Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell spoke of partnership and learning from past struggles in his keynote speech at the College of William and Mary’s annual Charter Day ceremony Saturday at Phi Beta Kappa Memorial Hall.
Charter Day is the annual celebration of the granting of the College’s royal charter in 1693 from King William III and Queen Mary II of Great Britain.
McDonnell began his speech by saying that the College’s past struggles have helped shape its present character.
“The Civil War period at William and Mary is one that has largely been forgotten, except in notations by historians,” he said. “The College of William and Mary was closed from May 1861 to the fall of 1865. An attempt to reopen the College using the personal funds of the school’s president, Benjamin Ewell, failed. In 1906, the College property was transferred to the Commonwealth of Virginia, and thus was born William and Mary as a public institution, which it has now been for 104 years.”
McDonnell stated his belief that building on these historical adversities would help the College and the Commonwealth overcome current hardships.
“Four hundred years of Virginia history tells us that these current challenges that we face in Virginia, I believe, pale to the previous obstacle that Virginia leaders have taken on and have overcome together,” McDonnell said.
McDonnell also said that the College’s role in education would be a significant factor in the future success of the Commonwealth.
“We must recognize the importance of investing today in educating the leaders of tomorrow,” McDonnell said. “It’s hard to imagine what could have happened several times in this college’s history, and that is a nation and state without William and Mary.”
McDonnell also addressed concerns with declining state-supported funding for higher education, and the College’s financial status in particular.
“The partnerships between the state and the universities are critical to create a world-class educational system that our young people of Virginia deserve and demand,” McDonnell said. “Over this last decade in
Virginia, while we’ve experienced an increase in state spending of over 70 percent, the investment in the operation of our higher education system has decreased 40 percent. Thus, rising tuitions are levied on children and their parents, and that is a formula that we must address quickly.”
McDonnell concluded his speech by saying that the commonwealth would continue to support its relationship with the College, which has lasted for more than a century.
“This great partnership between the ‘alma mater of a nation,’ as [Former Virginia Gov. Mills] Godwin called it, and the ‘mother of presidents,’ as Virginia is so often called, merely codified this relationship,” McDonnell said. “I pledge to, in my brief four-year time that I am able to serve as the 71st governor of Virginia, to keep alive its 104-year outstanding partnership between William and Mary and the Commonwealth, and to continue to find ways to leave this state and this nation in a better place than we found it.”
College President Taylor Reveley also spoke at the ceremony, describing Charter Day as the College’s birthday.
“When Charter Day is stripped to its essentials, laid bare, that’s what it is — a birthday, a celebration of another year in the long life of the College of William and Mary,” Reveley said. “The wild animal excitement of birthdays subsides as the years accumulate, and the birthdays begin to pile up, rolling in more and more quickly, relentlessly, like the surf rushing to shore. Some birthdays remain special, though — when we get to be 21 — or 300.”
Reveley also praised the College’s exclusive status as one of the oldest institutions of higher learning in the world.
“William and Mary has been alive and kicking for more than three centuries,” he said. “It’s hard to think of any other institution in North America that’s older. Well, Harvard, of course, but it came first only because the first attempt to start a college in Virginia fell short in 1619. This was well before Harvard was even a gleam in pilgrim eyes.”
While its three-century history puts the College in elite company, Reveley said that the events and accomplishments in that history are what make the College special.
“There is only one College of William and Mary,” Reveley said. “So we do say to this marvelous university on its 317th birthday, in the words of Dr. Seuss, truly ‘there is no one alive who is Youer than You.’”
This year saw an immense effort to increase Charter’s Day’s significance within the College community.
Banners proudly boasted the College’s 317th birthday, and Feb. 5 was named Tribe Pride Day, with students and faculty encouraged to wear green and gold clothing.
“The idea is to get students pumped up for the celebration, not just the alumni,” Lauren Morrisroe ’10 said.
“By making Charter Day a campus-wide thing, it encourages everyone to take pride in the College. I definitely noticed a difference in how much it was publicized this year.”
The ceremony also included an awards presentation for prominent members of the College community.
Along with McDonnell, University of Chicago philosophy professor Martha Nussbaum and former sociology professor R. Wayne Kernodle received honorary degrees.
Dr. Waverly Cole ’50, Sam Sadler ’64 M.Ed. ’71, Nicholas St. George ’60 J.D. ’65 and Earl Young ’59 each received the Alumni Medallion, the highest award for graduates of the College. Economics professor Robert Archibald was awarded the Thomas Jefferson Award, and biology professor Mark Forsyth received the Thomas Jefferson Teaching Award. Nik Belanger ’09 received the Monroe Prize in Civic Leadership, and Lauren Miller ’10 was awarded the Thomas Jefferson Prize in Natural Philosophy.
_Flat Hat Assoc. News Editor Ian Brickey contributed to this report._