That's where William & Mary students loaded into two buses and headed for Richmond. There, they would visit the Virginia General Assembly to talk and rub elbows with state senators and delegates, visit budget committees at the Capitol, and spend time over breakfast meeting lawmakers and former members of the College's Board of Visitors. All before being deposited back on the Williamsburg campus in time for their afternoon classes.
The annual delegation of William & Mary students, also called the "Road to Richmond" has become part of the regular schedule for members of the student body who spend the morning in the halls of Virginia's Capitol to lobby lawmakers on behalf of the College. The effort was applauded by politicians, pages, and W&M officials for the participants' dedication, ambition, and, as President Taylor Reveley put it, a "willingness to function at hours contrary to the normal student schedule, which is far more nocturnal than morning-oriented."
Students knew their visit would make an impact.
"I think it shows that the individual students care about the College enough to lobby on its behalf," said Ross Gillingham'10.
An early start
In keeping with the president's pronouncement of an early start, the day began with a pre-dawn bus ride up I-64, ending in front of Richmond's strikingly beautiful Library of Virginia just as the sun was rising. Several lawmakers and former members of the Board of Visitors were waiting to greet students. They talked over breakfast about everything from the inner workings of the financial subcommittees to the employment landscape of a modern-day English major.
State Sen. Jeff McWaters (R-Virginia Beach), also a former W&M Board member, maintained a genial level of conversations with the four students who sat down with him over coffee and quiche, chatting about the Green Leafe and giving back a few personal anecdotes. McWaters, who began his first term with the General Assembly earlier this month, described himself to the assembled students as "still at that very young stage where I try to read every bill."
Whatever light conversation there was between the representatives from Williamsburg and Richmond, however, was overshadowed by a pervasive feeling of steely determination. In a short but emphatic speech to the assembled group, Reveley spoke of a "great recessionary bear that's roaming the nation." That same bear was also making its presence felt over breakfast when Del. Bill Barlow (D-Smithfield) greeted emissaries of the College by remarking that he wished he had "better news for them" that morning. He was referring to Virginia's budget crisis and the $4 billion funding gap that lawmakers must close in the coming weeks.
The effects of the funding gap are well known back in Williamsburg, where William & Mary has seen its state operating dollars reduced by 32 percent, or $16.7 million, over the past year and a half. In 1980, the Commonwealth provided almost 43 percent of W&M's operating budget. That number is now less than 14 percent and the budgetary reality has forced Reveley and other officials to call for the need of a new financial model to fund higher education in Virginia.
"We are living on borrowed time financially," Reveley told those at the breakfast. "We have been doing our share. Our fur has been cut and cut and cut, and we are now into bone and muscle. Pretty please with sugar on it don't cut us any more right at this red hot moment."
The president also invited students to "see the democratic process, to get a real taste of the General Assembly, and to do some good for your school."
Following those words, the assembled students gathered at the door and proceeded down the block to the home of the Virginia General Assembly. There they were greeted by State Sen. Tommy Norment (R-James City) who sent the delegation from Williamsburg off on their primary duties of the day - to be heard in the halls of the Capitol.
"If you are not heard," Norment remarked "you will not get those things the president was articulating this morning."
‘Go get that money'
And so, students emptied out into the General Assembly building, travelling from office to office and floor to floor in small groups of four or five to deliver the message directly to lawmakers. Many were delighted to receive students, including Del. Bill Janis (R-Goochland) who urged the small group who caught him right before a meeting on transportation to "go get that money for President Reveley."
A group of students consisting of Skyler Halbritter '11, Christina Scott '11 and Chelsea German '12 met with Del. Roslyn Tyler (D-Jarratt) to discuss the college's financial situation and to ask on behalf of the students "not to cut anymore."
"This is the first time I remember William & Mary students actually stopping by," Tyler remarked, after listening to the students' concerns about the financial climate, and sympathizing as the mother of what will soon be the third and fourth students she will put through college.
Tyler mentioned that she is used to receiving missives from the alumni of various state universities, but stated that "I prefer to hear the students perspectives because they know what's going on at the university. It's always good to hear the student's point of view."
After meeting with their respective politicians the students took advantage of the open invitation from Norment to drop in on the open committee meetings and to pour over the various bills coming up for a vote. They then crossed over the Capitol Building's lawn to get back on the bus bound for Williamsburg. On the way home, event organizers Bryan Alphin '10 and Leacy Burke '12 thanked everyone who came on the trip for making an impact on the legislators they saw that day. It was obvious the trip had its impact on the students as well.
Gillingham, who also serves as a member of the William & Mary Student Assembly and president of the Young Democrats club, said he decided to join the student delegation because he "felt like he had no excuse at this point not to go." He was happy he did.
"We all kind of have a general idea in mind of what we're trying to do, which is make sure we have adequate funding, to protect the College's academic standing," Gillingham said. "But it shows that the individual students are willing to come by and make those things a priority."