U.S. District Judge Rebecca Beach Smith ’71, J.D. ’79, will speak at William & Mary’s Opening Convocation Ceremony on Aug. 29 at 5:15 p.m.
The ceremony, held in the Wren Yard, marks the start of the academic year and serves as an opportunity for the campus community to welcome new undergraduate and graduate students. Although this event has usually taken place on Friday, it will be on Wednesday this year to enable more students to participate.
“Opening Convocation is always a marvelous way to launch the academic year,” said President Taylor Reveley. “It lets us welcome the newest members of the Tribe to campus in an appropriately rousing and traditional fashion. To our great delight, this year’s Convocation speaker will be William & Mary alumna Becky Smith, who is a very distinguished member of the federal judiciary.”
A former president of the William & Mary Alumni Association, Smith was appointed in 1989 to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. One of her most notable decisions concerns ownership of thousands of artifacts from the 1912 Titanic shipwreck.
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, she was a member of the Delta Delta Delta sorority and its social chairman her senior year. She graduated from William & Mary in 1971 as a member of Phi Beta Kappa and Omicron Delta Kappa. Smith went on to earn her master’s degree from the University of Virginia in 1973 before returning to William & Mary to study law. She served as the executive editor of the William & Mary Law Review, graduating first in her class and a member of the Order of the Coif in 1979.
Following law school, Smith clerked for U.S. District Court Judge J. Clavitt Clarke, Jr. She went on to become the first woman 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 before being nominated by President George H.W. Bush, and confirmed by the Senate to her current post. 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 the Norfolk Academy Board of Trustees and a trustee of the school for 18 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, one of the College’s highest honors.