Dear Students, Jobs, pride and thanks: Let me opine about each.
I washed up on William and Mary’s shore in August 1998, almost 20 years ago. I came to be dean of the Law School. Before arriving, I belonged to a large law firm for 28 years, nine as its managing partner. That was after being an assistant professor of law at the University of Alabama for a year and clerking for Justice Brennan at the U.S. Supreme Court for a year. Two years into practicing law, I took a leave from my law firm for 13 months to work on a book about war powers. These powers concern the division of authority between the President and Congress over the use of American armed force abroad. After the leave, I went back to the law firm and stayed put until coming to William and Mary for what proved to be two jobs first dean, then president.
So what’s the point of this shaggy tale? It’s this: All told, I’ve had seven different jobs. In my view, having a lot of different jobs is not only ok, it’s positively invigorating.
Now at some point of course it is vital to establish that you’re stable and can stick with one job or another for more than a year or two. It’s important to settle into something and stay with it for a reasonable period of time before moving on to till another vineyard. So my three really short-term gigs came relatively early in my vocational progress, while each of my runs as a practicing lawyer, managing partner, dean and president lasted for a reasonable time. But, in my judgment, there is no need right out of college to know want you want to do for the long term (I thought my future was politics) and settle right into it (I didn’t).
When it comes to jobs, and much else in life, it’s vital to be resilient, to be able to thrive amid constant change and some real uncertainty. This takes a taste for lifelong learning, a finely honed capacity to think and communicate, the breadth of perspective that comes from exposure to the liberal arts, and real appreciation for diversity. In other words, it really helps to have gone to college at William and Mary and gotten the sort of education available here and very few other places.
Your alma mater is a magnificent institution! It is one of a tiny handful of American universities that is genuinely iconic by dint of its deep roots in America’s past, its powerful tradition of producing leaders for communities, states and nation, and its possession of most of the oldest academic architecture still standing in America: the Wren (1699), the Brafferton (1723) and the President’s House (1732). Harvard has one equally historic building; it’s younger than the Wren and older than the Brafferton.
William and Mary is also one of the tiny handful of colleges that have become research universities without throwing their undergraduate programs under the wheels. As one of our professors puts it, William and Mary has the brains of a big research university and the heart of a small liberal arts college. That’s a dynamite combination. Professors at William and Mary actually know students by name, mentor them and care about how they’re doing as people. And William and Mary’s campus is amazingly lovely with its rolling terrain, lush foliage, red brick walks extending in every direction, spectacular Sunken Garden, and marvelous historic buildings lining the Wren Yard. Truly, too, what other campus in the galaxy merges at its western tip into 700 acres of College Woods, protected by our own corps of Druids, while to its east flowing into a living reincarnation of the 18th century.
William and Mary will be an enduring part of your identity until you shuffle off your mortal coil. It’s seemly to be extraordinarily proud that you belong to the Tribe. Not in the way the graduates of some other schools bray about their alma maters, but with cheerful, robust confidence, you can and should sing the praises of yours wherever you find yourself in the world.
One of the delights for me first at the Law School and then throughout all William and Mary has been students. Year after year, you’ve been remarkably able, hardworking, and collegial. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed being in your midst. Thank you for welcoming me first as dean and then as president. You’ve stuck with me faithfully since 1998. This has made William and Mary home for me in myriad of ways. I will always be grateful. And, yes, I do bleed green and gold.
You have my very best wishes. Go Tribe!