William & Mary

July 2 remarks of W&M President Katherine A. Rowe

  • Katherine A. Rowe
    Katherine A. Rowe  was sworn in as William & Mary's 28th president on July 2, 2018.  Photo by Skip Rowland '83
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Katherine A. Rowe was sworn in as William & Mary's 28th president during a ceremony in the Wren Building July 2. The following are her prepared remarks for that event. - Ed.

Thank you, John, for that introduction. Let me also echo your thanks to outgoing Rector Todd Stottlemyer, the Board of Visitors, as well as Tom Watkins – who chaired the search committee.

You and so many in the William & Mary community have given me such a warm welcome over the past five months. As my family and I are finding, warm welcomes in the Northeast are one thing. Williamsburg, in July, at high noon, brings the concept to a whole new level.

We wouldn’t have it any other way.

I also want to acknowledge President Taylor and Helen Reveley who are here in the front row. They have been such gracious guides. Taylor has been such an inspired leader of William & Mary over the past decade. Please join me in thanking them again.

Thanks also to Governor Northam for welcoming me to public service in this solemn way. I am particularly honored that so many public officials are here today – as well as alumni and friends of William & Mary, faculty, staff, and students.

And to everyone watching live – including my family and friends – thank you for joining us virtually.

My husband, Bruce, and children, Danny and Beah, and a number of friends are with us today. I want to thank them for their support. Bruce has already begun a strategic assessment of Williamsburg’s golf courses. And he has deemed them excellent. Dan and Beah are looking forward to exploring this beautiful region with us. We’re all thrilled to be part of the William & Mary family.

Being inducted as the 28th president of this great institution is an incredible honor. William & Mary occupies a unique place in history. It is the second-oldest institution of higher education in the nation and the first to be granted a Royal Charter. In 1918, we became the first coeducational public university in the Commonwealth, a 100-year anniversary we celebrate this year. As I am discovering, there are so many firsts here.

More than any other school, William & Mary has shaped the character of our country over the past three centuries. Our alumni are public servants and thought leaders in every field of human endeavor. This is a core part of what it means to be the Alma Mater of the Nation.

As Todd Stottlemyer noted at my announcement, there is a plaque on the wall of the boardroom in Blow Memorial Hall. It includes a five-word inscription: “Take care of our College.” This is the charge I accepted when I was chosen to be the next president of William & Mary. To be entrusted with the next chapter of an institution so rich in tradition and so exceptional now – this is a trust I embrace with excitement and humility.

For that reason, I look forward to spending much of my first three months as the 28th president listening and learning from all of you, hearing your stories and experiencing first-hand the vigor of William & Mary’s academic excellence and traditions.

  • I am curious to hear from our students how you experience living and learning here on campus and beyond.
  • From faculty and staff, I want to hear your highest aspirations and understand your challenges. I welcome your ideas for innovation and improvements for the future. How can we best prepare our students to be resourceful problem-solvers, reflective citizens, and to succeed in whatever careers they choose?
  • I am eager to hear from alumni about Alma Mater: what deepens your passion and engagement with this campus; what holds you back from embracing it more fully?
  • At the same time, I will be working day and night over next two years to bring our For the Bold campaign to a triumphant close.

I have begun this work, over the past few months, with visits to campus and meetings with alumni around the country. In my conversations with faculty and staff, students, alumni, parents and friends of William & Mary, I have been struck by your dedication to this community and the eagerness with which you embrace its future.

I want to share one anecdote that captures those commitments powerfully. This is a story that a faculty member shared with me a few weeks ago, describing an assignment he sets for his freshmen in a COLL 150 seminar. COLL 150 is the core course in the first year experience.

This faculty member, who is also an alumnus, asks his students every year to craft together the best slogan they can think of to recruit next year’s class of undergraduates.

  • What could you share about William & Mary that attracted you here?
  • Now that you are on campus, what can you confirm about your experience in this community?

Last year’s tagline that the class created was an invitation that resonates strongly with me: “Join the tradition / Make history.”

Much like “Take Care of our College,” this five-word message tells us so much about the shared commitments of William & Mary to the past, present, and future: come join the tradition and make history, together.

Let’s focus for a minute on the second part of that invitation.

William & Mary has been historically preeminent, and is exceptional now, because we are committed to the future.

To educate is to envision and invest in transformation. The transformation of human beings, growth of institutions, creation of new communities, and exploration of different world views. Most of us have seen dramatic shifts in just about every aspect of our lives over the past 20 years. When I went to college, I took a typewriter with me. I was part of the first generation of Shakespeare scholars to write a dissertation on a personal computer. A few years ago, I co-created an app that would help my students study, learn, and love Shakespeare.

These were sweeping transformations, and none of us expects the pace of change to slow. Quite the opposite.

For that reason, how this generation learns to navigate change is going to matter profoundly to our world in the century to come. We are preparing our students for careers and endeavors that don’t yet exist. They will need to be very good at collaborating with new partners. They will work in teams with diverse expertise and viewpoints, grappling with problems that have not been defined before. And because that work will succeed best when it reflects the core missions of their workplace and communities, it will require both adaptability and wisdom.

Our students will, and must, be the intellectual pioneers and moral anchors of our democracy. William & Mary is the proving ground they need.

  • Our undergraduate, graduate and professional schools promote critical thinking, collaboration, and curiosity.
  • Our abiding commitment to liberal arts teaching and to research prepares them to engage deeply with their communities, professions, and the world.

We also know that a commitment to diversity and inclusion accelerates innovation and invites more people, with a wider range of perspectives, to participate fully in higher education and in society.

I have witnessed firsthand how innovation in new fields and new methodologies opens the door – opens the door to those whose contributions would otherwise have remained latent. Embracing our talents this way strengthens the entire community.

These are principles I have heard widely expressed at William & Mary and they are an essential part of what it means to take care of our college.

So this is an enormously exciting time to become the leader of William & Mary.

Over the coming months, as we move forward together to reflect on the future we seek, let’s be inspired by that COLL 150 class’s call to “join the tradition and make history.”

Our core values, which have stood the test of time and advanced generations of students – along with their skillful execution by talented faculty, staff and administrators – make the Alma Mater of the Nation the obvious choice for anyone who wants to shape their own history.

With a William & Mary education, our students become effective citizens, able to navigate a rapidly changing world with grace:

To reflect deeply, to innovate nimbly, to build communities, and to live lives of creativity and fulfillment.

As I look to the horizon, I have great confidence in the history they will make.

Thank you.