After making the move from a house on South Boundary Street to one of the most prominent seats in American government, U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor J.D. ’88 (R-Va.) will return home to speak to the College of William and Mary on Charter Day, Feb. 4.
“I think that the origin in the founding of William and Mary was coincidental with the founding of our nation, the principles of human progress, and of the principles of innovation that Virginia started with and the country built upon,” Cantor said. “I do think that William and Mary is a part of that tradition, and I am very honored to be a part of that tradition.”
For Cantor, who graduated from the College’s law school in 1988, his Charter Day speech will mark his first return to the College in an official capacity.
“I was very honored to be a part of [the College’s tradition] during my academic years and am just as honored by its affiliation going forward,” he said.
College President Taylor Reveley and the College’s Board of Visitors selected Cantor to speak at the Charter Day ceremony because of his prominence on the national political stage and his strong connection to Virginia. Born and raised in Richmond, Va., the congressman now represents his home district.
According to Assistant to the President and Secretary to the Board of Visitors Michael J. Fox, the Board also thought that Cantor would relate well to the student body because he is a relatively young politician and he understands campus life at the College.
“I think that he really remembers his foundation and his roots, which is really important to this community, and it’s something we are proud of,” Fox said.
During his time at the College Cantor remained active in campus life through his involvement in a law fraternity. The off-campus house on South Boundary Street in which Cantor lived during law school kept him in close proximity to the historic campus. He was an avid athlete who enjoyed being active and participating in outdoor activities in Williamsburg.
Even 22 years after graduating, Cantor was able to rattle off a list of professors who he said truly influenced him.
“I look forward to returning to campus and seeing and meeting all the faculty and students,” he said. “That makes William and Mary what it is, the quality of the experience.”
As the first House Majority leader to come from the College, Cantor is one of the College’s most prominent living alumni.
Breaking boundaries is not new to Cantor. He is the only Jewish Republican currently serving in Congress, and he is arguably the most prominent Jewish member of Congress.
Cantor said he encourages students to remember their American roots as they leave the College and go out into the world.
“Nowhere else in the world are you offered the opportunity to be whoever you are and do whatever you want to do as you are in America,” he said.
At last year’s convocation, Chairman of the President’s Council of Economic Advisors Christina Romer ’81 addressed the College, making Cantor the second prominent political figure the College has hosted in the past year.
“I think that it is really nifty that we have had two high-ranking members of government in the past year. It’s all very nice.” Reveley said.
Charter Day, meant to recognize and honor the College’s historic roots, will celebrate the 318th anniversary of the royal charter from King William III and Queen Mary II.
“I’m always very excited about Charter Day because it’s William and Mary’s birthday,” Reveley said. “We can remember just how old and distinguished the College is.”
This year the Charter Day Ceremony has been moved from Saturday morning to Friday evening as part of an effort by a planning committee to draw more students to the College’s birthday celebration.
“Like other campus-wide celebrations — Opening Convocation, Yule Log, Commencement — Charter Day should be a time for the whole campus to celebrate William and Mary’s birthday as well as the sense of community and pride we share in belonging to the W&M family,” Vice President for Student Affairs Ginger Ambler ’88 Ph.D. ’06 said in an e-mail.
The planning committee, made up of students, faculty and administrators, hopes to engage more students in the ceremony, while simultaneously making the ceremony shorter and livelier.
“We are trying to get the students more involved and interested in the age, origins and general magnificence of William and Mary,” Reveley said.