William & Mary

The long view: W&M celebrates its history while planning for the future

  • Christy Coleman dressed in academic regalia at a podium
    Charter Day:  Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation Executive Director Christy Coleman addresses the Charter Day audience after receiving an honorary degree.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Susan Magill dressed in academic regalia shakes the hand of Robert Gates on a stage
    Charter Day:  Former W&M Rector Susan Aheron Magill ’72 receives an honorary degree.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Thomas Shannon dressed in academic regalia and speaking at a podium
    Charter Day:  Former Ambassador and U.S. Under Secretary for Political Affairs Thomas A. Shannon Jr. ’80 speaks at the Charter Day ceremony after receiving an honorary degree.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • A person in a choir robe looks at a program with a green cover and 327 on it
    Charter Day:  A member of the W&M Choir peruses a program before the ceremony.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Members of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia dressed in black coats, white shirts and red ties, singing
    Charter Day:  Members of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia sing a song in honor of W&M's birthday.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Three students pose in front of a gold background in a photo booth
    Charter Day:  Students pose for a photo at the "charnival" held after the ceremony.  Photo by Nichola Meyer '22
Photo - of -

As William & Mary celebrated its history Friday, President Katherine A. Rowe asked the community to use the past to help shape the university’s future through the strategic planning process.

“Since last year’s Charter Day, I have often been asked the question, ‘How might we make William & Mary’s long history an asset in the decade to come?’” said Rowe. “One answer: We are building on 327 years of innovation, and we’re not done yet. As we chart our path, we have a responsibility to take the approach both of the historian and the entrepreneur with curiosity and firm commitment to excellence.”

{{youtube:medium|FQ-U9ccFM9c, President Rowe's remarks}}

Rowe spoke to an audience of hundreds of faculty, staff, students, alumni and community members gathered in Kaplan Arena for the 2020 Charter Day ceremony, which was streamed live online. The annual tradition celebrates W&M’s founding in 1693 by royal charter. The festivities included the awarding of three honorary degrees, a reading of the charter, a carnival (dubbed “charnival”) featuring food and games, and performances by Griffin Bhangra, Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia, the W&M Choir, W&M Wind Ensemble and W&M Pep Band.

Honorary degrees were presented to Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation Executive Director Christy Coleman, former Rector Susan Aheron Magill ’72 and former Ambassador and U.S. Under Secretary for Political Affairs Thomas A. Shannon Jr. ’80.

{{youtube:medium|Nwf6pk7Sg3k, Griffin Bhangra performs}}

Chancellor Robert M. Gates ’65, L.H.D. ’98 welcomed the audience to the “birthday party” and extolled the continuing importance of W&M.

“Three hundred and twenty-seven years ago, America needed William & Mary even before there was a United States. The need is just as great today – perhaps greater,” said Gates, a former defense secretary and director of the CIA.

To overcome today’s challenges in both the U.S. and around the world, people must be willing to listen and learn from each other, Gates said.

“In the urgent endeavors that lie before us, I have no doubt that the graduates and scholars of William & Mary have a special role and a special obligation to be part of finding solutions,” he said. “That is the challenge that lies before us, one for which William & Mary has prepared its students for 327 years.”

(From left) Chancellor Robert M. Gates, President Katherine A. Rowe and Rector John E. Littel (Photo by Stephen Salpukas)Honorary degrees

Gates joined Rector John Littel to award the honorary degrees. All three recipients gave brief remarks – each commenting on the effect W&M has had on their lives.

The honor was an emotional one for Coleman, who said she never thought she would gain a degree from W&M. Coleman started her college career at W&M in 1982, and out of 1,300 students, was one of just 46 people of color. It was a struggle, she said, but she worked hard and forged lifelong friendships. In 1984, she decided to leave W&M to attend Hampton University, where she received bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

{{youtube:medium|eZy1OqvaAjU, Christy Coleman's remarks}}

“But here’s the thing, the two years I was here, it helped shape who I am, and for that I am eternally grateful,” she said. “I am eternally grateful because I learned who I was in the midst of the storm. I learned what I loved and what my passions were even though the path I thought I was supposed to take by coming here didn’t end up being the path that was best for me.

“But William & Mary stayed in my heart through the friendships; it has stayed in my heart by watching each new class achieve things ours couldn’t in terms of equity and inclusion and diversity.”

{{youtube:medium|Ag_4caXUn_g, Susan Magill's remarks}}

Magill, who served on the Board of Visitors and as rector, said that W&M is the touchstone that she has returned to throughout her life.

“As members of the Tribe, we have been given a tremendous gift in a William & Mary education, and with that comes a tremendous responsibility to give back to our college, our commonwealth and our country,” said Magill, who worked on Capitol Hill for more than 30 years. “I encourage you to become an engaged citizen in whatever way works for you.”

Shannon, who spent more than three decades in government service, also credited his W&M education for his success. W&M has been remarkable in its own right throughout the nation’s history, but it’s especially remarkable in how it has transformed itself over time, Shannon said.

“It holds for America great promise,” he said. “As I look into the future, and as I’ve spent time with students of William & Mary, I’ve come away enthused for the future and hopeful that I will be able to participate in some of it. Because I know with the young women and men being formed here our nation still has greatness, our nation still has vision, our nation still has purpose.”

{{youtube:medium|hUtHYCVsO-c, Thomas Shannon's remarks}}

‘How might we …’

Student speaker Tanner Braman ’20 said that members of the W&M have an obligation to “make something of the opportunity that is William & Mary.”

“If we are here for the greater good, we must establish individually for ourselves how we will benefit the greater good,” he said.

Fulfillment of that obligation starts with small, daily opportunities, he continued.

“The opportunities to pursue the greater good are everywhere. All that’s remaining is a choice: What more will you give and how soon can you start?”

Tanner Braman ’20 (Photo by Stephen Salpukas)Service is included among W&M’s new statement of values, which was approved last fall along with vision and missions statements as part of the strategic planning process.

Charter Day calls on the university to reflect on its history while taking a long view of its potential future through strategic planning, said Rowe. Subcommittees of the Strategic Planning Steering Committee recently completed environmental analyses around three areas of focus: teaching and learning, research and innovation, and flourishing and engagement.

“As we engage the findings of that scan, we will formulate problem statements about those challenges and opportunities,” said Rowe. “And those problem statements will drive our strategy in the coming decades to come, so we need to hear from you. What do you find powerful in those scans? What might you add?”

Rowe closed the Charter Day ceremony by asking “how might we” welcome and amplify new voices in the learning community and strengthen connections and collaborations across campus and beyond.

“Charter Day takes a long view of William & Mary,” said Rowe. “The past three-and-a-quarter centuries embolden us to lift as we climb. We plan our future in service to our commonwealth, the nation and the world, imagining a place of universal study and belonging for all times coming.”

{{youtube:medium|FJ8gq4JSUvE, Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia wishes W&M a happy birthday in song}}