Friday, December 9, 2022

‘Don’t check out’: Sen. Mark Warner encourages William and Mary grads to be active citizens

U.S. Sen. Mark Warner LL.D. ‘02 (D-Va.) speaks to graduates during Saturday's ceremony. (WYDaily/ Courtesy of Stephen Salpukas/W&M News)
U.S. Sen. Mark Warner LL.D. ‘02 (D-Va.) speaks to graduates during Saturday’s ceremony. (WYDaily/ Courtesy of Stephen Salpukas/W&M News)

America is at its best when citizens are informed and actively engaged, U.S. Sen. Mark Warner LL.D. ’02 (D-Va.) told William & Mary’s Class of 2018.

“I ask you to use your power as educated citizens with your William & Mary degrees to make your voices heard, stand up for what’s right and demand that your leaders do the same,” he said. “Because frankly, our democracy depends on it.”

Warner spoke to a crowd of more than 14,000 people who gathered Saturday in Zable Stadium for the university’s 2018 commencement ceremony. The event both celebrated new beginnings and marked a series of conclusions in the university’s history, including Taylor Reveley’s presidency and the 50th anniversary commemoration of the university’s first African-American students in residence.

A total of 2,045 degrees — 1,328 undergraduate and 717 graduate — were conferred throughout the weekend. Honorary degrees were also awarded to celebrated NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson; W&M’s first residential African-American students, Lynn Briley ’71, Karen Ely ’71 and Janet Brown Strafer ’71, M.Ed. ’77; and W&M President Taylor Reveley — who received his by surprise.

“Taylor, for a lifetime of remarkable achievement, William & Mary is proud to honor you,” said W&M Chancellor Robert M. Gates ’65, L.H.D. ’98. “For two decades of leadership, William & Mary is forever indebted to you. Truly, if you had not existed, William & Mary would have had to invent you, and we are grateful for your presence.”

Reveley, who will retire June 30 after a decade as the university’s 27th president, helped lead the graduates to the stadium Saturday morning as one of their elected honorary marshals.

Commencement 2018: The senior walk.

“It has been the greatest privilege and honor of my life to lead magnificent William & Mary,” he said at the conclusion of the commencement ceremony. “My spirit is lifted by the promise of the future that I see in you and in this iconic institution. I have such high hopes for what you will do in your lives and what your efforts will mean for our communities, states and nations. And I have such high hopes for what William & Mary will do as it moves marvelously into centuries and millennia to come.”

As a “human computer” for NASA, Johnson completed the trajectory analysis for Alan Shepard’s May 1961 mission Freedom 7, the nation’s first human spaceflight. She also ran the orbital equations for the Friendship 7 mission, in which John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth. For those and her many other career accomplishments, Johnson received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and NASA Langley opened a new computational research facility named for her. Johnson and several other trailblazing NASA women were recently featured in the book and movie “Hidden Figures.”

Although Johnson was unable to attend the ceremony in person because of health issues, Reveley brought the degree to her earlier this semester.

“You are an absolute inspiration to all of us, a huge contribution to our society,” said Reveley. “And we are now thrilled to have you at long last as an alumna of William & Mary.”

Her daughters, Joylette Hylick and Katherine Goble Moore, attended the W&M ceremony, and a video was shown during the event of her receiving the degree.

“Give the world your best,” she told W&M graduates in the video. “Always do your best with whatever you have. Like it and show it.”

Briley, Ely and Strafer — known collectively as the “Legacy 3” — have been celebrated throughout the 2017-18 academic year as part of the university’s commemoration of the 50th anniversary of their arrival on campus. Although they were not W&M’s first African-American students, they were the first to live on campus and be able to take full advantage of the school’s offerings. Briley went on to become a teacher and principal and now serves as an adjunct instructor at Tidewater Community College’s Portsmouth campus. Ely has worked in the radiation protection field for more than 27 years, and she currently works as a health physicist at the Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center in Portsmouth. Strafer had a 35-year career in federal service, working in a variety of educational roles, as well as a 22-year career in the Maryland Army National Guard.

All three alumnae have visited campus many times throughout the year, starting with convocation, when they led W&M’s new students through the Wren Building. In the fall, they served as the grand marshals for the homecoming parade. Last month, a plaque bearing their names was hung on the Wren Building. As they received their honorary degrees, they received a standing ovation.

“Lynn, Karen, and Janet, William & Mary is enormously grateful to you for fully opening the university’s doors to all who have followed. Your alma mater is proud to continue building on your legacy,” said Reveley.

Warner, who received an honorary degree from W&M in 2002, offered the W&M graduates three pieces of advice. First, he said to not be afraid of failure, recounting some of his own before finding success both in business and politics.

“Going for it, and being willing to fail, but then picking yourself up and getting right back in the game – that’s what is so great about America,” he said.

Warner also encouraged the graduates to use their W&M education to informed and active citizens, no matter how technology might be changing society and how divisive and frustrating politics may get.

“If you ever feel like throwing a shoe at the TV, just remember – I feel the same way and I’m inside the TV,” he said. “But please, whatever you do, don’t check out.”

Finally, Warner admonished the graduates to “call your mother,” and the other special people who helped support them throughout their lives.

“You should cherish your friends and your family as if your life depends on it – because frankly, in a lot of ways, it does.”

Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing is the Assistant Editor at WYDaily. Sarah was born in the state of Maine, grew up along the coast, and attended college at the University of Maine at Orono. Sarah left Maine in October 2015 when she was offered a job at a newspaper in West Point, Va. Courts, crime, public safety and civil rights are among Sarah’s favorite topics to cover. She currently covers those topics in Williamsburg, James City County and York County. Sarah has been recognized by other news organizations, state agencies and civic groups for her coverage of a failing fire-rescue system, an aging agriculture industry and lack of oversight in horse rescue groups. In her free time, Sarah enjoys lazing around with her two cats, Salazar and Ruth, drinking copious amounts of coffee and driving places in her white truck.

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