“This is a glorious, if toasty day,” College of William and Mary President Taylor Reveley said, addressing the crowd of graduates, faculty, family and friends at Kaplan Arena gathered for the Commencement ceremony May 12.
The midday outdoor ceremony in the Williamsburg heat proved a little overwhelming for a few crowd members. According to Deputy Fire Chief Larry Snyder, seven patients needed assistance from the Williamsburg Fire Department because of the 92 degree temperature. One of these patients was transported to a local hospital with a non-life-threatening condition.
However, the heat-induced mishaps did not affect the official proceedings at this Commencement, which this year was held in Zable Stadium, for the first time since 1993. Zable boasts a recent expansion which allowed for increased capacity for graduates and their guests.
This year’s commencement was marked by several historic anniversaries for the College. Most speakers during the ceremony acknowledged the 50th anniversary of African-American students in residence and the 100th anniversary of coeducation in their prepared remarks.
Lynn E. Briley ’71, Karen Ely ’71 and Janet Brown Strafer ’71, M. Ed. ’77 were the first three African-American students in residence at the College when they arrived on campus as freshmen in 1967. The College conferred Briley, Ely and Brown Strafer with honorary degrees.
Katherine Johnson, a former NASA mathematician who helped compute the first human spaceflight, was also recognized with an honorary degree Saturday. Johnson, who is 99 years old, was unable to attend the ceremony due to health issues, but appeared to the crowd in a pre-recorded video.
“It’s a pleasure, a really great joy to be in your company,” Johnson said. “I’m happy to be here, I’m grateful for the occasion, thank you very much. And I’ll say to the other graduates: give the world your best. Always do your best with whatever you do. Like it and show it.”
Another marker of the 50th anniversary commemoration was the unveiling of “Messages to the Human Heart,” a song commissioned for the occasion, composed by Hampton composer Jeraldine Herbison and performed during the Commencement ceremony by the William and Mary Choir.
In Virginia Sen. Mark Warner’s commencement address, he peppered advice for the Class of 2018 with anecdotes from his own life. Warner described his personal growth, including the career failures in his 20s that eventually led him to successfully invest in the nascent cell phone business.
“Your obligation is to strive, to reach, and yes, occasionally fail,” Warner said.
Warner also addressed broader political issues and encouraged the graduates toward active participation in the democratic process. He said that during times of heightened political debate it is important to be cognizant of the moral character of government leaders.
“That is my second piece of advice to you today: use your William and Mary education to be an informed and active citizen of our great nation,” Warner said.
“That is my second piece of advice to you today: use your William and Mary education to be an informed and active citizen of our great nation,” Warner said. “You’re graduating during a time when our country’s political and cultural debates are pretty darn intense. … As the recipient of a William and Mary degree, you have the responsibility to be engaged citizens. That’s a powerful thing. You have the power to decide whether people who serve or aspire to serve in political office have the moral character that we should expect from all our leaders. And frankly, we need leaders with moral character now more than ever.”
However, Warner’s final piece of advice aimed to strike a more personal chord in the audience.
“Graduates of William and Mary class of 2018, that’s it: always go out and strive, never be afraid to fail,” Warner said. “Please, no matter how messy it is, stay involved in our democracy. And most importantly, never, ever, ever forget to call your mother.”
The student selected to speak at the ceremony this year was Brian Anyakoha ’18. Anyakoha, a neuroscience major with a pre-med concentration originally from Woodbridge, delivered his speech in the cadence of a spoken word poem to his enthusiastic peers.
“So, what now?” Anyakoha said. “I mean, we made it, here we are, adorned in ceremonial garb and smiling ear to ear with our friends and family in celebration of monumental achievement. Where to now? Where do we go from here?”
His speech emphasized the journey of growth each graduate experiences during their time at the College and concluded with a message of purpose.
“Wherever it is that you go, whatever it is that you choose to do with your life, move with a purpose that is all your own, but do it, always and forever more, out of love,” Anyakoha said.
Reveley also delivered his eleventh and last closing remarks as president. In his speech, he pondered the significance of the “hark upon the gale” line from the Alma Mater for this year’s graduates.
“In the midst of a raging storm, hark, pay attention,” Reveley said. “… Listen to the wind, watch the movement of the water, taste the salt in the air, heed the sounds your vessel is making, pay attention, and use all this to steer the best course and ride out the gale. And so, on the sea of life, when storms are raging in politics, in the economy, in the academy, stop, hark upon the gale, listen, pay attention and find a course that others can’t see.”
Before concluding with a quotation from a Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem, Reveley expressed gratitude for his time at this institution.
“It has been the greatest privilege and honor of my life to lead magnificent William and Mary,” Reveley said.
“It has been the greatest privilege and honor of my life to lead magnificent William and Mary,” Reveley said. “My spirit is lifted by the promise of the future that I see in you and in this iconic institution. I have such high hopes for what you will do in your lives and what your efforts will mean for our communities, states and nations. And I have such high hopes for what William and Mary will do as it moves marvelously into centuries and millennia to come.”
In a not-previously-announced tribute to Reveley, the Board of Visitors voted unanimously to surprise the outgoing president with the conferral of an honorary degree at the Commencement Ceremony.
A total of 1,328 undergraduate and 717 graduate degrees were awarded at Commencement. As the class of 2018 sang the alma mater for the first time as newly-minted alumni, their shouts of “hark upon the gale” carried loudly through the Zable air.
Lord Botetourt Medal: Sarah Joan Heins ’17
James Frederic Carr Memorial Cup: Hannah Rose Gourdie ’18
Thatcher Prize: Natalia Rezai J.D. ’18
Algernon Sydney Sullivan Awards: Jaya Uppal ’18, Nathanael Paige ’18, Michael Fox
Thomas Ashley Graves Awards: Randolph Coleman, Paul Marcus
Charles Joseph Duke, Jr. and Virginia Welton Duke Award: Sheila Johnson
Prentis Award: Jim Golden