Commencement speakers at the College of William and Mary have included a variety of individuals including alumni, presidents of the College, students, professors, politicians, journalists, entertainers, royalty, and many others. Speakers usually are awarded an honorary degree.
1792 All of the graduates gave speeches
1831-1858 Speakers on various subjects
1859 Oration by Hugh Blair Grigsby, Esq.
1860 Oration by Thomas Jefferson Stubbs, A.B., of Gloucester
Address to the Students by James Lyons, Esquire, of Richmond
1875 Address before the Alumni by Rev. A.M. Randolph, A.M.
Address to the Students by Charles Selden Scott of Powhatan and John Allen Watts of Roanoke
1876 Address by Rev. O. Sievers Barten, O.D., Rector of Christ Church, Norfolk, VA
1889 Address before the Alumni by Beverley B. Munford of Virginia
1890-1896 Speeches given by various literary societies
1897 Oration before the two literary societies by Hon. Samuel W. Williams of Wytheville, VA
1898 Hon. Joseph E. Willard of Fairfax, VA
1899 Hon. M. E. Ingalls of Cincinnati, OH
1900 Hon. E. W. Saunders of Rocky Mount, VA
1901 Hon. Carter Glass of Lynchburg, VA
1909 Edward Hagaman Hall, Ph.D. of New York, NY
Phillip Alexander Bruce, LL.D. of Norfolk, VA
1911 Baccalaureate Address by Bishop Randolph
Address to Graduates by Rt. Rev. Alfred Magill Randolph, D.D., LL.D. Class of ’54
1912 Address to Graduates by James Brown Scott, LL.D.
1913 Samuel Black McCormick, LL.D.
1914 Baccalaureate Address by Howard B. Bayne
1915 Clarence W. Bowen, Ph.D.
1916 Hon. Martin W. Williams
1918 Clarence Hodson of New York, NY
1919 George Bryan; Farewell Address by Lyon Gardiner Tyler, M.A., LL.D., President of the College (1888-1919); Baccalaureate sermon by Rev. C. Braxton Bryan, D.D.; Alumni Address by Hon. S. Otis Bland
1920 Dr. William M. Davidson
1921 Don Carlos Seitz
1922 Hon. Harris Hart
1923 Frank O. Lowden, former Governor of Illinois
1924 Dice Robins Anderson
1925 Dr. George D. Srayer
1926 Robert Henry Tucker
1927 Dr. J. C. Metcalf, University of Virginia
1928 Dr. William T. Sanger, Medical College of Virginia
1929 Frank P. Graves, Commissioner of Education, State of New York
1930 Dr. Gilbert Grosvenor, President of the National Geographic Society of America, Washington, D.C.
1931 Baccalaureate Address by James Southall Wilson
1932 Hon. John R. Saunders
1933 Robert M. Hughes
1934 Cordell Hull, Secretary of State
1935 Hon. Harry Flood Byrd, United States Senator from Virginia
1936 Douglas Southall Freeman, Ph.D., LL.D.
1937 Hon. E. Lee Trinkle
1938 Hon. C. Vernon Spratley, A.B., B.L.
1939 Hon. Francis Bowes Sayre
1940 Charles Edward Wilson, Esquire, President of General Electric
1941 General George Catlett Marshall, U.S.A.
1942 Admiral Ernest Joseph King, U.S.N.
1943 William O. Douglas, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court
1944 Graves Glenwood Clark, LL.B., A.B., A.M. Associate Professor of English
1945 Henry Irving Willett, B.A., M.A. Superintendent of Schools, Norfolk County
1946 Hon. Colgate W. Darden, Jr., M.A., LL.B.
1947 James Wilkinson Miller, Ph.D. Chancellor Professor of Philosophy
1948 Hon. Leverett Saltonstall, A.B., LL.B., LL.D. United States Senator from Massachusettes
1949 Vice Admiral John Leslie Hall, Jr. Commandant, Armed Forces Staff College, Norfolk, VA
1951 The Honorable Paul Howard Douglas, A.M., Ph.D., U.S. Senator from Illinois
1952 Frederick D.G. Ribble, M.A., LL.M., Jur.Sc.D., LL.D., Professor of Law and Dean of the Department of Law University of Virginia
1953 William T. Sanger, Ph.D., LL.D., L.H.D., President of the Medical College of Virginia
1954 Rev. John Jacob Scherer, Jr., A.B., B.D., D.D., Pastor, First English Lutheran Church, Richmond, VA
1955 General Carlos P. Romulo, A.B., A.M., LL.D., Ph.D., (Hon.), Litt.D. Special and Personal Envoy of the President of the Philippines to the U.S.
