New students to walk through Wren building during Convocation tradition Aug. 30

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August 23, 2017

7:38 PM

When students walk through the doors of the Christopher Wren building Wednesday, Aug. 30, it will mark the beginning of the academic year and the continuation of one of the College of William and Mary’s traditions — Convocation. This year, John Thomas, the first black justice appointed to Virginia’s supreme court and a member of the Board of Visitors, will be the speaker, kicking off a year of celebrations and initiatives to commemorate the 50th anniversary of residential African-American students attending the College.

Thomas was first appointed to the Board of Visitors in 2006 and was then reappointed to four-year terms in 2009 and 2013, making him the longest-serving Board member.

However, he will not remain on the Board during the 2017-2018 academic year. In June, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe appointed three new representatives and reappointed one current member of the Board, to fill the seats of Thomas and two other members of the Board whose four-year terms had ended. The first time the Board will convene this academic year will be September 13-15.

Outside of the Board, he is a senior partner at Hunton and Williams, where he leads the appellate practice group, after being appointed to the Virginia Supreme Court at age 32. He was also the youngest person to be appointed to the Virginia Supreme Court.

A William & Mary law student once described Justice Thomas as ‘the epitome of the citizen lawyer’ and that’s exactly right,” College President Taylor Reveley said in a written statement. “John Charles Thomas has been at the forefront of progress on so many fronts during his extraordinary career, paving the way for countless others to follow. It is our great good fortune that he has agreed not only to welcome the class of 2021 at Opening Convocation, but also to be part of our important year recognizing the African-American experience at William & Mary.”

“A William & Mary law student once described Justice Thomas as ‘the epitome of the citizen lawyer’ and that’s exactly right,” College President Taylor Reveley said in a written statement. “John Charles Thomas has been at the forefront of progress on so many fronts during his extraordinary career, paving the way for countless others to follow. It is our great good fortune that he has agreed not only to welcome the class of 2021 at Opening Convocation, but also to be part of our important year recognizing the African-American experience at William & Mary.”

Thomas’ academic career started at the University of Virginia, where he earned his undergraduate and law degrees. Now, he concentrates on appellate practice, general litigation and alternative dispute resolution as part of his firm.

He also serves on the AAA Panel of Commercial Arbitrators and AAA Panel of International Arbitrators, as well as serving as a judge of the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, Switzerland.

While he has the longest tenure on the Board, he has also been involved in other corners of the College. He regularly speaks at the Marshall-Wythe School of Law for new law students, and has also spoken at the law school’s graduation ceremony.

Stepping outside of the legal realm, Thomas also collaborated with College faculty to create a poetry recital of his original work at Carnegie Hall.

On the BOV, he most recently served as the chair of the Committee on Audit and Compliance and the vice chair of the Committee on Administration, Buildings and Grounds. During one of his earlier terms, he served as the chair of the Committee on Student Affairs.

Thomas’s Convocation address will be the first event scheduled to commemorate the 50th anniversary of residential African-American students attending the College.

Throughout the year, the celebration of this anniversary will be incorporated into art exhibits  in the Earl Gregg Swem Library and in the President’s Art Collection and campus events. There are also plans to hire an oral historian and commission a mural to be painted.

According to English professor and 50th Anniversary Committee Chair Jacquelyn McLendon, Thomas is committed to equality for all. McLendon is responsible for chairing the committee that will coordinate events throughout the year, in partnership with existing organizations like the Lemon Project on campus. She said that Thomas’ speech will be a way to acknowledge this anniversary, but she was not sure how the anniversary will tie into the College’s traditions. later in the year.

Justice Thomas is an amazing man of many talents and ‘firsts’ himself, breaking barriers for countless others,” McLendon said in a statement. “As an English professor, I appreciate his creativity in crafting poetry. More important, as a black American citizen, I appreciate his proven commitment to equality for all. He is, indeed, a most appropriate person to mark the official opening of this important milestone in William & Mary’s history.”

“Justice Thomas is an amazing man of many talents and ‘firsts’ himself, breaking barriers for countless others,” McLendon said in a statement. “As an English professor, I appreciate his creativity in crafting poetry. More important, as a black American citizen, I appreciate his proven commitment to equality for all. He is, indeed, a most appropriate person to mark the official opening of this important milestone in William & Mary’s history.”

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Sarah Smith

News Editor Sarah Smith '19 is an international relations and gender, sexuality, and women's studies major from Ashburn, VA. She formerly served as Associate News Editor.