William & Mary

'Don’t check out': Warner encourages W&M grads to be active citizens

  • Commencement:
    Commencement:  U.S. Sen. Mark Warner LL.D. ‘02 (D-Va.) speaks to graduates during Saturday's ceremony.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Commencement:
    Commencement:  A video shows NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson receiving an honorary degree from W&M.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Commencement:
    Commencement:  Lynn Briley ’71, Karen Ely ’71 and Janet Brown Strafer ’71, M.Ed. ’77, receive honorary degrees.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Commencement:
    Commencement:  W&M Chancellor Robert M. Gates ’65, L.H.D. ’98, speaks during the Commencement ceremony.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Commencement:
    Commencement:  This was the last Commencement in which Taylor Reveley will participate as president. He retires June 30, 2018.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Commencement:
    Commencement:  Students pose together for a photo on the steps of the Wren Building.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Commencement:
    Commencement:  President Taylor Reveley (center) helps lead the Class of 2018 through the Wren Building on the way to the 2018 Commencement ceremony.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Commencement:
    Commencement:  Graduates walk through the Wren Building on their way to the Commencement ceremony.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Commencement:
    Commencement:  Graduates walk across campus to Zable Stadium, where the Commencement ceremony was held for the first time in 25 years.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Commencement:
    Commencement:  Graduates take a selfie on their way to the Commencement ceremony.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Commencement:
    Commencement:  A total of 2,045 degrees — 1,328 undergraduate and 717 graduate — were conferred throughout the weekend.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Commencement:
    Commencement:  Two students embrace at W&M's first Lavender Graduation ceremony for LGBTQ students, held Friday in Trinkle Hall.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Commencement:
    Commencement:  The "Legacy 3," W&M's first African-American residential students, receive stoles at the Donning of the Kente ceremony on Friday. President Taylor Reveley also received a stole at the event.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Commencement:
    Commencement:  Seven W&M students were commissioned as officers in the U.S. Army Friday.  Photo by Robert Boag
  • Commencement:
    Commencement:  Graduates participate in the traditional candlelight ceremony Friday night.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
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America is at its best when citizens are informed and actively engaged, U.S. Sen. Mark Warner LL.D. '02 (D-Va.) told William & Mary’s Class of 2018.

“I ask you to use your power as educated citizens with your William & Mary degrees to make your voices heard, stand up for what’s right and demand that your leaders do the same,” he said. “Because frankly, our democracy depends on it.”

Warner spoke to a crowd of more than 14,000 people who gathered Saturday morning for the university’s 2018 Commencement ceremony, which was held in Zable Stadium for the first time in 25 years. The event both celebrated new beginnings, including the university's first Lavender Graduation ceremony for LGBTQ students, and marked a series of conclusions, including Taylor Reveley’s presidency and the 50th anniversary commemoration of the university’s first African-American students in residence.

{{youtube:medium|R7W6o7jjsZw, Commencement 2018: The senior walk}}

A total of 2,045 degrees — 1,328 undergraduate and 717 graduate — were conferred throughout the weekend. Honorary degrees were also awarded to celebrated NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson; W&M’s first residential African-American students, Lynn Briley ’71, Karen Ely ’71 and Janet Brown Strafer ’71, M.Ed. ’77; and W&M President Taylor Reveley — who received his by surprise.

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

Honorary degrees

Reveley, who will retire June 30 after a decade as the university’s 27th president, helped lead the graduates to the stadium Saturday morning as one of their elected honorary marshals. The previous day, he was named an honorary alumnus of W&M and received a stole during the Donning of the Kente ceremony.

“It has been the greatest privilege and honor of my life to lead magnificent William & Mary,” he said at the conclusion of the Commencement ceremony. “My spirit is lifted by the promise of the future that I see in you and in this iconic institution. I have such high hopes for what you will do in your lives and what your efforts will mean for our communities, states and nations. And I have such high hopes for what William & Mary will do as it moves marvelously into centuries and millennia to come.”

As a “human computer” for NASA, Johnson completed the trajectory analysis for Alan Shepard’s May 1961 mission Freedom 7, the nation’s first human spaceflight. She also ran the orbital equations for the Friendship 7 mission, in which John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth. For those and her many other career accomplishments, Johnson received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and NASA Langley opened a new computational research facility named for her. Johnson and several other trailblazing NASA women were recently featured in the book and movie Hidden Figures.

{{youtube:medium:left|_ulneupo2H0, Johnson receives an honorary degree.}}

Although Johnson was unable to attend the ceremony in person due to health issues, Reveley brought the degree to her earlier this semester.

“You are an absolute inspiration to all of us, a huge contribution to our society,” said Reveley. “And we are now thrilled to have you at long last as an alumna of William & Mary.”

Her daughters, Joylette Hylick and Katherine Goble Moore, attended the W&M ceremony, and a video was shown during the event of her receiving the degree.

“Give the world your best,” she told W&M graduates in the video. “Always do your best with whatever you have. Like it and show it.”

Briley, Ely and Strafer — known collectively as the “Legacy 3” — have been celebrated throughout the 2017-18 academic year as part of the university’s commemoration of the 50th anniversary of their arrival on campus. Although they were not W&M’s first African-American students, they were the first to live on campus and be able to take full advantage of the school’s offerings. Briley went on to become a teacher and principal and now serves as an adjunct instructor at Tidewater Community College’s Portsmouth campus. Ely has worked in the radiation protection field for more than 27 years, and she currently works as a health physicist at the Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center in Portsmouth. Strafer had a 35-year career in federal service, working in a variety of educational roles, as well as a 22-year career in the Maryland Army National Guard.

