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Governor celebrates W&M’s 325th, pledges support for public education

  • Charter Day:
    Charter Day:  Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam speaks to faculty, staff, students, alumni and community members at the 2018 Charter Day ceremony on Feb. 9.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Charter Day:
    Charter Day:  W&M’s first tenured African-American faculty member, Trudier Harris (right), receives an honorary degree at the 2018 Charter Day ceremony.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Charter Day:
    Charter Day:   Frances G. McGlothlin '66 receives an honorary degree at the 2018 Charter Day ceremony.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Charter Day:
    Charter Day:  Hunter J. Smith ’51 (right) receives an honorary degree at the 2018 Charter Day ceremony.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Charter Day:
    Charter Day:  Joanne Braxton, the Francis L. and Edwin L. Cummings Professor of the Humanities and director of the W&M Middle Passage Project, receives the 2018 Thomas Jefferson Award.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Charter Day:
    Charter Day:  Likhitha Kolla '18 (left) receives the 2018 Thomas Jefferson Prize in Natural Philosophy.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Charter Day:
    Charter Day:  Jordan Gilliard ’18 receives the 2018 Monroe Prize in Civic Leadership.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Charter Day:
    Charter Day:  President Taylor Reveley waves to the crowd after receiving a standing ovation in response to Gov. Ralph Northam's praise.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Charter Day:
    Charter Day:  Meher Babbar ’18 shares her reflections on the university's royal charter.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Charter Day:
    Charter Day:  Comedian Chloé Hilliard (right) performs as the opener for the 2018 Charter Day comedy show.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Charter Day:
    Charter Day:  Comedian Roy Wood Jr. performs at the 2018 Charter Day comedy show on Feb. 10.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
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As he joined the campus community in celebrating the university’s 325-year history Friday, Virginia’s new governor, Ralph Northam, said that the story of the commonwealth cannot be told without William & Mary.

“I am committed to spend the next four years ensuring that Virginians in every corner of the state have access to good health, a good education and a good job,” he said. “I want Virginia’s story in the 21st century to be a story of a place that is open and welcoming and provides equal opportunity for all. Just as it has done for 325 years, William & Mary will continue to be a vital part of that story.”

Northam spoke to hundreds of faculty, staff, students, alumni and community members gathered in Kaplan Arena for the 2018 Charter Day ceremony, which celebrated the university’s 325th “birthday.” The annual tradition honors the day in 1693 that King William III and Queen Mary II granted their namesake university its royal charter. In addition to Friday's ceremony, Charter Day weekend events included a comedy show featuring Roy Wood Jr. and the Gold Rush basketball game in which the men's team bested Delaware, 83-66.

Northam received an honorary degree at the event along with Frances G. McGlothlin '66, Hunter J. Smith ’51 and Trudier Harris, W&M’s first tenured African-American faculty member. Several faculty members and students also received awards during the ceremony.

Chancellor Robert M. Gates ’65 recalled W&M’s history including, until the last century, its exclusion of people of color and women. This academic year, the university is commemorating the 50th anniversary of its first African-American students in residence and, in the fall, will begin a yearlong commemoration of 100 years of coeducation at W&M.

{{youtube:medium|uLc3C5m1V_A, Robert Gates' remarks}}

While the university continues to work toward fuller inclusion, Gates, who was the first U.S. defense secretary to serve under presidents of different political parties, said that part of the challenge today is learning how to discuss differences civilly.

“America faces a lot of challenges. To overcome them requires a 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,” he said.

“These qualities comprise the history and the essence of the William & Mary experience. 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 solutions. It will require inclusivity, but also mutual respect, open minds, the conviction that every person has intrinsic value and, as King William and Queen Mary declared 325 years ago, that each person in our William & Mary family is well-beloved.”

Education for all

Acknowledging his fellow honorary degree recipients, Northam spoke of the courage of Harris as well as W&M’s first three African-American residential students, who began at the university not too long ago.

“Discrimination, segregation and racism are not long past history,” he said. “They are things that happen to people who are alive and in this room today. Our work to overcome racism and discrimination is not complete. We were reminded of this with the horrific tragedy in Charlottesville last year when a group of white supremacists marched into our beautiful city with torches and weapons, spewing their hatred and bigotry.

“We still have a lot of work to do to make sure we eradicate discrimination and build a Virginia in which everyone is welcome, everyone is treated equally no matter where they come from, which religion they practice, who they love, the color of their skin. I promise I will work toward that as governor.”

{{youtube:medium|XQwMicHUT3A, Ralph Northam's remarks}}

A product of Virginia public schools and higher education, Northam said he will also work toward making sure that every Virginian has the same educational opportunities, from early childhood programs to higher education, preparing them for 21st-century jobs.