1956 Hon. A. Willis Robertson, B.A., LL.B., LL.D., United States Senator from Virginia
1957 Sir Pierson Dixon, K.C.M.G., C.B., LL.D., D.H.L., Delegate to the United Kingdom to the United Nations
1958 Dabney S. Lancaster, M.S., LL.D. Chairman, State Council of Higher Education, President-Emeritus of Longwood College
1959 James Lindsay Almond, Jr., Governor of Virginia
1960 Gaylord P. Harnwell, Ph.D., President, University of Pennsylvania
1961 Winthrop Rockefeller, L.H.D. Chairman of the Boards of Colonial Williamsburg
1962 Lucius D. Battle, B.A., LL.B. Assistant Secretary of State for Education and Cultural Affairs
1963 Baccalaureate Address by R.O. Nelson Superintendent of Schools, Newport News
1964 William H. McFarlane, Director, Virginia Associated Research Center
1965 Senator A. Willis Robertson, U.S. Senator from Virginia; Baccalaureate Address by Dr. Howard Bryant, Regional Representative, Bureau of Higher Education United States Office of Education
1966 Hon. Henry H. Fowler, J.S.D. Secretary of the Treasury
1967 Robert D. Calkins, Ph.D., President of the Brookings Institution
1968 Hon. Gerald R. Ford, LL.D., U.S. Representative from Michigan
1969 In order to shorten commencement ceremony down to 2 1/2 hours, the senior class was asked to choose between having a graduation speaker or individual degree conferment. The class voted to not have a speaker. (Flat Hat 3/7/1969 pg.1; Alumni Gazette Oct.1969 pg10)
1970 Hon. Edmund S. Muskie, LL.B., U.S. Senator from Maine
1971 Hon. Thomas Nelms Downing, LL.B., Member of Congress First District of Virginia
1972 Ralph W. Ellison, Ph.D., Albert Schweitzer Professor of Humanities New York University
1973 Hon. Warren E. Burger, Chief Justice of the United States
1974 Walter Muir Whitehill
1975 Kingman Brewster, Jr.
1976 Forrest David Mathews
1977 Hon. William H. Rehnquist, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court
1978 Rep. Barbara Jordan, member of the United States Congress
1978 August 19 (Summer Session) Dr. J. Wade Gilley, Virginia Secretary of Education
1979 Jeffrey Kenneth MacNelly, cartoonist
1980 Art Buchwald, humorist and author
1981 William F. Buckley, Jr., columnist, author, and editor
1982 Garry B. Trudeau, cartoonist
1983 Hon. Elizabeth H. Dole, Secretary of Transportation
1984 Hon. Paul A. Volcker, Chairman, Federal Reserve Board
1985 Commodore Grace Murray Hopper, United States Navy
1986 Hon. Jeane Duane Jordan Kirkpatrick, former Ambassador to the United Nations
1987 Roger H. Mudd, Special Correspondent and Essayist, The MacNeil/Lehrer Report
1988 Colin L. Powell, Lieutenant General U.S.A., Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs (later Secretary of State)
1989 Glenn Close, class of 1974, actress
1990 Lawrence Douglas Wilder, Governor of Virginia
1991 Hanna Holborn Gray, President, University of Chicago
1992 Hon. James A. Baker III, Secretary of State; video is available from C-SPAN
1993 William H. Cosby, Jr., humorist, author, educator, actor
1994 George Will, Pulitzer-Prize winning columnist
1995 Hon. George H.W. Bush, 41st President of the United States
1996 Hon. Antonin Scalia, Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. One of Honorary degree recipients at 1991 Commencement. See also University Archives Subject Headings under V to C--Scalia, Antonin.
1998 Joseph J. Ellis, class of 1965, historian
1999 John W. Warner, United States Senator
2000 Brent Scowcroft, former National Security Advisor
2001 John Stewart Bryan II, Chairman, President, and CEO of Media General; Madeleine Albright, U.S. Secretary of State (1997-2001) gave the Pamela Harriman address.
