The College of William and Mary will soon add another famous alumnus to its list of figureheads: former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates ’65 will serve as the 24th Chancellor of the College of William and Mary, College President Taylor Reveley announced Tuesday.
Gates will take over as chancellor from retired U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Sandra Day O’Connor at the Charter Day ceremony in 2012. O’Connor has held the position since 2005.
“I congratulate Robert Gates on his selection as the twenty-fourth Chancellor of the College of William & Mary,” President Barack Obama said in a press release. “In Bob, one of our nation’s oldest colleges has found one of our nation’s finest public servants. I’m confident that Bob will bring to this new role the same sense of duty and personal integrity that I and other Presidents valued during his distinguished career in government.“
Gates graduated from the College in 1965 with a Bachelor’s Degree in history and was a member of the Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity. He received the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award, which is granted based on characteristics of heart, mind and helpfulness to others.
“William & Mary is known around the world as an exceptional school which produces up-and-coming national and world leaders,” Gates said in a press release. “In addition to an outstanding education, William & Mary instills in its students a sense of duty to community and country. I look forward to doing all that I can to continue and build on these traditions.”
After leaving the College, Gates went on to become president of Texas A&M University, Deputy Director of the CIA and Secretary of Defense.
“[It] seems to me that having as our 24th Chancellor an alumnus of Bob Gates’ distinction in national and international affairs, as well as his commitment to public service, will make the W&M community as a whole — certainly including students — very happy,” Reveley said. “It’s a real plus for the College to have an alumnus who has done what Gates has done in national and international affairs and who has been as committed to public service as Bob has been.”
The honorary position of chancellor has been a tradition at the College, dating back to its 1693 founding. The chancellor initially was an English subject and served as the College’s advocate to the crown. Now, the chancellor is primarily a figurehead, participating in major ceremonies and campus events and meeting periodically with students and other members of the campus community. Gates will be the first College alumnus in the modern era to serve as chancellor.
“We are thrilled to welcome back former-Secretary Robert Gates in this new role,” Brian Whitson, Director of University Relations, said. “This is great news for William and Mary. Bob Gates serves as a shining example of someone who has devoted their life to public service. As an alumnus, he has remained very engaged with the College since he graduated.”
Students and administrators reacted to President Obama’s endorsement of Gates’ appointment with pride.
“I think [President Obama’s statement] speaks to the level of respect our nation’s leaders have for the former secretary,” Whitson said. “As the release states, he is the first Secretary of Defense in U.S. history to serve under presidents of both political parties. We are very fortunate that our students and members of the campus community will have access to someone with his experience and knowledge. So far, response both on and off campus has been overwhelmingly positive.”