Third President of the United States Thomas Jefferson addressed his alma mater from the familiar steps of the Wren Courtyard Thursday. Jefferson, portrayed by historical interpreter Bill Baker, spoke to students at the invitation of the Graduate Policy Association.
The GPA, a group of public policy graduate students, hosts speakers throughout the year. Barker served as their spring guest.
“We just basically wanted to hold something fun at the end of the year for the students because we are Masters students,” GPA Policy Dialogue Coordinator Steven Hanson said. “We just wanted to give back to the campus community in a way that we could, and we thought this was the most appropriate thing to do.”
Hanson viewed the event as an opportunity to use the resources in Colonial Williamsburg that are often overlooked by the campus community.
“While at William and Mary, I attended many Colonial Williamsburg events and, as a result, developed a much deeper appreciation for our country,” Hanson said. “Among the student body, I think that Colonial Williamsburg is an underutilized resource, so to bring a CW re-enactor was an opportunity to attract students that might not be inclined to visit CW.”
Barker is an historical interpreter in Colonial Williamsburg. He plays Jefferson at different points throughout the historical figure’s life. At this event, Barker portrayed Jefferson as the third U.S. president, reflecting on his time at the College.
“Mr. Bill Barker is well-known and does such an incredible job,” Hanson said. “I think the event informed students as to Jefferson’s experience while at the College as well as increased their interest in American History.”
Barker began with a speech to the audience followed by a question and answer period and an opportunity to take pictures. J.T. Fales ’12 noted his ability to engage the audience.
“I was really impressed with his performance and the depth of his knowledge,” Fales said. “I feel like Thomas Jefferson is such an endless sort of figure. He is just so larger than life and it takes a really skilled person to convey that. I think it was very impressive that he stayed in character while interacting with people in front of him.”
Fales stopped by the event to hear Barker speak because he was interested in learning more about Jefferson’s time at the College.
“I was actually thinking about writing some historical fiction at the beginning of the semester about Thomas Jefferson’s life at the College,” Fales said. “I was sitting in my room thinking, you know should I study for my final or should I do something that I am going to remember five years from now?”
While students were in attendance, locals and tourists were also a part of Jefferson’s audience at the event. Jurgen Vsych, a Williamsburg resident, came to watch Barker in one of the many performances of his she has attended.
“I have seen Thomas Jefferson a lot in Colonial Williamsburg,” Vsych said. “Bill is always a great performer, and I never heard him address students before so I thought I would come and see what words of inspiration he had to offer them.”
Barker spoke amidst darkening skies, windy weather and a tornado watch. Although the crowd was small, students, tourists and locals still attended the event.
“For those who were deterred due to the tornado watch, I encourage them to check out Mr. Barker at Colonial Williamsburg, as admissions to students is free,” Hanson said.