As the class of 2018 prepares to walk through the doors of the Christopher Wren Building and into the world after graduating, they will come together May 12 for the College of William and Mary’s Commencement ceremony. Guiding them out of the College and into the world will be U.S. Senator Mark Warner (D-Va.).
Joining Warner in giving honorary remarks will be Katherine Johnson, a NASA mathematician whose story was featured in the film and book “Hidden Figures.” Due to health issues, Johnson will not be able to attend, but will still address graduates via video remarks. Her daughters, Katherine Moore and Joylette Hylick, will attend in her place. Additionally, College President Taylor Reveley will honor Johnson, Lynn Briley ’71, Karen Ely ’71 and Janet Brown Strafer ’71, M.Ed. ’77 with honorary degrees.
“One of our nation’s most dedicated public servants will speak at this year’s Commencement, and we will honor the extraordinary journeys of four women of color,” Reveley said in a press statement. “Katherine Johnson’s achievements are legendary. It’s marvelous that her inspiring example has not passed quietly into obscurity. No less courageous are our three alumnae, Lynn Briley, Karen Ely and Janet Brown Strafer, who arrived on campus in 1967 as the first African-American residential students at William & Mary. They led the way.”
Warner, considered a long-time advocate for higher education, was awarded an honorary degree at the College’s Charter Day ceremony in 2002.
“Senator Warner has been a stalwart friend of William & Mary and higher education for many years,” Reveley said in a press statement. “Over the past decade he has been an especially strong advocate for members of the military and worked closely with our Law School’s Puller Clinic to ensure veterans have better access to benefits.”
Chancellor Robert Gates ’65 will also be in attendance at the ceremony to offer welcoming remarks, and as this is the last Commencement that Reveley will preside over, he will offer closing remarks.
Who is Mark Warner?
Growing up in Indianapolis, Indiana, Warner was the first person to graduate college in his family, and earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from George Washington University. He then went on to earn his law degree from Harvard University in 1980.
In his early professional life, he co-founded the company that would become Nextel and served as the founder and managing director of the venture capital firm Columbia Capital. Then, following the influence of one of his former teachers, he was elected governor of Virginia in 2002.
Since then, Warner was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2008 and then again in 2014, where he currently serves as a member on the finance, banking, budget and rules committee as well as vice chairman on the select committee on intelligence.
Since receiving an honorary degree in 2002, Warner has built a relationship with the College, and most recently gave the Commencement address at the Marshall-Wythe School of Law’s ceremony in 2011.
Who is Katherine Johnson?
Born in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, Johnson skipped ahead several grades and first attended high school at the age of 13. She then enrolled at the West Virginia State College five years later and graduated with highest honors.
Later, Johnson was one of the first three black students to integrate graduate schools in West Virginia, and enrolled in West Virginia University’s graduate math program, although she left at the end of the first session. In 1953, after starting a family, she moved to Virginia to start work in an all-black computing section of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics’ Langley laboratory.
There, she co-wrote a report providing equations for orbital spaceflight with a specific landing location, completed the trajectory analysis for the Freedom 7 mission, ran orbital calculations for John Glenn’s Friendship 7 mission, synced Project Apollo’s Lunar Lander with the Command and Service Module and worked on the Space Shuttle and Earth Resources Satellite. In 1986, she retired from NASA after 33 years there.