Hundreds of students, faculty, staff and guests gathered in the Kaplan Arena for William & Mary’s annual Charter Day celebration.
But this year was different.
The college officially inaugurated its first female president, re-elected its chancellor and recognized the 100th anniversary of the college admitting women. But it was overshadowed by Gov. Ralph Northam and other Virginia politicians surrounded in controversy.
Northam was supposed to speak at the event — the governor swore in Katherine Rowe as W&M’s president seven months ago.
After photos of a person wearing blackface and another dressed as a member of the KKK was discovered on the governor’s college yearbook page, Northam and W&M decided it would be best if he did not attend Charter Day this year.
He was was replaced by William “Bill” Mims, a Virginia Supreme Court justice and W&M Class of ’69 alum.
Even though Northam didn’t make an appearance at the college’s founding celebration, multiple speakers alluded to the controversies, including Mims, who said these are troubled times in Richmond and Washington and the new university president would teach kindness and fair play to the state.
Rowe, during her speech, said “326 years ago, we were founded on the impulse to try for the two point conversion to expand in unlikely directions to cultivate surprising ideas. Now on the 100th anniversary of co-education and 50 years after our first African-American students were in residence, we celebrate each change that makes us more ourselves.”
Rowe received several gifts, including a key to the college, a decorative bowl and a wood cut art print as recognition of her accession as the university’s 28th president.
“We foster lifelong relationship across differences of age, ethnicity, politics, religion, nationality and more,” Rowe said. “We quest into grand, hard problems where the answers are not clear.”
Robert Gates, the university’s 24th chancellor who was re-elected to his second term, said he approved of Rowe as the new president of W&M.
“Not to mention we were a little overdue for a woman at the helm,” Gates said.