“It’s critical for our economic growth that we invest in ways that ensure that our workforce can get that training and education, bringing skills to jobs,” Northam said. “Education is a huge economic driver. Colleges and universities like W&M attract and invest talent into their communities and to the state.”

While the cost of higher education has risen, Northam said he is committed to changing the decline of state support that has contributed to that, and he applauded the university for its W&M Promise tuition guarantee program.

“I would like to see other state colleges and universities adopt a similar model,” he said.

Northam also applauded President Taylor Reveley, who will retire in June, for his leadership of W&M over the past decade, during which time the university has seen a significant building boom, increased resources for things such as mental health and sexual assault prevention and nationally recognized efforts such the Lemon Project.

“All of these things are a testament to President Reveley’s hard work and leadership,” said Northam, leading to a standing ovation for the president.

Awards and honors

Meher Babbar ’18 was selected to present her reflections on the charter during the ceremony, recalling the disappearance of the original royal charter.

“At another institution, a missing charter might have led to catastrophe, a crisis of character, but I believe our vanished original may have actually left us better off,” she said. “For the charter’s parchment may lie in the smoldering ashes of the revolution, but its vision thrives more vividly than those whose hands put to paper the luminous ideal of a liberal arts education could have ever imagined.”

{{youtube:medium|RJzI77PI9AU, Meher Babbar's reflections on the charter}}

Several other students as well as faculty members took the stage at the event to receive Charter Day’s annual awards.

This year’s Thomas Jefferson Award recipient was Joanne Braxton, the Francis L. and Edwin L. Cummings Professor of the Humanities and director of the W&M Middle Passage Project who has worked at W&M for 37 years. The award is presented to a faculty member for “significant service through his or her personal activities, influence and leadership.”

Whenever asked about why she has stayed at W&M for so long, Braxton cites “the quality of the character of the students I teach,” she said.

“Teaching is my highest calling,” Braxton added. “Teaching is also a sacred trust. Whenever I enter a classroom to teach, I know that I am standing on sacred ground.”

{{youtube:medium|5GTeuZNNhn8, Joanne Braxton reflects on her time at W&M}}

Jonathan Glasser, associate professor of anthropology, was the recipient of the Thomas Jefferson Teaching Award (although he was unable to attend the event), and Likhitha Kolla received the Thomas Jefferson Prize in Natural Philosophy. Another senior Jordan Gilliard ’18 received the Monroe Prize in Civic Leadership.

The 2018 Alumni Medallion recipients were also honored at the ceremony. They included Jill Ellis ’88, L.H.D. ’16; Janet Rollins Atwater ’84; Shelby Smith Hawthorne ’67, M.A.Ed. ’75; and Ellen R. Stofan ’83, D.Sc. ’16. The four received the medallions at a separate ceremony on Saturday.

A gift from the president

Taylor Reveley wearing the new badge and chain of office (photo by Stephen Salpukas)During the event, Reveley sported a new badge and chain of office that he commissioned as a gift to the university in honor of the presidents who have preceded him in office.

The badge is gold and silver and contains an enameled depiction of W&M’s coast of arms. The names of the university’s 27 presidents are inscribed on the chain of office, which also carries the seals of Virginia and the London Company.

Reveley worked with historian and author Wilford Kale ’66 to design the gold and silver badge and chain, which were handcrafted by the 191-year-old English company Thomas Fattorini Ltd., which carries a royal warrant from Queen Elizabeth II to create insignia, honors and awards, Kale said.

Kale previously worked with Rector Anne Dobie Peebles ’44 in 1986-87 to create the badges and chains of office for the chancellor and rector.

{{youtube:medium|UgVbY6uI4SA, President Taylor Reveley's closing remarks}}

In closing the ceremony, Reveley discussed the multiple anniversaries that the university is celebrating in its 325th year, including the 50th anniversary of the arrival of W&M’s first African-American residential students — Lynn Briley, Janet Brown Strafer, and Karen Ely — and the 100th anniversary of coeducation, which will kick off in the fall.

Although the university is not celebrating its 325th year as extravagantly as it did its 300th or will likely do for its 350th, the anniversary is still worth noting, Reveley said.

“So let’s just say well done, Alma Mater of the Nation. Well done, beloved William & Mary,” he said. “You are magnificent, an iconic American institution, with a past rich with significance for our country and a future of enormous potential for the commonwealth, country and world. We are very proud of you. You have never looked better at 325.”

{{youtube:medium|E756Qasuz-Q, No Ceiling sings "Happy Birthday" to W&M}}