As the world remembers the life and legacy of former U.S. Secretary of State and Nobel Peace Prize winner Henry A. Kissinger, so does the William & Mary community, of which he was a significant part.

Kissinger, who died on Nov. 29, 2023, at the age of 100, served as the university’s 22nd chancellor from 2000 to 2005. The honorary position can be traced back to the founding of the university, with previous chancellors ranging from such world leaders as U.S. President George Washington to former Prime Minister of Britain Margaret The Lady Thatcher, whom Kissinger succeeded. U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Sandra Day O’Connor succeeded Kissinger as chancellor of the university in 2005. Former U.S Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates ’65, L.H.D. ’98 has served as the university’s 24th chancellor since 2012.

“Henry Kissinger is part of a long tradition of global leaders who served admirably as William & Mary chancellor,” said William & Mary President Katherine A. Rowe.

“As the Alma Mater of the Nation, William & Mary provides students, faculty and staff access to decision-makers who shaped our country’s history. We are thankful for Sec. Kissinger’s service as our 22nd chancellor.”

A magazine cover showing Henry Kissinger's face
Kissinger on the cover of the W&M Alumni Magazine.

Kissinger was installed as chancellor of the university in February 2001 during the university’s Charter Day ceremony, for which he provided the keynote address. 

According to a Daily Press article, he discussed the difficult decisions that world leaders have to make and said that the best leaders have strong moral convictions. Acknowledging the impact that the United States has on every area of the world, he said that the goal is to break larger problems into smaller ones and promised to work with William & Mary to do that.

“It is an honor to be here as your chancellor,” Kissinger said. 

Kissinger was viewed historically as a somewhat controversial figure, especially in his role in shaping U.S. foreign policy in the 1970s. 

His installation as chancellor, for example, included a brief student protest, which the world diplomat took in stride.

“Thank you very much for this very warm and very friendly welcome,” Kissinger said, according to the Daily Press article, to laughter from the audience. “I was told that you do that for all your chancellors.”

Throughout his tenure as chancellor, he helped to officiate many of the university’s traditions, including Commencement. He also met with students and helped to strengthen the university’s international ties.

Born in Germany in 1923, Kissinger immigrated to the United States to escape the Nazis and attended the City College of New York. He went on to serve in the U.S. Army and then in the post-World War II government of Germany. He later received his doctorate from Harvard University and taught there as a faculty member.

He was a national security consultant to a number of U.S. government entities before being appointed assistant for national security affairs, head of the National Security Council and secretary of state. In 1973, Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in ending the Vietnam War.

, University News & Media