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Rector Henry C. Wolf's Opening Convocation remarks

The following are W&M Rector Henry C. Wolf's prepared remarks for the 2010 Opening Convocation Ceremony - Ed.

Greetings to the Class of 2014...and welcome to the College of William and Mary. I suppose that it is a bit unusual for the Rector of the College to serve as a Convocation speaker, but today is a special occasion for me, just as it is for you, because it marks the 50th anniversary of my own Convocation at William and Mary in 1960.

Henry C. WolfI, too, came to this wonderful old College, just as you come today, with many of the same hopes and aspirations...and yes, some of the same concerns and uncertainties, that you are experiencing today. However, I can assure you that you stand on the threshold of one of the most exciting chapters of your lives.

As I reflected on this first official convening of the Class of 2014, I thought about the things that were so different in 1960 than today; and I have no hesitation in saying that the last 50 years have brought a great deal of change...much for the better. But, I would also submit that there are several things about this College that have indeed remained constant and have endured unchanged notwithstanding the passage of a half a century. In fact, those aspects that have withstood the test of time are in some ways more important than those that have changed because those are the ones that are worthy of the moniker of "tradition."

When students arrived in Williamsburg in 1960, Dwight Eisenhower was President of the United States and John F. Kennedy was running against Richard Nixon for the presidency. Our current President, Barack Obama, was not yet born. World War II had ended a mere fifteen years earlier and we were deeply engaged in a "Cold War" with the Soviet Union. Few students knew where Vietnam was in the world much less that many of them would have to go there to fight in an unpopular war and that several of them would lose their lives in the conflict.

In 1960 jet aviation was just emerging for commercial passenger travel for those who could afford to fly; and the United States had not yet put a man in space. The first American to enter space would be Alan Shepard in May, 1961; and it would be nearly a decade before Neil Armstrong would be the first man to walk on the moon in July, 1969.

In 1960, The periodic table of elements contained only 102 elements, as several were as yet undiscovered. We had no understanding of plate tectonics, no map of the human genome, and no idea of how proteins are encoded by DNA.

While William and Mary was co-ed in 1960 (and had been since 1918), there were no African-American students, Asian students, nor Latino students represented in the undergraduate student body. Today William and Mary is a place of diversity where about 25 percent of our undergraduates are students of color; and we remain steadfastly committed to diversity here.

There were no Pell Grants or student loan programs, and financial aid to attend William and Mary was virtually unknown to students of the day. And so, many students secured work at the College, with Colonial Williamsburg, or in local businesses to earn money to fund their college education in whole or part. Today, financial aid is available in the form of grants, loans and federal work study programs; and Gateway William and Mary allows qualified students to secure a debt-free college education.

Students in the Class of 1964 arrived in Williamsburg to find a campus essentially bounded by Richmond Road on one side and Jamestown Road on the other side, and ending where Zable Stadium and Phi Beta Kappa Hall are today. And the academic buildings, including classrooms and laboratories, were located on either side of the Sunken Garden. As you probably already know, the campus today is more than twice the size that it was in 1960.

Male students lived in dorms along Richmond Road and women lived in dorms along Jamestown Road. In 1960, women students were subject to a curfew and had to return to their dorms by 11:00PM, except on Friday and Saturday nights when they were allotted an additional hour before the curfew applied at midnight.

Perhaps a handful of students had black and white television sets...color television would not become readily available or affordable for nearly another decade. And, even if you were fortunate enough to have access to a television set, there were only two or three stations available and the programming would end at 11:00pm or midnight with a pattern screen that would appear on the television until the next morning.
In 1960 students were not permitted to have cars in Williamsburg...we walked everywhere.
But more importantly, we had no cell phones, no computers, and no calculators. So, there was no way to text a message that might have read: "OMG FWIW MBF just HMU."    There was no internet, no Google, and no email.  It seems almost inconceivable today when these resources have become such a part of the fabric of our daily lives.

Books and other resources were available in hard copy only.  We purchased our textbooks at  the College Bookstore located at the front of Taliaferro where students formed lines out onto Jamestown Road waiting to purchase their books. Some reference books were only available in the College Library (which was located in Tucker Hall just behind the Wren Building), where students competed for access to reserved books in time slots measured in days, or even hours. Papers were generally submitted to professors in handwriting, except by the lucky few that had access to typewriters and who could assume that a neatly typewritten effort might garner a slightly higher grade.

Much has changed since that warm autumn day when the members of the class of ‘64 gathered for the first time here in Williamsburg in 1960. But, there are a great many things that are very much the same...perhaps even unchanged in the fifty years that have passed.

Colonial Williamsburg remains relatively unchanged from when I first saw it more than fifty years ago, with the possible exception that motor vehicle traffic can no longer operate freely on Duke of Gloucester Street. The restored area of Colonial Williamsburg is almost timeless in the sense that we can still transport ourselves to a time and place where the seeds of democracy were first sewn and our nation was established.

The Wren Building, the President's House and the Brafferton still represent the face of the William and Mary campus. The Sunken Garden, the many brick walkways, and the brick walls along Richmond Road and Jamestown Road that frame the old campus remain unchanged. And the buildings and dorms of the "Old Campus" that received class after class and generation after generation before you remain ready to receive you the Class of 2014.

This is still the second oldest university in America where the founders and early leaders of our nation were educated, giving rise to it being denominated "the Alma Mater of a Nation." It is the place where the first law school in America and the second oldest law school in the English speaking world was established. It is a place where public service is pursued by our students and is prized by those they serve. And, this is still a place where we seek to prepare a new generation to become the leaders of the future. It is said that: "Our students come wanting to change the world and leave with the tools to do it."

This is still a place of learning, just as it has been for over 300 years. The faculty at William and Mary are just as dedicated to teaching and the education of each and every student today as they were when I once walked and where you will walk tomorrow. And, the opportunities for learning will go well beyond the classroom because this is a university where students can engage in meaningful research with faculty even at the undergraduate level.

This is still a place of academic excellence, where its students are challenged, engaged and inspired. It is where Phi Beta Kappa was founded nearly 235 years ago and remains the Alpha of Virginia Chapter. It is a place where the things you will learn...the things you will discover... will allow you to compete at the highest levels in whatever field of endeavor you chose to pursue.

This is still a place of honor, just as it has been for more than 200 years. It is the place where the first collegiate honor system was established. It is a place where honor and integrity are upheld and accorded the primacy of the most noble of human values.

This is a place of community just as it has been for centuries. It is large enough to be a university, but small enough for you to have an opportunity to come to know many of your classmates, to form friendships and to create a bond that will endure for a lifetime. You are now a part of this place, and it will forever be a part of you.

In closing, let me say that much has changed since I stood where you now stand...when I walked where you will now walk. Since 1960, the world has changed in ways that nobody could have imagined. I would submit that few, if any, today can possibly imagine what the world will look like in 2060 when one of you may stand here as the Convocation speaker for the Class of 2064. But, while so much has changed, a great many things have remained constant and endured the test of time. Those things that have remained constant...those things that have endured...are the qualities that are the essence of William and Mary. Take the time to focus on them... take the time to see them and to sense them, for you will be a far richer person for having had that experience.

Thank you, and may your time here at the College of William and Mary be rewarding, successful and enjoyable as you are about to embark on one of the most important and fulfilling experiences of you lives.