As Katherine A. Rowe made history at William & Mary on Monday, she vowed to take care of the university while leading it forward.
“To be entrusted with the next chapter of an institution so rich in tradition and so exceptional now — this is a trust I embrace with excitement and humility,” she said.
Rowe was sworn in as William & Mary’s 28th president by Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam during a ceremony in the Great Hall of the university’s Wren Building. She is the first woman to hold the role at the 325-year-old institution — a university, she said, that has and will continue to shape the character of the nation.
“Our students will, and must, be the intellectual pioneers and moral anchors of our democracy,” Rowe said. “William & Mary is the proving ground they need.”
Dozens of faculty, staff, students, alumni and community members joined Rowe’s family — husband, Bruce, and children, Beah and Danny — for the event.
Northam, who is the parent of a 2010 alumnus, welcomed Rowe on behalf of the Commonwealth of Virginia.
“I know you are going to do a wonderful job and be an advocate for a university that is just a sign of progression, innovation and inclusivity,” he said. “We look forward to wonderful things under your hand, and so we welcome you here.”
After being sworn in and receiving a standing ovation, Rowe said that she will spend her first three months on the job “listening and learning” from the William & Mary community, a process she has already begun.
Rowe, who previously served as provost of Smith College, is a literary scholar, entrepreneur and innovator who is engaged in design thinking and the digital humanities. She said that this is an “extremely exciting time” to become the president of W&M as technology has caused sweeping transformations in just about every aspect of modern life.
“How this generation learns to navigate change is going to matter profoundly to our world in the century to come,” she said.
Diversity and inclusion are a significant part of that process, she added, as they accelerate innovation by involving people with a wide range of perspectives.
“I have witnessed firsthand how innovation in new fields and new methodologies opens the door — opens the door to those whose contributions would otherwise have remained latent,” said Rowe. “Embracing our talents this way strengthens the entire community.”
In addition to meeting with students, faculty, staff, alumni, parents and friends of William & Mary, Rowe said another important priority will be building on the university’s recent fundraising success.
“I will be working day and night over next two years to bring our For the Bold campaign to a triumphant close,” she said.
Ann Marie Stock, vice provost for academic and faculty affairs who attended Monday’s ceremony, said that Rowe has values that are embraced at W&M.
“I think she brings a perfect combination of respecting tradition and embracing innovation, and I think we have to look at our past at the same that we’re committed to our future,” said Stock. “Given that we’re in this (capital fundraising) campaign, I would say that we’re committed to boldly moving into the future, and I think she’s the right person to take us there. So I could not be more enthusiastic, more energized, more excited about what’s to come.”
Brendan Boylan ’19, president of the W&M Student Assembly, said that the student body is also eager to see where Rowe will take the university.
“I think everyone’s really excited,” he said. “There’s a very potent feeling of change.”
Rowe said she hopes that others will see the university as “the obvious choice for anyone who wants to shape their own history.”
A W&M education creates thoughtful, effective citizens who are able to navigate the rapidly changing world, build communities and live fulfilling lives, Rowe said.
“As I look to the horizon, I have great confidence in the history they will make.”