College celebrates Charter Day, honors alumni Coleman

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The College hosts 327th anniversary festivities, bestows honorary doctorate. REBECCA KLINGER / THE FLAT HAT

Friday, Feb. 7, the College of William and Mary celebrated the 327th anniversary of its founding by British monarchs William III and Mary II. The Charter Day ceremony — the capstone of the celebratory weekend — took place in Kaplan Arena. 

Presiding over the ceremony, College President Katherine Rowe honored many notable alumni and welcomed new members into the College’s community through the bestowment of honorary degrees. This was Rowe’s second ceremony since being formally inaugurated as the 28th president during last year’s Charter Day. 

College Chancellor Robert Gates ’65, L.H.D. ’98 welcomed students, staff, faculty and members of the Williamsburg community in simple terms.

“To one and all — welcome to the birthday party,” Gates said.

“To one and all — welcome to the birthday party,” Gates said.

Gates offered remarks emphasizing the relevance and importance of the College in today’s political climate.

“At this institution so instrumental in refining the ideals undergirding the nation’s founding, we take pride in the abiding lessons of William and Mary for our own time and for all times coming,” Gates said. “We engage in diverse perspectives and seek wisdom and progress in bridging differences. Too often in America today, we seek reinforcement of our views rather than the enlightenment of respectful dialogue and debate. Three hundred and twenty-seven years ago, America needed William and Mary before there was a United States. The need is just as great today, and perhaps greater.” 

Each year, the College presents honorary doctorates to individuals who overwhelmingly embody the values of leadership, service and dedication. This year’s honorees included Christy Coleman, the first woman of color to hold the position of executive director of the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation. 

This is only her most recent accomplishment in a storied career in museums and cultural institutions across the country. Coleman was a student at the College for two years before transferring to Hampton University. She received her honorary degree to a standing ovation from the audience. 

“For those of you who may not know, part of the reason I am so emotional is because I never thought I would ever gain a degree from William and Mary,” Coleman said. “Out of 1,300 students, 46 of us were people of color — and it was a struggle. For the two years I was here, it helped shape who I am, and for that, I am eternally grateful. The greatest lesson I can share with you is that sometimes the path you think you are on that gets you to that goal isn’t the one you belong on, but you’ll still make the goal.”

Joining Coleman was Susan Magill ’72, an esteemed alumna of the College who navigated a successful career in Washington, D.C. and maintained close ties with the College throughout her time in the workforce. She has held numerous positions within the College’s administration, including rector. 

“William and Mary is the touchstone where I return again and again when I need to be refreshed and prepared for the next challenge,” Magill said. “William and Mary helped launch my career in public service by pushing me out of my comfort zone to encounter different people and new ideas.” 

“William and Mary is the touchstone where I return again and again when I need to be refreshed and prepared for the next challenge,” Magill said. “William and Mary helped launch my career in public service by pushing me out of my comfort zone to encounter different people and new ideas.” 

The last of the honorees was Thomas Shannon ’80, former Acting Secretary of State under President Donald Trump and a career ambassador for the United States Foreign Service. 

“This is not an honor that I won by myself and it is not an honor I can claim for myself,” Shannon said. “I owe so much to those who taught me the importance of listening, of understanding, and of trying to find ways to bridge divides.”

The ceremony continued with a reading of the Charter by eight students. Tanner Braman ’20 provided reflections following the readings. He began with an anecdote in which King William —then William of Orange — arrived in England and declared that he was here for goods, instead of for the intended greater good of his community. 

“Each of us must ask ourselves if we are here for the goods or for the greater good,” Braman said. 

Rowe then concluded the day’s remarks by mentioning the goals set out in the College’s Strategic Plan. Just as Braman connected the College’s past to its present and future, Rowe focused on using institutional history to inform the College’s future. 

Student groups were also represented in the ceremony. Griffin Bhangra performed, followed by a singing of “Happy Birthday” by Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia. The Choir led the singing of the Alma Mater before the William and Mary Pep Band called the crowd to the Charter Day Festival in Commons Dining Hall. 

Hannah Bloom ’23 reflected on the ceremony as a part of the Choir. 

“It’s fun being able to sing with your really close friends that you’re surrounded by,” Bloom said. “Obviously it’s a big day — it’s William and Mary’s birthday. As of right now, it’s not wildly sentimental just because it’s my first one, but I definitely enjoyed it and it is fun to be a part of such an old university.”

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Alexandra Byrne
Alexandra Byrne ‘23 is a Chief Staff Writer for The Flat Hat. She is pursuing an International Relations major and a French and Francophone Studies minor. When not covering various events and breaking news, Byrne is a proud member of the International Justice Lab at the Global Research Institute. She is a big fan of art, tea, and fake plants because she can’t keep real ones alive.