President Katherine Rowe set to be inaugurated at Charter Day

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President Katherine Rowe waves to students during the Homecoming Parade. PHOTO COURTESY / Stephen Salpukas

With one semester and a summer under her belt, the College of William and Mary President Katherine Rowe is looking ahead to her formal inauguration, a ceremony that will occur during the weekend of Charter Day. In preparation for the day, Rowe has busily spent the last seven months getting acquainted with the campus and its many traditions. 

“The traditions are amazing,” Rowe said. “Every tradition is brand new for me, every single one. I’ve studied them; I’ve been watching videos of Charter Day, thinking about how to connect with the community.

“The traditions are amazing,” Rowe said. “Every tradition is brand new for me, every single one. I’ve studied them; I’ve been watching videos of Charter Day, thinking about how to connect with the community. For whom is the tradition? It’s really important that Charter Day be for this campus. It’s our celebration even though it’s inauguration. I hope the students are part of it, so many students have been a part of the planning.” 

Rowe will be inaugurated Feb. 8 during the annual Charter Day ceremony, scheduled for 3:30 p.m. in Kaplan Arena. The re-investiture of Chancellor Robert Gates ’65 will occur during the same ceremony. 

Charter Day chair and Inauguration Committee member Connor Glendinning ’19 said that he feels that it is a privilege to help plan the ceremonies for Rowe. To help make it more personal for Rowe, Glendinning said the committee worked to incorporate symbols and songs that are important to her so that she feels welcomed. 

“I was here in the summer when she was sworn in, and I am so happy to see her full transition into being part of William and Mary,” Glendinning said. “Being a senior and having seen three years of Reveley’s presidency, it’s a privilege to give her this formal entry in this way. She’s tried really hard in the last six months to understand the community; she’s working to serve the community in a way that is uniquely her and in a way that is aligning with our values and ways our community has existed. I am excited to see her come into her own.” 

Glendinning has led the efforts to plan a social media challenge, which Rowe said she is particularly excited for. Now, students and community members will still be able to share their reflections on Charter Day or well wishes to Rowe through a message board. He’s also helped facilitate the student gift, something that will be presented to Rowe during the ceremony. The gift was created by Amy Zhang ’19 and Matt Parciak ’19. 

“This tradition, Charter Day, for me, is one of those important moments where we get to pause and think about what has been our history, what do we want to carry forward and what do we want to change?” Rowe said.

“This tradition, Charter Day, for me, is one of those important moments where we get to pause and think about what has been our history, what do we want to carry forward and what do we want to change?” Rowe said. “How do we imagine a future? Having moments like that where we can pause and reflect regularly as part of the cycle of the year is incredibly important for William and Mary.” 

These reflections will be at the heart of her keynote address during Charter Day. Rowe said that during her fall semester, her “Thinking Forward” conversation series gave her opportunities to reflect on what defined the College through hearing about students’ “William and Mary moments.” Two stuck out to her in particular: hearing a freshman talk about the warmth he experienced walking around campus and hearing a senior talk about taking the risk of walking across the Crim Dell bridge with her freshman year roommate. 

“These are the defining moments I have heard over and over again,” Rowe said. “So that might be the most important thing to carry forward, the intentional creation of community together and the way students here in particular think about how do we really do that well.” 

Rowe strives to set a strategic plan next semester. In the meantime, Rowe and her senior leadership team, like Senior Vice President of Finance and Administration Sam Jones, have been meeting with students, staff and faculty to connect with the campus and develop a set of priorities. Through these meetings, Rowe has heard individual student stories and also learned how important issues of justice and activism are to the campus community. 

“It was exhilarating,” Rowe said. “I would say I was in motion all the time to be able to connect with so many different communities. The days were long and full and satisfying in an incredibly joyful way. I was being a learner, learning William and Mary, students understand that, really being stretched, feeling your heart and your mind being stretched while you seek to understand deeply and fast what is the mission at the core of the institution. What pulls people here? What makes alumni return?” 

She said that one of her biggest accomplishments during the fall semester was launching the College’s Sustainability Plan, which is a five-year plan that focuses on campus planning and culture, academics and engagement, energy and climate and operations. As part of the Sustainability Plan, Rowe secured funding to extend the Green Revolving Fund. 

Rowe also said she has enjoyed working with Student Assembly and wants to learn how to better help SA connect with the student body and take action on issues that matter to other students. 

“She is able to toe the line between the progress of activism and the inertia of institutions, and I think she’s accomplished a great deal in terms of focusing on social justice while navigating William & Mary’s many different stakeholders,” SA President Brendan Boylan ’19 said. 

“She is able to toe the line between the progress of activism and the inertia of institutions, and I think she’s accomplished a great deal in terms of focusing on social justice while navigating William & Mary’s many different stakeholders,” SA President Brendan Boylan ’19 said in a press statement. 

Beyond her “Thinking Forward” series, a lot of her communication with students comes from the frequent messages she receives and individual conversations she has with students. Occasionally, Rowe has also been the recipient of petitions calling for action or campus-wide statements. From these, she’s learned that activism is at the heart of the student experience at the College, and she’s developed a strategy on how to respond as president. 

“Anybody who writes to me by name, respectfully, reasonably respectfully, will get a direct answer,” Rowe said. “I will also engage my senior leadership team. I really want to empower them in their domains to speak with authority, so it’s not only going to be the president who speaks. … When the president speaks, I am speaking as the president, as William and Mary, for William and Mary. There is no time that I get to speak as an individual, personally, in public. What I will speak out on are issues that are directly relevant to this campus or higher ed, because the range of things that one could speak out on is incredibly vast.” 

Over the fall semester, Rowe also worked with her president’s aides to develop communication strategies to reach the campus. With her background as a media historian, she has sought to understand the limitations of different strategies such as emails, social media posts and announcements. She’ll bring a new form of communication to the table in just a few weeks when she launches her own Instagram account.

Once Charter Day is over, Rowe said she is looking forward to continuing to develop relationships with different community actors like the City Council to pursue pedestrian safety. She’s also working to identify priorities in different fields. For example, with Chief Diversity Officer Chon Glover M.Ed. ’99 Ed.D. ’06, Rowe has identified recruiting and retaining diverse faculty as a top priority. 

“[The question is] what is the president’s role and one aspect of that is understanding where the great ideas are coming from,” Rowe said. “How do we gather those ideas and implement them effectively, coordinate them effectively, and that is a question I am asking. We have a very networked leadership team that values effective collaboration really highly.”