law school in the United States began at William & Mary.  The oldest academic structure in the United States is our Sir Christopher Wren Building.   And unlike all other public universities in the country, William & Mary was private for more than two centuries before becoming public in 1906.

With Jamestown to our west, Yorktown to our east, and Colonial Williamsburg cheek-to-jowl, William & Mary takes strength from our historic past even as we move powerfully into the 21st century.

William & Mary is charging forward.  We are nearing the end of a decade-long building boom that has transformed many parts of the campus.  Applications for admission continue to rise, soaring in the case of some of our schools.  Last year we had a Rhodes Scholar, 3 Goldwater Scholars, and 13 Fulbright Scholars.  Despite the Great Recession, we've continued to attract marvelous philanthropic support.  I could go on and on, but you see the picture.

Like I said, awesome!  Being a student at William & Mary and then alumnus or alumna of the College is something about which you can be very proud.

Those of us at William & Mary are the stewards of a great inheritance. Now it's time for each of you to make your mark on William & Mary.   Service and leadership will be key.  The ideal of service - and of leadership - is among the College's most cherished traditions and expectations.  The privilege of membership in this community-given you because of your exceptional talent-carries with it the responsibility to devote part of that talent to seeking the larger good.  

Parents, I'm reasonably sure I know what most of you are feeling right now.  My wife Helen and I have seen our four children off to college.  We have felt the pain of saying good bye the first time and then walking back to the car leaving our child all alone in a new place knowing few if any other people and facing all sorts of bracing challenges.  This is hard!

But parents, I believe deeply that your sons and daughters will be just fine at William & Mary.  Indeed, I believe they will thrive. They will be supported in our community, because members of the Tribe look out for one another.  They will also be given breathing room to range widely in their interests and pursuits, to grow enormously as thinking people, to learn a lot about themselves, and to begin figuring out how they want to make a difference for the better in the world.

And new students, it's fine to feel anxious right now.  You may also battle homesickness for a while.  I was certainly anxious and homesick when I first got to college.  All this is perfectly normal, it's not life-threatening, and it does goes away before long.   

The next time this group-students, parents, brothers and sisters, friends -gathers as a whole will be for Commencement.  For some of you that may come in two or three years.  For most in four years, in 2014. We look forward to being together again on that day to welcome you not as entering students, but as newly christened alumni and alumnae.  Even more, starting right this red hot moment, we look forward to our time together as your William & Mary experience unfolds.  The College of William & Mary is now yours -- intensely for the next few years and then for a lifetime.

Something I will occasionally ask you to do while on campus is cheer for William & Mary and for your class.  Now I realize that not all of you are in the Class of 2014, but let's use 2014 as the cheer anyway.  This works by call and response.  I'll call and then you'll respond in turn.  Let's first cheer for the College, William & Mary-men, you will cheer "William" three times and women you will then cheer "Mary" three times as well.  Then I will propose a cheer for the class-to which you will all shout "14" three times.  Here we go.

Now let's hear from our student speaker, then our vice president for students affairs, and finally our mayor.

To ring down the curtain, William & Mary's magnificent choir will lead us in the Alma Mater.  One of the distinguishing characteristics of William & Mary undergraduates is that you actually learn your school's alma mater.  This afternoon we'll get a real start on doing just that.