The following are the prepared remarks of Chancellor Robert M. Gates '65, L.H.D. '98 for his re-investiture at the 2019 Charter Day ceremony. - Ed.
Thank you Rector Littel.
Since it was announced that I had agreed to serve a second 7-year term as chancellor, I have repeatedly been asked the same question –
Why would you do that?
Encountering a question multiple times provides the opportunity to actually consider one’s response. And I have.
First, and most obviously, because of the wardrobe.
Second, because of the caliber of our college’s leadership at all levels and my optimism about our future. The faculty, deans and board of visitors led by Rector Littel are all people of the highest quality and dedication to our students and to our college.
During my first term, for nearly seven years, I enjoyed a wonderful relationship with Taylor Reveley and admired his leadership. When I was approached a year or so ago about signing up for a second term, I said that my decision would depend entirely on who was chosen to succeed Taylor as president. The selection of Katherine Rowe made my decision very easy. I am confident that Katherine will provide William & Mary not only with great leadership but also with dedication to strengthening its ancient traditions even as she brings sweeping energy and ideas for innovation and new achievements to the college. I am incredibly enthusiastic about our future with Katherine as president. Not to mention that after 326 years, we were a little overdue for a woman at the helm. I truly look forward to working with her in my second term and I will do all I can to support her.
A third reason for re-enlisting is the students here. Engaging with William & Mary’s students is incredibly rewarding. Their ideas, their enthusiasm, their passion for serving others is truly extraordinary. William & Mary is a university of great historical accomplishment, and a university primed for even greater accomplishment in the future because of the students here today.
Fourth and finally, I wanted to continue because William & Mary gives me hope. I have worked for eight presidents and known many politicians in both parties over nearly five decades, and I never met one who had a monopoly on revealed truth. At a time when our country faces deep obstacles at home and abroad, we have too many leaders across the entire political spectrum whose outsized egos are coupled with undersized backbones; who think they alone have the right answers, who demonize those who think differently, and who refuse to listen and to take other points of view into account.
The good news for America is that, even though we have a lot of work to do and enormous obstacles ahead of us, we also have the power and means to overcome them – just as this country has overcome worse episodes in the past. It will take a willingness to make tough decisions, the clear-eyed realism to see the world as it is rather than as we would like it to be, the willingness to listen and to learn from one another, an ability to see and understand other points of view, and the wisdom to calibrate principle and compromise for the greater good of our country.
These qualities comprise the history and the essence of the William & Mary experience, in and out of the classroom. It was at this College that I first was exposed to such an environment. And grounded in what I learned here, I have spent a life in public service working for presidents from both political parties.
In the great and urgent endeavors that lie before us, I have no doubt that the graduates and scholars of William & Mary – this community of learning, listening and working through issues – rooted in the original soil and the basic principles of American liberty, have a special role, and a special obligation, to be part of the solution: as leaders, as public servants, as citizens. I am proud and honored to continue to serve as chancellor as you help right this nation’s course. Thank you.