Cliff Fleet ’91, M.A. ’93, J.D. ’95, M.B.A. ’95, president and CEO of The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, will speak at William & Mary’s Opening Convocation ceremony on Aug. 31.

Fleet, a long-time and engaged member of the W&M community, also teaches at William & Mary as an adjunct professor in the Raymond A. Mason School of Business. He is chair of the William & Mary Foundation and a board member of the Omohundro Institute and the Virginia Business Higher Education Council. Before taking on his current role with The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, he served as president of the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation and as president and CEO of several companies, including Philip Morris USA.

Opening Convocation, scheduled for 7 p.m. in the Wren Yard, welcomes the university’s newest students to campus and kicks off the academic year. It takes place the same day that undergraduate classes begin for the fall semester. This year’s ceremony will feature new, permanently-installed uplighting for the Wren Building, made possible by a generous donation.

“A four-time alumnus of William & Mary, Cliff Fleet deeply understands our community and has unique insights to share with this year’s entering class,” said W&M President Katherine A. Rowe. “A wonderful friend of William & Mary, he is a partner and colleague to so many across the university. We are delighted he will open the academic year.

“William & Mary and Colonial Williamsburg have long had a close relationship, and our collaborations continue to grow. With Cliff Fleet at the helm of Colonial Williamsburg, these ties are stronger than ever. He will inspire the newest arrivals at William & Mary as we kick off the year and mark 330 years of innovation.”

In recent years, Colonial Williamsburg and William & Mary have worked closely together on several significant initiatives, including the Bray School Initiative. The Bray School is believed to be the only remaining Colonial-era building in the country that was dedicated to the education of enslaved and free Black children. In February 2021, W&M and Colonial Williamsburg announced their joint efforts to research and relocate the school, which was determined to be the building known in modern times as the Bray-Digges House. In early 2023, the building will move to Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Area where it will be interpreted as the Bray School. Earlier this year, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation awarded a $5-million grant in support of this important project.

The two institutions have also been collaborating with First Baptist Church of Williamsburg and the Let Freedom Ring Foundation to digitize significant historical documents and excavate the Nassau Street site of First Baptist Church. The church, which was founded by enslaved and free Black people, is thought to be one of the country’s earliest Black congregations.

William & Mary and Colonial Williamsburg will also work together to mark the 300th anniversary of the Brafferton Indian School at W&M in 2023.  These efforts are being coordinated through the Office of Strategic Cultural Partnerships, established in 2021 to strengthen and expand collaboration between these two partners. “Effective partnerships empower organizations to accomplish more together than they could individually,” said Fleet. “It is my sincere hope that the many collaborations between Colonial Williamsburg and William & Mary will equip and inspire the next generation of scholars and leaders to apply the lessons of the past to their pursuit of a brighter future.”

, Senior Associate Director of University News