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A Commencement surprise for W&M's president

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According to Rector Todd A. Stottlemyer ’85, William & Mary President Taylor Reveley likes events to run like clockwork: no surprises.

But the Board of Visitors had a big one for Reveley Saturday: an honorary degree conferred upon him for his service to the university, including a decade at its helm.

Stottlemyer interrupted Reveley at the end the university’s 2018 Commencement ceremony in Zable Stadium to announce the board’s unanimous decision and bestow the honor.

“This is his final Commencement, and I just want to say on behalf of the university, the broad university family, how thankful we are for your service to this university,” said Stottlemyer. “As I said last night, I believe he will go down as one of the greatest presidents in the history of William & Mary.”

Reveley, who will retire June 30, was visibly touched by the gesture and thanked W&M for the honor.

“This is really a wonderful surprise and it’s extremely meaningful to me,” he said.

Taylor ReveleyReading from the award citation, Stottlemyer quoted a former Rector in saying if Taylor had not existed, W&M’s destiny would have required that he be invented.

“For 20 years, first as dean of its Law School and for the last decade as its president, you have been William & Mary’s compass, voice to the world and beloved parent within the family.”

Reveley, W&M’s 27th president, became dean of W&M Law School in 1998 after former U.S. Sen. Bill Spong instructed then-W&M President Tim Sullivan and the search committee to “Go get Taylor Reveley,” according to the citation. At the time, Reveley had been working as a managing partner with Hunton & Williams.

“As dean, you instilled the ethic of the citizen lawyer − the ideal that legal education should not just prepare students for the profession, but also to be leaders of their communities, states, and the world,” the citation says. “With the trust and admiration built during a decade as dean, you were beloved by students, faculty and staff.”

A decade later, the Board of Visitors named Reveley interim president and then president of the university after the resignation of President Gene Nichol.

{{youtube:medium|G68hEfgQ8Ss, President Reveley receives an honorary degree.}}

“Arriving with a Clark Kent exterior and superhuman strength of character, you set about reassuring campus amid the transition,” Stottlemyer said. “As you had done at the Law School, establishing an environment in which all William & Mary’s people can do their best work was paramount. With progress made to that end, you turned your attention to moving the university forward and began a strategic planning process, refining how the university communicated with its many constituents, reinvigorating the undergraduate general curriculum, and transforming the institution’s financial model.”

He spent the next decade making the university more interdisciplinary and international, increasing the diversity of the campus community, strengthening connections to alumni and improving the financial resources of the university.

“The Reveley Decade saw tremendous progress toward making William & Mary a more welcoming and inclusive community,” Stottlemyer said. “Task forces or working groups were charged and changes implemented in a number of areas, including accessibility, mental health, sexual assault and harassment and race relations. You removed Confederate iconography from display and, following recommendations of the task force, the university named two residence halls for prominent African Americans in William & Mary’s history. Diversification of the student body accelerated during your tenure, and a significant investment was made to attract scholars of color to the faculty.”

The citation also praises Reveley’s scholarly work in constitutional law and acknowledges the role his family, including his wife Helen, played in his success.

“Walter Taylor Reveley III, for a lifetime of remarkable achievement, William & Mary is proud to honor you. For two decades of leadership, William & Mary is forever indebted to you,” said W&M Chancellor Robert M. Gates ’65, L.H.D. ’98. “Truly, if you had not existed, William & Mary would have had to invent you, and we are grateful for your presence.”

Reveley was one of five people to receive honorary degrees at today’s ceremony in Zable Stadium. Katherine Johnson, a NASA mathematician who helped make the first human spaceflight possible, also received an honorary doctorate as did W&M’s first African-American residential students, Lynn Briley ’71, Karen Ely ’71 and Janet Brown Strafer ’71, M.Ed. ’77. Johnson was unable to attend the ceremony due to health issues, but her daughters represented her at the event.