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Judge John Charles Thomas to speak at W&M Opening Convocation

  • Convocation speaker:
    Convocation speaker:  After years of service to the university, Judge John Charles Thomas HON '18 was inducted as a W&M honorary alumnus in 2018. He was appointed to the BOV in 2006 to fill an unexpired term and reappointed to two four-year terms in 2009 and 2013, making him the longest-serving Board member in modern history.  Hunton & Williams photo
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Editor's note: Due to heavy rain and possible thunderstorms expected in the area on Wednesday from the remnants of Hurricane Ida, we have decided to move our Opening Convocation Ceremony back by one week. The ceremony will now take place at 8 p.m. on Sept. 10 in the Wren Yard. The update has been made in the text below. Read more. Additionally, masks are now required for attendees.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki ’00 to reschedule campus visit

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki ’00 will be unable to speak at William & Mary’s Opening Convocation due to an unanticipated conflict in scheduling. 

Judge John Charles Thomas HON ’18, the first Black justice appointed to the Supreme Court of Virginia and a former longtime member of the William & Mary Board of Visitors, will now serve as the keynote speaker at the event. Psaki’s visit to campus will be rescheduled for a later date.

"I am so proud to be part of the William & Mary family and was honored to be asked to speak at Convocation," Psaki said. "This is the beginning of hopefully some of the best years of the lives of the incoming classes and I look forward to coming back to campus to celebrate all the successes with the classes of 2024 and 2025 in the future." 

The annual tradition, scheduled for 8 p.m. on Sept. 10 in the Wren Yard, kicks off the academic year and welcomes new students to campus. Masks are required for attendees.

“We are very grateful for Judge Thomas’s willingness to step in and speak to our entering classes,” said W&M President Katherine A. Rowe. “He is a dear friend of the university and a powerful and compelling thinker. I know he will kick off the academic year with great passion.

“We also look forward to welcoming Jen Psaki back to her alma mater very soon,” Rowe added. “We understand the unexpected scheduling demands of the White House press secretary and the importance of her work and service at this time.”

After years of service to the university, Thomas was inducted as a W&M honorary alumnus in 2018. He was appointed to the BOV in 2006 to fill an unexpired term and reappointed to two four-year terms in 2009 and 2013, making him the longest-serving Board member in modern history. Thomas has inspired audiences at many W&M events, including the Law School’s graduation ceremony, and been a highly engaged member of the university’s community. In 2013, he even collaborated with W&M faculty members Sophia Serghi and Harris Simon for a poetry recital of original work at Carnegie Hall. He spoke at Opening Convocation in 2017.

Prior to his retirement, Thomas was a senior partner at Hunton & Williams, where he led its appellate practice group. He earned his undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Virginia. He was appointed to the Virginia Supreme Court in 1983, becoming not only the first Black justice but, at 32, the youngest to ever be appointed to that role.

Psaki, who double majored in English and sociology at W&M, took on her current role in January 2021 when U.S. President Joe Biden took office, and she oversaw the confirmations team for the Biden-Harris transition. During the Obama-Biden administration she served as deputy White House press secretary and deputy communications director. Other senior roles during that administration included terms as White House communications director and State Department spokesperson under then-Secretary of State John Kerry.

While a student at W&M, Psaki was a member of the swim team and Chi Omega sorority. She also served as a campus tour guide and admission intern. Psaki has remained closely connected to her alma mater since graduation. She was featured on the cover of the spring 2021 W&M Alumni Magazine and recently threw out the first pitch at Nationals Park for W&M Day on July 18.