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Opening Convocation

The Opening Convocation at William & Mary opens the academic year. Held outside of the Wren Building, Opening Convocation 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.

Tradition calls for the new students to pass through the central hallway of the Wren Building, where they are welcomed by William & 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, Opening Convocation was suspended after the 1971 event. Convocation was restarted in 1993, the year of 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. '79, 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

Special Convocations are also held by the university and have been occasions in the past for marking visits of notable individuals to William & 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 & 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


1962 Davis Y. Paschall, W&M President

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

1970 held on September 18, no articles in Flat Hat or Colonial Echo, speaker

probably 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 - 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 at 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 & 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)

2012 Rebecca Beach Smith '71, J.D. '79 - U.S. District Judge

2013 Nancy Gunn '88

2014 Ted Dintersmith, '74

Honors Convocation Speakers

1938: Franklin Ryder, president of the student body and Donald W. Davis, professor and chair of the Department of Biology

1940: Charles F. Marsh, professor of economics, later dean

1944: Grace Warren Landrum, Dean of Women

Material in the Special Collections Research Center


  • University Archives Subject File Collection, Special Collections Research Center, Swem Library, William & Mary.
  • Live from Convocation photos from the College of William & Mary on Flickr


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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.