The College of William and Mary is turning to one of its most distinguished alumni to deliver commencement remarks for the class of 2011.
In a statement released this morning, the College announced that Joe Plumeri ’66 would give the keynote speech at commencement ceremonies May 15.
Plumeri is currently the chairman and CEO of the Willis Group Holdings. He was an influential player in the renaming of the Sears Tower, now called the Willis Tower. Previously he served as president of Shearson Lehman Brothers. In addition to funding the construction of Plumeri Park, and he has made significant financial contributions to the Make-a-Wish Foundation.
“Joe Plumeri has moved mountains in the world of international business,” College President Taylor Reveley said in a press release. “[He] has been a great force for good in the not-for-profit world as well. By any measure, Joe is among William & Mary’s most faithful and generous alumni, and he is always a riveting speaker. We’re delighted whenever we can welcome Mr. Plumeri back to campus.”
Since 2004, five College alumni have delivered remarks during commencement exercises. Plumeri said that he was honored to have been chosen to deliver this year’s address.
“I graduated in 1966, and there hasn’t been a year since I graduated that I have not been proud to tell people that I graduated from William and Mary,” Plumeri said. “There are a lot of times where I almost beg the question, ‘Please ask me where I went to school. Please ask me where I graduated from,’ because the reputation of the College of William and Mary, and the people who graduate from there, could not be better.”
Plumeri said that his relationship with the College made the chance to participate in commencement exercises a special opportunity.
“Having the opportunity to be able to have an honorary degree conferred on me, and be in the same position that Benjamin Franklin was in, for a kid from Trenton, N.J. who was given an opportunity by a College at a time when nobody from Trenton, N.J. ever knew where William and Mary was, is a hell of an honor, and I jumped at it immediately and I am proud.”
While Christina Romer ’81, former chair of the President’s Council of Economic Advisors and the 2010 commencement keynote speaker, primarily addressed the current financial crisis in her remarks, Plumeri said that he would speak on issues relevant to graduating students.
“You can…rest assured that I will talk about passion,” he said. “I will talk about the future, I will talk about opportunities that people have in the great world that’s before them with a foundation that they have gotten at the College. I will talk about enthusiasm, I will talk about opportunity, I will talk about optimism, and I will talk about all the great things that lie before each student the minute that that ceremony is over and make them excited about the fact that they can jump off their seats and be proud of the fact that they are ready and willing and totally prepared to take on the world in a positive way.”
Plumeri said that he did not remember anything that the commencement speaker for the class of 1966, then-U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Henry Fowler, said in his remarks. However, according to Plumeri, the text of his address is less important than the feelings students that it inspires in the graduates.
“They may not remember what I said, but they will remember how I made them feel,” Plumeri said. “And in 45 years, when someone is asked that question you just asked me, they’ll say that it was Joe Plumeri who made [them] feel great.”
Plumeri first came to the College nearly five decades ago. In his convocation remarks in September, College Rector Henry C. Wolf, who arrived at the College two years before Plumeri, described the changes he had observed at the College since his time as a freshman. According to Plumeri, the College will face even greater challenges over the next five decades.
“One of the great challenges that the college continually faces, especially one with rich traditions, is that we make sure that we build our traditions, we don’t live by them,” Plumeri said. “That you don’t be a school of memories, you’re a school of dreams, and as long as you live by that frame of reference, we’ll always stay contemporary with the way society is and prepare our students and our people and our faculty for the world as it is today, not the world that was.”