I was more than intimidated as I walked up the stairs to College of William and Mary President Taylor Reveley’s house. It was even worse to reach up and tap the gold-hued knocker. And when Reveley himself opened the door, I was mortified. Meanwhile, the president acted as if it were any usual lunch date and invited me in to his living room.
Along with four other students, I perched on one of the cream-colored couches in the historic house. We chatted about each student’s major and path to the College, Reveley’s academic journey and more.
Some students saw it as an opportunity to get to know Reveley personally.
“I am glad the lunch didn’t turn out to be formal and follow the routines just because we were eating with the president,” Alison Wu ’12 said. “I am glad we all shared our stories and president Reveley shared the story of his college life.”
Others saw it as a chance to express their personal opinions to Reveley.
“We all got a chance to voice our opinions and communicate with one another and President Reveley,” Blakely Mulder ’14 said. “I feel like [Reveley and I] both got to know each other a little bit.”
Later, we went to sit at a long wooden table for our meal, which consisted of chicken and vegetables, along with small, delicious fruit pies for dessert.
The president wanted to know whether we had any questions about the College. The table discussed, between bites of tender fowl, why the college does not have the option of double majoring with a minor — the students were for it, and Reveley had not known it was impossible — as well as whether there should be an ampersand in the College’s official name — Reveley thinks it is more aesthetically pleasing, but the students had mixed opinions.
By the time we left, about an hour and a half after the lunch began, I found that I had grown surprisingly comfortable. I shook Reveley’s hand goodbye with a certain degree of fondness.
Although not every student gets to experience lunch with the president of his or her college, my group is not unique. For several generations, presidents at the College have been having lunch with small groups of students for the same purpose.
“I enjoy it. It’s a great way to meet undergrads and get a sense of what people think,” Reveley said. “It also helps students meet each other. The bottom line is that it is fun.”
Both Wu and Mulder said that they signed up to have lunch with Reveley because he seemed to have a good personality, and because it was a good opportunity.
“I wanted to meet him,” Zach Nicholls ’14 said. “Everything with Reveley is awesome.”
The students agreed that the purposes of the presidential lunch program are manifold.
“The optimistic view is that he wants to meet students,” Nicholls said. “The cynical view is that it’s for publicity, but since there were only five people, that’s not likely. We got to voice real concerns.”
“I think that the president has lunch with the students to get feedback on how the school is — what its strengths and weaknesses are from a consumer’s point of view,” Mulder said. “It also seems that President Reveley likes getting to know the personalities of the individual students, because in many ways, he represents us to other colleges around the country.”
As president of the College, Reveley oversees thousands of students, of which his lunch groups comprise only a fraction. However, he said that the lunches contribute to what he does know of the student body.
“There are far too many [students] to know but a small percentage,” he said. “But I see enoughthat I do feel I know them, the lunches being one of the ways I meet students. The bigger the school, the harder it is for the president to know the undergraduates. It’s more feasible at a place like the College.”
Not only did the president get to know the students, but it was also the other way around: The five of us now have a better perception of who Reveley is.
“The lunch did not change my perceptions of the president, but rather confirmed them,” Mulder said.
“You are happier when people seem to enjoy you and don’t view you as a jackass,” Reveley said.
Whatever the purpose, history or effect of the lunch I attended, my overwhelming perception was that I met interesting people, participated in insightful discussions.
“[I want students to view me as] someone who cares about them and the future of the university,” Reveley said. “Someone who knows what he’s doing, is doing the best he can, and making a difference for the better.”