2002 A. Lamar Alexander, public servant, educator, businessman, Former U.S. Secretary of Education, Former Governor of Tennessee, Goodman Visiting Professor of Practice in Public Service Harvard University Kennedy School of Government
2003 Her Majesty Queen Noor of Jordan, international negotiator, advocate for democracy and peace, active patron of many national institutions in Jordan, chair of the King Hussein Foundation established in 1999
2004 Jon Stewart, class of 1984, host and executive producer of Comedy Central’s counterfeit newscast “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart”
2005 Timothy J. Sullivan, class of 1966, 25th president of the College of William and Mary
2006 Archbishop Desmond M. Tutu, cleric, author, teacher, Archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate
2007 Robert M. Gates, class of 1965, U.S. Secretary of Defense; Law School Commencement: Judge D. Brooks Smith, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit; Baccalaureate service: Rev. William H. Willimon, Bishop of the United Methodist Church and a nationally known pastor and author
2008 Mike Tomlin, Class of 1995, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach; Law School Commencement: Sandra Day O'Connor, Chancellor of the College of William and Mary (2005- ), Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court
2009 Tom Brokaw, journalist and writer, former Today Show anchor, former NBC Nightly News anchor
2010 Christina (Duckworth) Romer, Class of 1981, Economist, Chair of President Barack Obama's Council of Economic Advisers (2009-2010)
2011 Joseph J Plumeri, Class of 1966, Chairman and CEO of Willis Group Holdings
2012 Jim Lehrer, Journalist and Broadcaster; Law School Commencement: Judge John Charles Thomas, Former Virginia Supreme Court Justice.
2013 Robert S. Mueller III, Director of the FBI, 2001-2013, lawyer and United States attorney.
2014 Leroy Petry, Medal of Honor recipient. He was awarded the US military's highest honor for saving the lives of two fellow Army Rangers in Afghanistan, an action that cost Petry his right hand.
2015 Condoleezza Rice, U.S. Secretary of State 2005-2009
Student Commencement Speakers
The earliest known commencement at which students spoke was the 1792 edition, in which all of the graduating students gave speeches. Before the Civil War, typically most of the graduating students would give a speech at commencement, such as at the 1831, 1857, 1858, and 1860 commencements, for which the Swem SCRC has programs. After the Civil War, the College's two literary societies, the Phoenix Literary Society and the Philomathean Literary Society, were founded. Student speakers typically spoke at their celebrations, typically held a few days prior to the actual commencement. The last of these literary society celebrations seems to have occurred in 1927.
The first student to give a valedictory address during the official commencement was Robert Beason in 1970. The two subsequent years did not feature a student speaker, but there has been one in every commencement since 1973.
1970 Robert Beason
1973 Donald A. Purdy, Jr.
1974 Craig T. Cornwell
1975 James Van Istendal Black
1976 Nancy Carroll Turrentine
1977 Margaret Louise Rollings
1978 Christopher D. Kelly
1979 Margaret A. Nelson
1980 Suzanne W. Doggett
1981 Robert E. Wagner, Jr.
1982 Warren Thomas Prince
1983 David A. Price
1984 Paul C. Kuhnel
1985 Lisa Lindsey Willis
1986 Scott John Ward
1987 Christopher Lee Foote
1988 Rebecca Brooks Edwards
1989 Patricia Maureen Stevenson
1990 James E. Low
1991 Eric V. Hall
1992 Susan Eleanor Brown
1993 James W. Wildman, Jr.
1994 Denzel J. Hankinson
1995 Judith Karen Lorimer
1996 Nicole Monique Woods
1997 Jason Christoper Schemmell
1998 Chad Michael Carr
1999 Laura Ellen Pinnow
2000 James Daniel Finn
2001 Lauren Page Morgan
2002 Alexander Nicholas Pyke
2003 Christian Frederick Hennel
2004 Adam David Stackhouse
2005 Benjamin David Kimble
2006 Matthew William Scranton
2007 Elizabeth Hope Derby
2008 Joshua L. Lovell
2009 Justin Schoonmaker
2010 Joshua Andrew Goldman
2011 Kalyani Hemant Phansalkar
2012 Danielle Marie Greene
2013 Devin Braun
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Questions? Contact the Special Collections Research Center at firstname.lastname@example.org or 757-221-3090, or visit the Special Collections Research Center in the Earl Gregg Swem Library at the College of William and Mary.
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