The James Blair statue needs an associated tradition

Isabel Li // The Flat Hat

Adam Jutt ’25 is planning on majoring in math and economics. Aside from being an opinions editor, he is a member of Club Tennis and involved with InterVarsity. Feel free to email Adam at

The views expressed in the article are the author’s own.

Not to toot my own horn, but I have a friend named Will. He has red hair, likes soccer and tennis, is from New York and is a chemistry major. Those qualities of his are of little importance to this article. There is one quality of his, however, which was absolutely vital to this piece’s existence: his ability to name things.

I’ll back up a few steps.

To me and most others who write regularly for the section, the hardest part of writing an opinion article is coming up with the basic idea: the “rosebud,” as we affectionately refer to them. Once a rosebud comes, turning it into a thesis statement and subsequently turning that thesis statement into a few pages of words isn’t normally too bad. Unfortunately, I haven’t had a solid rosebud in six months. So, imagine my delight when earlier this week I had an epiphany; I shouldn’t be desperately brainstorming rosebuds every time I am scheduled to write, I should just come up with an external system which gives me rosebuds whenever I need them. A meta-rosebud, if you will.

Will, my red-haired New Yorker friend from earlier, is my meta-rosebud. In other words, he is my bottomless cookie jar, full not of cookies, but of opinion article topics. In other words, he is my own personal gumball machine, operated not by coins but by verbal request and supplying not gumballs, but article topics. In other words, I can just make him tell me what to write about.

As I’m sure you recall, a few paragraphs ago I mentioned his impressive ability to name objects. While that probably confused and intrigued you at the time (the result of an advanced communications technique called a “hook”) hopefully now its utility is coming into focus. Every time I need to write, from now until I die, I can lean on Will for inspiration. To ensure relevance to this community, he has been instructed that his topics must relate to the College of William and Mary. Importantly, he is not to give me an opinion about the College, just name something relating to the College. I am the one who must turn it into an opinion. You know how some comedians challenge themselves to write punchlines and then set-ups for those punchlines? It’s a lot like that, except they do it to sharpen their joke-writing skills and I have done it out of primal desperation.

The topic Will has given me for this article is the statue of James Blair, founder and first president of the College, which sits in a small courtyard between Chancellors Hall and James Blair Hall.

Before we dive into my James Blair statue opinion, I’ll address a couple questions I feel might be on your mind at this point.

Q1. “Do you feel that this new method to crank out opinions is inherently disrespectful to the integrity of the opinions section, as the section was made as a platform for those who feel passionately about issues and you are co-opting it as a haven for definitionally random, form-over-substance content?”’ 

A1. No.

Q2. Do people at the Flat Hat really refer to the basic topics underlying opinions articles as “rosebuds?” 

A2. Not at the time of my writing, no. I think it would be a cute addition to our vernacular, though.

Okay, now it is time for my James Blair opinion.

To preface my opinion, it must be acknowledged that this particular statue is — arguably — the hardest statue on campus about which to form an opinion. The James Monroe or Thomas Jefferson statues would have been easy targets, due to their heavily controversial namesakes, and the griffin statue would have been an even easier target, for two big, bulbous reasons, but the James Blair statue comes with no such obvious angle of attack. (Of course, one could make the incredibly fair argument that, considering the College’s reliance on slavery at the time Blair was president here, he is just as problematic as Monroe or Jefferson).

As I said, the statue sits between two halls, James Blair and Chancellors. It is surrounded by four benches and pretty shrubs. It is dark gray in color, on a lighter gray pedestal. It depicts Blair in a flowing robe, looking to his right and clutching nondescript books in his right arm. It was only carved in 1993, by art and art history professor Lewis Cohen, but feels as though it could be much older. I have no major issues with it.

In fact, as a statue, I kind of like it. I sat in front of it for approximately three hours this past weekend while writing this piece, and throughout that block of time nothing stood out to me as particularly repulsive. He looks serious and serene, but not condescending. His robe is undeniably cool. The pedestal is not disproportionately large for the statue (looking at you, Monroe). Admittedly, his right thumb is a little bit on the long side and bends in places it shouldn’t, but it feels mean to hyperfocus on that.

What is my opinion relating to the statue, then?

Simply, that it is absolutely criminal that we don’t have a fun, cheesy tradition relating to it. It is a large statue of a figure indelibly tied to the College — arguably more than any other — located in a pretty courtyard of which it is the centerpiece, and yet it is not a feature of the campus culture at all. A tradition surrounding Blair would elevate his symbolic significance to the campus, act as a new facet of unification for our community and just be a lot of fun.

Colleges and statue-based traditions are deeply entwined ideas in the American upper-educational framework. Every college worth its salt has a statue of a figure whose toe is rubbed, whose butt is kissed or whose exterior is painted or otherwise regularly defaced. Now, to be perfectly clear, I am not saying that we should mimic any of those specific traditions. In fact, I think that copying a different school’s tradition would be worse than not having one at all. A creative new tradition, however, could be awesome. I am not so arrogant as to believe I am capable of coming up with “the one”; there are over 6,000 of us here, surely it should be a question left open to input from everyone over the next weeks or even years. That said, here are some ideas to get the ball rolling.

  1. Every finals week, we tape a speaker to his head which plays Davis Daniel’s 1994 hit song “William and Mary” on loop.
  2. The first Friday of every month, we hold a “poll by sticky note” where a two-choice question is asked to the student body (such as “Caf or Sadler” or “study at Swem or Slice”) with one option corresponding to the color yellow and the other to green. Students vote by placing a sticky note of their choice’s color on Blair.
  3. Every four years in the spring, we hold a “Blair Battle” with teams of three representatives from each class year (I don’t know how they would be picked). Each team gets one of the four benches around the statue, obviously, as they compete in the College related trivia. The winning team gets their class year engraved in the pedestal somewhere.

Like I said, those are just a few examples of the type of thing that would drag the presently underutilized statue into a state of relevance in our hearts and minds. Plus, it would make for great tour fodder, which is half the reason college traditions exist to begin with.

As has been established, this was my first article with a topic given to me by my redheaded friend Will. At the time I enlisted his help, I thought I was a genius. I thought that forcing him to give me topics would eliminate all of the challenges associated with opinions and leave me with just the fun part — writing. Unfortunately, as I reached the third hour of staring at the statue, without the foggiest notion what I should say about it, it occurred to me that treating a red-haired friend as a gumball machine of topics, at best, has no effect on how much is required and, at worst and more probably, it just makes the process harder. Plus, it introduces a weird power dynamic into the relationship.

That said, I think the statue tradition idea isn’t half bad.



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