Famous last words

By Staff February 4, 2016

Relive past Charter Days by reading these closing lines from keynote speeches.

James B. Murray, Jr. J.D. ’74, LL.D. ’00, Charter Day 2015

“This world begs the question: Where are our leaders? Are there no Monroes — those who put nation ahead of self? We should also ask: Where have we the people been? For the tragedy of the last two decades has also been about a failure of citizenship.

“The truth is that without statesman-like leaders such as Monroe and active citizens like the William & Mary graduates of the Revolutionary era, we will seek in vain for the recovery of national greatness. So now, more than at any time since World War II, America needs Monroe to remind us; to remind us what leadership looks like.

“Our task of reviving Monroe’s legacy includes investing in our westward outpost, perhaps not well known to many of you. Monroe’s home site near Charlottesville is the only presidential site in America owned by a university.

“James Monroe’s farm, ‘Highland,’ is important because it stands as a testament to the bonds of friendship and collaboration among Monroe and his fellow Virginia legends, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson. …

“As we speak, William & Mary plays a vital role in a collaboration that is reviving that classic relationship between Monroe, Madison, and Jefferson. This new enterprise is called the Presidential Precinct.

“The Presidential Precinct is a collaboration that joins these three presidential sites and two great universities into a powerful partnership. We provide a physical and virtual place where young leaders from around the world can come to study what these men — particularly Monroe — accomplished; a place to study nation-building. …

“Through the virtual power of the web and the physical power of convening great minds … the Precinct is becoming known, around the world, as the place that young leaders gather. … William & Mary’s future lies in taking our place in the global marketplace of ideas, with an international audience. Here at the College and through the Presidential Precinct, we and Monroe have much to teach the world about building successful nations. … In 1798, Monroe wrote to Saint George Tucker about his alma mater. These are his words: … ‘If I were to compose an oration, and deliver it to a public festival, it would be in favor of our alma mater and the noble effort her offspring has lately made in defense of the holy cause of mankind.’

“Today, 217 years after Monroe wrote those words, William & Mary must forge its place in this globalized, interconnected world where the threat to liberty is great, immeasurably dispersed, and instantaneous. We must send forth our graduates, using James Monroe as our model, to — in his words — ‘defend the holy cause of mankind.’”


Terry McAuliffe HON ’14, Charter Day 2014

“Higher education is critical to our future and we need to view it as an investment and not as an expense. Every dollar that we spend annually on higher educations adds more than $17 to the state’s GDP and returns more than a dollar to the state treasury. We must maintain our momentum in higher education so that our young people and their families can afford it, so that our state economy will benefit from it, and so that we will be a magnet for innovators and entrepreneurs who will invent the future.

“And that is why I’m so honored to be here with you today, to celebrate the founding of such an incredible institution, with students who understand the benefits of both hard work and community engagement and who believe that our society is better served when we all work together. You are our nation’s future leaders and you have had the privilege of attending one of the most elite universities in our nation.

“But with that privilege comes increased responsibility. And on this Charter Day, I urge all of you to continue to serve. Whether that be a career in public service or volunteering when you have free time, there is no better way to honor this great university than by using your talents, your energy and your enthusiasm to create a stronger, more prosperous community around you.

“As I conclude my remarks, I offer just one piece of advice that I tell all young folks. Don’t let anybody ever tell you what to do. Do what your passion wants you to do. Do what you love to do. And most importantly, take some chances.”


Robert M. Gates ’65, L.H.D. ’98, Charter Day 2013

“If public colleges and universities don’t reform themselves to contain costs, improve access and increase graduation rates, federal and state governments will step in and that can only be bad news. Because like the dinosaur, government has a heavy foot, small brain and no fine motor skills. Believe me, I know.

“And I pause here to give credit where credit is due. Despite extremely low levels and state support, both William & Mary and the University of Virginia were ranked by the Princeton Review as being among the top five best values for students in America among public universities. This a remarkable tribute to the leadership, faculties and staff at both universities.

“Today we celebrate the 320th anniversary of a visionary act. Two monarchs in the distant capital agreed to the request of a handful of frontiersmen to establish in the wilderness an institution of higher learning, a college.

“As we celebrate, we must ask ourselves where are the visionaries of today comparable to those of 1693, 1862 and 1944? Visionary leaders who understand that higher education is the engine driving America to a better future for all its citizens — not a consumer good, but a public investment — and a public good. The single most important driver of opportunity and prosperity at home, and for American influence and idealism abroad.

“As we confront that question, as I said last year, in the great and urgent endeavors that lie before us, I have no doubt that the graduates and scholars of William & Mary — this community of learning, listening and working through issues, rooted in the original soil and the basic principles of American liberty — have a special role, and a special obligation, to be part of the solution. And, just as James Blair, King William and Queen Mary, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt believed and understood, that solution must include public investment in higher education so it is available to all, for the benefit of all.”


Robert M. Gates ’65, L.H.D. ’98, Charter Day 2012

“The good news for America is that, even though we have a lot of work to do and enormous obstacles ahead of us, we also have the power and means to overcome them, just as this country has overcome worse episodes in the past.

“It will take a willingness to make tough decisions, the clear-eyed realism to see the world as it is rather than as we would like it to be, the willingness to listen and to learn from one another, an ability to see and understand other points of view, and the wisdom to calibrate principle and compromise for the greater good of our country.

“These qualities comprise the history and the essence of the William Mary experience, in and out of the classroom. It was at this college that I was first exposed to such an environment and, grounded in what I learned here, I have spent a life in public service.

“In the great and urgent endeavors that lie before us, I have no doubt that the graduates and scholars of William & Mary — this community of learning, listening and working through issues, rooted in the original soil and basic principles of American liberty — have a special role and a special obligation, to be part of the solution: as leaders, as public servants, as citizens.

“As I enter this next, and last phase of my public life, I will be proud and honored to serve as chancellor as you help right this nation’s course.”