The College celebrated the 312th anniversary of the granting of its royal charter from King William III and Queen Mary II of Great Britain Saturday, 10 February, with its annual Charter Day ceremony. Librarian of Congress James H. Billington addressed the crowd as this year’s Charter Day speaker after two honorary degrees and numerous student and faculty awards had been conferred to their respective recipients.
“You have to ask what is the simple mission of it all – and that is the pursuit of truth,” said Billington in reference to the purpose of higher education.
Billington reminded his audience that for Thomas Jefferson, truth consisted of memory, reason and imagination.
“We still have the capacity to think, remember and imagine as Jefferson conceived it,” said Billington.
His comments also touched on Russian history, of which he is an eminent scholar, the plethora of electronic information that is available today, and the role that books can play in preserving society’s memories.”
“Preserving the dreams of all our yesterdays may help us better understand the dreams of today” said Billington.
The ceremony began with the presentation of the Thomas Jefferson Award, the highest honor given to members of the College’s academic community. This year’s recipient was Professor James McCord of the Lyon Gardiner Tyler Department of History.
“The list of College endeavors to which you give your time is staggering,” said President Timothy J. Sullivan to McCord.
In addition to chairing the department of history, McCord is also a two-term former member of the Williamsburg City Council, founder of the annual New Year’s First Night celebration and originator of Town-and-Gown luncheons, a weekly series that brings 200 to 250 people to the University Center for scholarly exchange. McCord will be retiring at the end of this semester.
The Thomas Jefferson Teaching Award, which is annually given to a younger faculty member who has inspired a love of learning in students, was awarded to Associate Professor of Sociology Tom Linneman.
President Sullivan explained that Linneman has often asked students to write haikus at the end of their exams. Linneman then proceeded to address the audience in haiku form.
“An entire lecture composed entirely by haiku is a goal of mine. However, I thought it best to start with a three minute speech,” said Linneman in haiku verse.
The Thomas Jefferson Prize in Natural Philosophy, an award that honors Thomas Jefferson’s relationship with William Small, his College tutor in mathematics and the â€˜natural sciences,’ was given to Senior Megan Dellinger. A chemistry major, Dellinger is studying inorganic and organometallic chemistry and doing research that focuses on using caged phosphate ligands to make metal-organic networks, a process that may be helpful to the pharmaceutical industry in the future.
This Charter Day ceremony marked the first ever bestowal of the James Monroe Prize in Civic Leadership, an annual award that is meant to honor an undergraduate who 'best exemplifies the acceptance of just responsibility through leadership for the greater good.' This year’s recipient was Senior George Srour, who among several projects, has raised nearly $40,000 for an orphanage in Uganda and headed the “Standing Tall” initiative, an effort to raise money to plant trees on Old Campus after Hurricane Isabel struck.
The College then bestowed an honorary doctorate of public service to philanthropist and public servant John T. Hazel , Jr. and an honorary doctorate of literature to Billington.
Hazel is the founder, former chairman and current executive committee member of the Virginia Business-Higher Education Council and has occasionally been called â€˜the savior of Virginia’s higher education system.’ Among his many accomplishments, Hazel is also accredited with using his influence to help George Mason University develop into one of the preeminent universities in the state.
Billington, the 13th Librarian of Congress, is an authority and scholar on Russian history and society. Having published several books on the topic, he has also traveled with ten congressional delegations to Russia and the former Soviet Union, in addition to accompanying President Ronald Reagan to the 1988 Soviet Summit in Moscow. Billington has overseen the National Digital Library Program, which has increased public access to the Library of Congress and he has been a leading advocate for American Memory, which makes available via the internet more than 8.5 million American historical items from the Library of Congress and other research institutions.
“Your life, like your library, is an inspiration to us all,” said Rector of the College Susan Magill when introducing Billington.
After Billington’s speech, President Sullivan gave a brief address encouraging active citizenship. He then received a standing ovation, at this, his last Charter Day ceremony as president.