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Commencement speakers at William & 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.

18th Century


1792 All of the graduates gave speeches

19th Century


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

20th Century


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


1950 Dudley Warner Woodbridge, J.D., Chancellor Professor of Jurisprudence and Acting Dean of the Department of Jurisprudence

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.

1997 Margaret, The Lady Thatcher, former Prime Minister of Great Britain, Chancellor of the College of William & Mary

1998 Joseph J. Ellis, class of 1965, historian

1999 John W. Warner, United States Senator

21st Century


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 & 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 & 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

2016 Jill Ellis '88, Head Coach of the World Cup-winning U. S. Women's National Soccer Team

2017 Walter Isaacson, President and CEO of the Aspen Institute, former chairman and CEO of CNN

2018 Mark Warner, U. S. Senator, former Governor of Virginia

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 Henel

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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A note about the contents of this site

This website contains the best available information from known sources at the time it was written. Unfortunately, many of the early original records of William & Mary were destroyed by fires, military occupation, and the normal effects of time. The information in this website is not complete, and it changes as we continue to research and uncover new sources.