W&M Weekend Wednesday

By Staff May 4, 2016

Over W&M Weekend, John Powers ’89 will take you on a private tour of some of the National Archives’ biggest highlights, including primary sources critical to the Watergate investigation that brought down a president. You will also get ample time to explore the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom, home to the original Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights. Below, Powers talks about how a William & Mary professor inspired his interest in government.


"What did the President know and when did he know it?" While it was Sen. Howard Baker who asked that question during the Senate Watergate hearings in 1973, it was Professor Jack Edward's introductory government class discussing it that inspired my interest in U.S. history and politics. I was hooked. Other government and international relations classes followed, and I took every class that Professor Clemons offered, honing important critical thinking, analysis and writing skills along the way. In 1991, I was accepted for an entry-level position at the National Archives and began work at the Nixon Presidential Materials Staff. Soon, I was listening to President Nixon's secret tapes and was a fly on the wall of the Oval Office as history came alive. My work included describing the content so historians could reasonably find information of interest, deciding which conversations should be made public and which should remain secret, and helping historians find conversations important to their research. Later, I was sent to the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library for a project to declassify and make all of President Johnson's secret tapes public. Since then, my archival career has focused on making government records available to all. I am honored to work at the National Archives and believe in the importance of understanding our history. It is how we learn from our successes and mistakes and how we can build a better future.

Along the way, I stayed in touch with W&M. I am lifelong friends with many who enjoyed their freshman year in Yates Hall. And Homecoming remains special and I served on my 25th reunion committee. I've also had the opportunity to speak to classes about the National Archives in the ’Burg and as part of W&M's D.C. program. I hired W&M students as summer interns and have been fortunate to hire graduates as co-workers (they are amazing!). Giving back is important to me. It is a demonstration of my gratitude to the College, and it is a demonstration of my hope for its continued success. I want others to have the same treasured experiences I enjoyed and want others to learn in an environment designed for the needs of our society and nation in the years to come. I am a  proud supporter the W&M D.C. Office and Swem Library, serving on the Library Board for six years - Swem's mission is so important in an age of digital information.

I am excited to be a part of the W&M Weekend in Washington, D.C., next month! I'll be leading two private tours of the National Archives and giving those attending a chance to get up close and personal with some of our nation's most important documents. It's an opportunity for me to make history come alive and show how our democracy started, overcame challenges and developed. And I plan on sharing a few secrets hidden in the documents and showcasing a few of my favorites. Given the question that started my career, I am also looking forward to joining my fellow alumni at the Watergate hotel for a fun evening of food, friends and fundraising to support the College. I can't wait!


For more information about W&M Weekend, visit weekend.wm.edu.