Admit It! Tradition is one of the many things that attracts you to William & Mary. From Convocation to Yule Log to Commencement, William & Mary is no stranger to ceremonial occasions. One annual tradition that doesn’t get quite as much press (but is deserving of as much if not more) is Charter Day, the annual celebration of William & Mary’s founding. The College of William & Mary was born via a royal charter granted by King William and Queen Mary in February, 1693 (W&M is the only college in the U.S. founded by royal charter and is the only college to possess a royal seal). This year, on February 4, W&M will invite students, faculty, staff and alumni to celebrate the College’s 318th birthday with an art contest, speakers, the decreeing of awards and the first annual Charter Day Concert featuring The Roots. I asked my colleagues who are also W&M graduates to reflect on their Charter Day experiences. Here is what they had to say:
Charter Day 1993, the Tercentenary, 300 years old! It was so exciting! Snipers on the roof of W&M Hall to protect our illustrious keynote speaker. Lines waiting to get in. Representatives from every class back to 1916. Ralph James, our oldest living alumnus at the time, was there. The processional seemed to last forever with the Choir and Orchestra alternately playing the W&M Hymn. Then PRINCE CHARLES spoke! What a special day! It was great to be part of such a one of a kind celebration! ~Betsy Quinzio ’84, Senior Assistant Dean of Admission
My favorite activity of the weekend is the actual Charter Day Ceremony. Each year, awards are given to students and faculty who have exhibited a desire to serve others and/or possess a sincere dedication to education. Honorary degrees are conferred to individuals who have made significant contributions in the realms of research, intellectual curiosity, and the development of higher education. After the awards, comes the reading of the Royal Charter, or the actual document signed by King William and Queen Mary over 300 years ago. While neither long nor very detailed, the Charter simply reminds us that the College was created in order to provide a liberal arts education to all those who desired one. Even way back then, W&M was truly dedicated to the study of “true philosophy, and other good and liberal arts and sciences.” My fondest memories center around the moment when our former Provost Geoffrey Feiss read from the actual Charter. With his booming and deep voice, Provost Feiss would read aloud from the ancient document to the crowd of observers not unlike a parent to his or her children on Christmas Eve….only with clearly more pomp and circumstance. His rendition of the important document provided the perfect sound track to remind us that our historic campus was unique at its inception and continues to pave a pioneering track in higher education today.
~Amanda Norris ’07, Assistant Dean of Admission
The 2011 celebration of Charter Day marks a return to Charter Day Celebrations of my time at W&M. When I was a student, Charter Days were traditionally held in William & Mary Hall and the keynote address was delivered by a dignitary of some sort. The past few years have been smaller ceremonies with speakers of a less awe-inspiring stature. This year, Eric Cantor, J.D. ’88 and current House of Representatives Majorirty Leader will provide the keynote address. My freshman year, Lady Margaret Thatcher presented at Charter Day. She was W&M’s Chancellor at the time and was stepping down that spring. Charter Day marked her last hurrah at the College. As a member of the Student Advancement Association, I was able to greet Lady Thatcher and shake her hand prior to the start of the festivities. My sophomore year, Dr. Henry Kissinger spoke at Charter Day which also marked his investiture as Chancellor at the College. Hopefully, current Chancellor Sandra Day O’Connor will be present for this year’s ceremony as she is a big part of W&M’s present. My senior year culminated with the then United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan addressing the campus community. This was his first major public address after the United States declared war on Iraq. The feeling in William & Mary Hall that morning was indescribable, His presence signified just how important William & Mary is to this nation’s history and to the world’s future. ~Wendy Livingston ’03, Senior Assistant Dean of Admission
So Happy 318th Birthday W&M and many more; from all of us in Undergraduate Admission.
Wendy Livingston ’03, M.Ed. ’09
Senior Assistant Dean of Admission
PS: Our traditions are informal as well. Check out some student-generated traditions that juxtapose our historic and revered side with our quirky and creative side.