{{youtube:medium:left|aDUWNC6QV5k, The Legacy 3 receive honorary degrees.}}

All three alumnae have visited campus many times throughout the year, starting with Convocation when they led W&M’s new students through the Wren Building. In the fall, they served as the grand marshals for the Homecoming parade. Last month, a plaque bearing their names was hung on the Wren Building. As they received their honorary degrees, they received a standing ovation.

“Lynn, Karen, and Janet, William & Mary is enormously grateful to you for fully opening the university’s doors to all who have followed. Your alma mater is proud to continue building on your legacy,” said Reveley.

A song commissioned for the 50th anniversary commemoration, composed by Jeraldine Herbison and sung by the W&M Choir, also debuted at the ceremony. The Legacy 3 received signed copies of the original score for “Messages to the Human Heart” Saturday afternoon.

Warner, who received an honorary degree from W&M in 2002, offered the W&M graduates three pieces of advice. First, he said to not be afraid of failure, recounting some of his own before finding success both in business and politics.

“Going for it, and being willing to fail, but then picking yourself up and getting right back in the game – that’s what is so great about America,” he said.

{{youtube:medium:left|3xSAQsR6qts, Warner's Commencement remarks}}

Warner also encouraged the graduates to use their W&M education to informed and active citizens, no matter how technology might be changing society and how divisive and frustrating politics may get.

“If you ever feel like throwing a shoe at the TV, just remember – I feel the same way and I’m inside the TV,” he said. “But please, whatever you do, don’t check out.”

Finally, Warner admonished the graduates to “call your mother,” and the other special people who helped support them throughout their lives.

“You should cherish your friends and your family as if your life depends on it – because frankly, in a lot of ways, it does.”

Awards and honors

Several members of the W&M community were lauded during the Commencement ceremony, including six people who, the day before, became honorary alumni of the university: Reveley and his wife, Helen, Joe Gofus, Steve Johnsen, Joel Schwartz and John Charles Thomas. Sheila Johnson, a preschool III lead teacher at the Williamsburg Campus Child Care Center, was also recognized at the ceremony as this year’s Duke Award recipient.

Other members of the campus community honored at the event include:

  • Sarah Joan Heins ’18, Lord Botetourt Medal
  • Hannah Rose Gourdie ’18, James Frederic Carr Memorial Cup
  • Natalia Rezai J.D. ’18, Thatcher Prize for Excellence
  • Professor of Chemistry Randolph A. Coleman and Haynes Professor of Law Paul Marcus, Graves Award
  • Jaya Uppal ’18 and Nathanael Paige ’18, Sullivan Awards (students)
  • Assistant to the President and Secretary to the Board of Visitors Michael Fox, Sullivan Award (non-student)

Seven W&M students who were commissioned as officers in the U.S. Army Friday were also recognized during the ceremony, along with the 125 graduates who are active duty, reserve or veterans. Students who received teaching certificates and those who have worked or studied abroad were also asked to stand and be recognized at the event.

{{youtube:medium:left|0t8kjGzXsos, Anyakoha's Commencement remarks}}

Selected as this year’s student speaker for the occasion, Brian Anyakoha '18 recognized that many of the graduates were approaching a crossroads in their lives.

“I’ve come to understand that when life seems to be a maze of unbridled confusion, when there is nowhere else for us to turn, there is always freedom from a higher perspective above the noise and above the commotion and sometimes all we need to do is look up. And that is a lesson I truly could not have learned anywhere else but William & Mary,” he said.

“You see this college has shown us that there is more than one path to success to achievement, and to happiness, that we can be so much more than our countless mistakes and our unmet expectations and that our true north is something we define for ourselves.”

Final thoughts

In the week leading up to Commencement, Yajna Jowaheer ’18, a neuroscience major, reflected on her time at the university.

“The most significant thing that my time at William & Mary has given me is a second home among some of the nicest and most inspiring people I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet,” she said. “As an only child and an immigrant from the small island of Mauritius, I’ve often struggled to feel completely at home anywhere and usually had the tendency to keep to myself a lot.

“For this reason, I am extremely grateful that I had the opportunity to spend four years here developing close friendships with so many supportive individuals who have each inspired me to be myself, and to keep working hard and dreaming big.”

As he closed the Commencement ceremony, Reveley reflected on his own time at the university, a total of 20 years between serving as dean of W&M Law School and president of W&M, and offered the graduates some lessons using seafaring metaphors.

“There are so many directions in which you might sail that as you take your leave you need to have a spirit of adventure,” he said. “Your life will surely be an adventure, as you will live in times of great change and much uncertainty and challenge, but also times rich with opportunities. Embrace the adventure. Don’t shrink from it.”

{{youtube:medium:left|mWt7tSElQXw, Reveley's closing remarks}}

Remarking on the phrase “Hark upon the gale” from the W&M Alma Mater, Reveley told the graduates to pay attention when storms arise.

“Listen to the wind, watch the movement of the water, taste the salt in the air, heed the sounds your vessel is making, pay attention and use all this to steer the best course and ride out the gale,” he said.

“And so, on the sea of life, when storms are raging in politics, in the economy, in the academy, stop, hark upon the gale, listen, pay attention and find a course that others can’t see.”