I’ve never been to a red-carpet event or an LA Night club with a VIP lounge but I’d like to think the Charter Day celebrations that occurred when I was a student at W&M are similarly glamorous. I would imagine that most colleges do not celebrate birthdays. At William & Mary, we celebrate our birthday in style.
February 8, 1693; likely not one of that dates you have to memorize for the AP US History exam but at William & Mary it’s a date that’s very important. February 8 is our Charter Day (i.e. our birthday). On February 8, 1693, King William & Queen Mary of England granted the Reverend James Blair a charter for the College of William & Mary in Virginia (the only royal charter held by any American college or university by the way). Each year we celebrate Charter with pomp and circumstance as well as dinner and dancing!
My first Charter Day at William & Mary was the last Charter Day for our then chancellor, Lady Margaret Thatcher. Students, faculty, and administrators gathered in William & Mary Hall to hear her final speech to the entire W&M community (she actually returned to William & Mary Hall as a surprise guest at my Commencement to say goodbye to the last class she ushered into W&M). The next year, all of gathered in William & Mary Hall once again to install our new chancellor, Dr. Henry Kissinger (he later guest lectured my Foreign Policy class at William & Mary — how awesome is that?). Seniors have the additional honor of being able to process at Charter Day. Little did I know that my senior-year Charter Day I would be processing before then United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan who was making his first public address concerning the newly declared war in Iraq. That year also saw the inception of the Charter Day Gala, a campus-wide formal dance held at the Williamsburg Lodge.
While I figured whatever college I attended would provide me with opportunities to hear various guest speakers and academics, I never imagined that I would be sitting before domestic and foreign dignitaries, a veritable Who’s Who of twentieth century foreign policy. This is what William & Mary means to history and to the world. It’s a place where knowledge began, where knowledge is spread, and where knowledge is revered. While not every Charter Day brings such big-name speakers, it does bring that sense of history, that sense of tradition, that sense of belonging to an academic community that has withstood the test of time. So happy 317th birthday William & Mary…and many more!
– Wendy Livingston