UPDATE: Due to Hurricane Irene, Opening Convocation has been rescheduled for Sept. 2, 2011. Judge Smith will be unable to attend this year's event, but she will serve as the speaker at Opening Convocation next year. - Ed
U.S. District Judge Rebecca Beach Smith ’71, J.D. ’79, will speak at William & Mary’s Opening Convocation Ceremony on Aug. 26 at 4:30 p.m.
The ceremony, which will take place in the courtyard of the Sir Christopher Wren Building, serves to welcome the newest members of the William & Mary student body and marks the beginning of the academic year at the College.
A former president of the William & Mary Alumni Association, Smith was appointed in 1989 as the federal judge for the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of Virginia. Among Smith’s most notable decisions is her 2010 ruling on the ownership of thousands of artifacts from the 1912 Titanic shipwreck.
“Opening Convocation is an extraordinary occasion each year at William & Mary,” said President Taylor Reveley. “It lets us kick off the new academic year with appropriate ceremony and provides us a chance to warmly welcome our newest students. We’re absolutely delighted to have a very distinguished W&M alumna, Judge Smith, as our Convocation speaker this year.”
A native of Hopewell, Va., Smith graduated as the valedictorian of Hopewell High School in 1967 before pursuing her undergraduate degree from William & Mary. While at the College, Smith was a member of the Delta Delta Delta sorority, serving as a social chairman of the group during her senior year. She graduated from William & Mary in 1971 with honors and as a member of Phi Beta Kappa and Omicron Delta Kappa honor societies. She went on to earn her master’s degree from the University of Virginia in 1973 before returning to William & Mary to study law. While at the William & Mary Law School, she served as the executive editor of the William & Mary Law Review. She graduated first in her class and as a member of the Order of the Coif in 1979.
Following law school, Smith served as a law clerk for U.S. District Court Judge J. Clavitt Clarke, Jr. She went on to become the first female attorney to practice law with Willcox and Savage in Norfolk, Va. Later, she served as a U.S. Magistrate Judge for the Eastern District of Virginia. In 1988, she was nominated by President George H.W. Bush to her current post as a federal judge. When she was invested in 1989, she became the first female federal judge in Virginia.
In addition to her professional work, Smith has generously given her time to civic groups, associations and charities. She was a member of the Federal Judges Association’s board of directors and the U.S. Judicial Conference Committee on Technology. She currently serves on the U. S. Judicial Conference Codes of Conduct Committee, having been appointed by Chief Justice John Roberts. She was also once the president of Norfolk Academy and a trustee of the school for eighteen years. Smith has also remained closely connected to William & Mary. In addition to her Alumni Association presidency, she served on William & Mary Alumni Association Board of Directors. In 1997, Smith received the Alumni Medallion, the College’s highest honor for members of the alumni.