William & Mary’s 2023 Charter Day ceremony Friday at Kaplan Arena provided a meaningful platform to tell a more inclusive story of the university’s past while celebrating the path forward.
It was an occasion to commemorate the 330th anniversary of the university’s royal charter and also an opportunity to officially launch the yearlong 300th anniversary commemoration of the Brafferton Indian School, which was constructed in 1723 to house the Indian School at William & Mary. Earlier in the day, the Williamsburg Bray School – likely the oldest extant building dedicated to the education of Black children in the United States – was relocated from William & Mary’s campus to Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Area for preservation and interpretation.
“The discovery of so many different histories that have been hidden for too long can strengthen our present and future connections between William & Mary and Williamsburg, our regional partners, descendent communities and everyone who comes to Williamsburg to learn these histories,” W&M President Katherine A. Rowe said. “On Charter Day, we honor all of these connections – looking back with soberness and forward with excitement.”
The ceremony featured an address from U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield. Thomas-Greenfield received an honorary degree from the university along with former member of the W&M Board of Visitors and leader of multiple non profit organizations Barbara “Bobbie” Berkeley Ukrop ’61.
Thomas-Greenfield spoke of embracing the complexity of history, seeing the bigger picture and finding ways to serve the community.
“That is why we have gathered here today to celebrate this university’s rich history and the 330th anniversary of its charter, because when we understand our history and our world in all of its triumphs and shortcomings, its promises and complexities, we are better prepared to write the next chapter,” Thomas-Greenfield said. “And students, I am so excited to see the chapters that you will write, the future that you create. Here at William & Mary, your education is being unlocked, and there is nothing – nothing – on Earth that can contain it.”
Honoring the past while looking forward
Passages of the W&M charter were read by current Indigenous students and faculty. Matthew Solomon ’24, president of the American Indian Student Association, read the land acknowledgement and was joined by Troy Wiipongwii M.P.P. ’18, an affiliated faculty of the Global Research Institute, and Dakota Kinsel ’26 in reading the charter.
Moreover, distinguished tribal leaders were recognized during the ceremony, and Chief Lynette Allston of the Nottoway Indian Tribe of Virginia offered a reflection on the Brafferton Indian School.
“As tribes contemplate a bright, new future, we look to William & Mary to respond to the Brafferton Indian School’s legacy and to reestablish and strengthen the bonds between the university and the historically affiliated tribal communities to this campus,” Allston said.
William & Mary Chancellor Robert M. Gates ’65, L.H.D. ’98 spoke of the unique history of the United States and the country’s “enduring resolve over nearly two and a half centuries to overcome our imperfections, to strive unceasingly to close the gap between our reality and our ideals.
“The struggle has been slow and difficult, too often painful and bloody, but we have made steady, often dramatic progress, and we have never given up trying,” Gates continued. “The hopeful, admirable, central theme of the American story is that we have never abandoned, never forsaken the struggle to live up to our ideals of liberty for all, opportunity for all, fairness for all, justice for all. That ongoing struggle to change our reality, to be better, to do better, is in Americans’ DNA. That quest is also part of William & Mary’s DNA.”
In addition to the bestowal of honorary degrees, William & Mary celebrated the accomplishments of several members of its community during the ceremony, including this year’s Alumni Medallion recipients. The university also recognized the recipients of this year’s Thomas Jefferson Awards and the James Monroe Prize in Civic Leadership, who received their honors during a ceremony on campus Feb. 2.
The inaugural Royal Court was introduced during the Green & Gold Bash, held Friday night after the Charter Day ceremony. The coronation of the Royal Majesty and four Royal Highnesses took place at the event co-sponsored by Student Assembly and Alma Mater Productions.
Evolving to excel
William & Mary launched at last year’s Charter Day its Vision 2026 strategic plan that aims to expand the university’s reach, to educate for impact and to evolve to excel through four areas of focus – data, water, democracy and careers.
Consistent with the strategic goal of evolving to excel, the university has taken “significant steps to ensure William & Mary affords opportunity for a broad plurality of our Commonwealth,” Rowe said.
Next year, William & Mary will cover full tuition and fees at minimum for all in-state Pell Grant recipients.
Moreover, the university announced last week a new commitment that will triple the number of students who receive university funding for internships and applied learning experiences, “so that W&M graduates can land at their first destination with confidence, whether it’s a military commission, a job, graduate school, the Peace Corps or the Foreign Service,” Rowe said.
Rowe said William & Mary “will continue to evolve in the ways this university can serve as a resource – to innovate with shared purpose and respect.”
She highlighted the collaborative efforts of W&M students and faculty and tribal community members to seek actionable answers to fundamental questions related to geographic information systems, conservation, anthropology, archeology and linguistics, and the work they’ve done in music, writing and the arts to promote creative expression.
Thomas-Greenfield said it was “particularly meaningful” to participate in the Charter Day ceremony on the day the university announced its Brafferton Initiative. She also attended the Bray School relocation ceremony earlier in the day.
“In so many ways the story of the Brafferton Indian School and the Bray School is the story of America – America and all of its noble ideas and profound contradictions,” Thomas-Greenfield said.
She said education, once unlocked, cannot be contained.
“And this is another pillar in the story of America, a country where academic institutions like William & Mary are some of the world’s most envied, where education is seen as an equalizer and essential to America’s greatness and prosperity,” Thomas-Greenfield said. “But here again, nothing is straightforward because we know educational opportunities have not always been available to all.”
Nathan Warters, Communications Specialist