With the College of William and Mary engaging in a celebration of its 318th birthday as never before, reviews of the changes to the festivities did not take long to form.
“I’m glad somebody decided this year to experiment with Charter Day,” law professor Jayne Barnard said early on in the keynote ceremony.
Where once a subdued Saturday morning gathering commemorated the awarding of the College’s royal charter, 2011 saw an upbeat, Friday afternoon ceremony that attracted thousands of students, faculty and alumni to William and Mary Hall. U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor J.D. ’88 gave the keynote address, and hip-hop group The Roots headlined a full capacity concert Saturday evening.
The events, spurred by College administrators’ decision to open Charter Day to a wider audience, combined to make a much more inclusive and enthusiastic celebration of the College than in years past.
“It turns out that Saturday mornings are not congenial times for our students to be up and about,” College President Taylor Reveley said of the changes.
Friday’s ceremony began with a reading of the College’s royal charter before commemorating the students, faculty and alumni receiving this year’s achievement awards. Harry Gao ’11 received the Thomas Jefferson Prize in Natural Philosophy, while Will Morris ’11 was awarded the Monroe Prize in Civic Leadership.
Not every aspect of Charter Day was new. A tradition known as “nickeling,” received a great deal of attention during the ceremony.
According to Reveley, those suspected of winning an award at Charter Day have customarily received a nickel, which bears Thomas Jefferson’s image. Award recipients also received a nickel during Friday’s ceremony.
Cantor expressed fond memories of his days as a student at the College in his address.
“I loved my years here in Williamsburg, at the William and Mary Law School,” Cantor said. “We alumni of William and Mary are proud of our history.”
Barnard, one of Cantor’s former law professors, commented on having a former student return to speak.
“He sat in my larger classroom about two thirds of the way back,” Barnard said. “I’m very glad to see him back in Williamsburg.”
Cantor’s address focused on the role of the United States on a global scale, arguing that small government and low taxes were key to the country’s future success. He emphasized issues of American entrepreneurship and the necessary support of the government. In the end, Cantor said he felt the College provided its students with a strong foundation.
“You live and learn at the heart of the American experiment,” Cantor said.
Cantor received an honorary degree at Friday’s ceremony. Other recipients of degrees included J. Edward Grimsley ’51 and Thaddeus Tate, who is notable for his contributions to the historical study of Colonial Williamsburg and the College.
Reveley ended Charter Day on Friday with high hopes for future celebrations.
“The College has much to celebrate,” Reveley said. “This grand old place is just beginning to roll.”