Fresh yellow chalk was scrawled on the red bricks outside the Sadler Center reminding students, faculty and guests it was the College of William and Mary’s 326th birthday Friday. Placards sat on tables in the sunlight waiting for passers-by to write their favorite Charter Day memory.
As the clock approached 3:30 p.m., people streamed into the Kaplan Arena to watch — and cheer — as Katherine Rowe was officially inaugurated as the college’s 28th president.
Greeting Rowe in the audiences were 146 representatives from academic associations and colleges around the globe, as well as Rowe’s new academic family: William and Mary.
Before Rowe was inaugurated, Robert Gates was re-invested as the college’s chancellor. Gates said he decided to serve a second 7-year term because he respected its leadership and was optimistic about its future.
“When I was approached a year or so ago about signing up for a second term I said that my decision would depend entirely on who was chosen to succeed Taylor (Revely) as president,” Gates said. “The selection of Katherine Rowe made my decision very easy.”
Gates said though Rowe will bring changes and innovations to the college, he believes they’ll only make William and Mary’s traditions stronger.
“I’m incredibly enthusiastic about our future with Katherine as our president — not to mention that after 325 years we were a little overdue for women at the helm,” Gates said wryly.
With that statement, the more than 1,700 students, faculty, guests and delegates in attendance roared their applause while Rowe quietly nodded with a smile behind the chancellor.
Rowe was introduced by her friend and colleague, Ayanna Thompson, president of the Shakespeare Society and director of medieval and renaissance studies at Arizona State University.
“While President Rowe is a gifted and awarded scholar and teacher, and while her CV is beyond impressive, I want to introduce you to Katherine — my mentor, my thought partner, my co-conspirator, my ally, my dear friend,” Thomson said.
Before she met Rowe at Harvard, Thompson said she thought she would hate her, based on her penchant for overachieving. However, when Rowe later returned to Harvard to give a lecture Thompson said she met someone wholly unfamiliar to her.
“A breed of scholar, thinker and human that I had not seen in the academy. Yes, she was smart, driven and focused, but she was also a generous, receptive, collaborative, generative and a fundamentally good listener,” Thompson said.
“It is no exaggeration to say she modeled a way of moving through the profession that I had not experienced before: A scholar who lifts as she climbs.”
When Rowe took the podium, she beamed at those assembled in the arena.
“Now is the moment to reflect on the change that will make us more ourselves,” Rowe said, harkening back to the days of Colonial Virginia. “How might old ideas illuminate new ways — test and strengthen innovative practices as they emerge?
“The power of higher education is that we play the long game. We foster lifelong relationships across differences of age, ethnicity, politics, religion, nationality and more. We quest into grand, hard problems where the answers are not yet clear.”
The ceremony wrapped with a William and Mary a capella group, Reveille, singing a remix of “Happy Birthday” for the college.
“Happy birthday alma mater, we welcome Katherine Rowe,” the group sang. Rowe’s smile grew even wider as she wiped a tear from her eye.
Heymann can be reached by phone at 757-298-5828 or on Twitter at @HeymannAmelia.