The College of William and Mary currently opens the academic year with an Opening Convocation. Held on the Sunken Garden side of the Wren Building, it includes a keynote from an honored guest, usually an alumnus, remarks from the university's president, and the formal introduction of the Freshman Class and other new students. Campus tradition is for the new students to pass through the central hallway of the Wren Building, where they are welcomed by William and Mary students, staff, and faculty on the other side. This form of the Opening Convocation has opened the College's academic year since 1993.
The Opening Convocation was moved to the beginning of the academic year in 1962, replacing the fall Honors Convocation. Due to factors such as low participation, Open Convocation was suspended after the 1971 edition. Convocation was restarted in 1993 with the College's 300th anniversary, and marks the beginning of the new academic session.
The 2011 Convocation was rescheduled to the second week of classes due to Hurricane Irene. Rebecca Beach Smith '71, J.D. '79l, the first female Federal Court Judge in Virginia, was originally scheduled to be the speaker. Upon the ceremony's rescheduling, Vice President for Student Affairs Ginger Ambler was the speaker at the ceremony.
Special Convocations are also held by the university and have been occasions in the past for marking visits of notable individuals to William and Mary and often awarding honorary degrees to individuals including Georgia O'Keeffe, His Royal Highness Prince Charles, and many others. From 1935 to 1962, William and Mary held an Honors Convocation, which was usually held in late September or early October in Ewell Hall. Events often included the recognition of merit scholars and the introduction of new faculty members.
Other special convocations have included events to celebrate Monroe Day, Navy Day, John Marshall's birthday, and Armistice Day, among others.
Opening Convocation Speakers
1963 Davis Y. Paschall, W&M President
1964 Davis Y. Paschall, W&M President
1965 Davis Y. Paschall, W&M President
1966 Davis Y. Paschall, W&M President
1967 Davis Y. Paschall, W&M President
1968 Davis Y. Paschall, W&M President
1969 Davis Y. Paschall, W&M President
1971 Thomas A. Graves - W&M President
1972-1992 Opening Convocation not held during these years
1993 Maya Angelou – Author and Poet. First Opening Convocation since 1971
1994 Charles McDowell – Political Columnist
1995 David McCullough – Author and Historian
1996 Father Charles A. Kelly - campus minister from St.Bede’s Catholic Church
1997 Mark D. Gearan – Peace Corps Director
1998 William Barr – former US Attorney General
1999 Clarence Page, Chicago Tribune columnist
2000 Andrew Zawacki, class of '94
2001 Michael Powell, '85, Chairman, Federal Communications Commission
2002 David Brown ’78 - Space Shuttle Columbia Astronaut
2003 James B. Comey ’82 - former U.S. Deputy Attorney General
2004 Sarah Kemp Brady, ’64 – Political Activist
2005 John Lewis – U.S. Congressman
2006 Warren W. Buck, Ph.D., '76- former chancellor of the University of Washington-Bothell and prominent physicist
2007 Dr. Michelle Whitehurst-Cook ’75 - Associate Dean for admissions to the Virginia Commonwealth University Medical School
2008 Rhian Horgan ’99 - JP Morgan executive
2009 James B. Comey ’82 - former U.S. Deputy Attorney General
2010 Henry C. Wolf '64, J.D. '66 - Rector of the College of William and Mary
2011 Virginia Ambler '88, PH.D. '06 - Vice President for Student Affairs (Originally scheduled for Aug. 26, hurricane Irene evacuations forced rescheduling the ceremony to Friday, Sept. 2. The College was unable to reschedule the speaker, U.S. District Judge Rebecca Beach Smith ’71, J.D. ’79)
Honors Convocation Speakers
Material in the Special Collections Research Center
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- University Archives Subject File Collection, Special Collections Research Center, Swem Library, College of William and Mary.
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