Virginia McLaughlin —by Meredith Randle ’16
The highest and most prestigious award given by the William & Mary Alumni Association, the Alumni Medallion is presented to those who truly embody what the College has stood for during its revered history. Through their leadership, professional accomplishments and commitment to alma mater, the 2015 recipients are perfect examples of what it means to be William & Mary alumni.
No one in Virginia McLaughlin’s ’71 high school had ever gotten into William & Mary — so of course that’s where she wanted to go.
When McLaughlin arrived on campus, she was certain she was not going into education. “I think I was determined not to do what was expected for women at that time,” she said. But during her last two years, she took some electives and became interested in special education. “My father wondered why he was paying tuition for me to take those classes. I explained that, while students on other campuses were protesting through marches and sit-ins, William & Mary was studying the issues.”
McLaughlin feels that education is work that matters for our society as a whole. “The challenges are huge, complex and ever-changing. The current threats to our public education system are very real, and we need well-informed advocates.”
McLaughlin went on to earn her master’s and Ed.D. in special education and teach in South Carolina public schools. After teaching on the faculty at Clemson University and Old Dominion University, McLaughlin returned to her alma mater, where she served as former President Timothy Sullivan’s ’66 chief of staff and associate dean of the School of Education, eventually attaining the deanship.
During her tenure as dean, McLaughlin guided the School of Education to many successes and was instrumental in the construction of a new state-of-the-art facility for the school.
“A public university, especially its school of education, has a mission to serve the community,” McLaughlin said. Her freshman roommate, Virginia Carey ’71, M.Ed. ’79, Ed.S. ’93, Ed.D. ’97, emphasized that McLaughlin had done just that. “She spent her professional life building (literally and figuratively!) a pillar of the William & Mary community,” Carey wrote in nominating McLaughlin for the Alumni Medallion.
McLaughlin held the deanship for almost two decades, stepping down in 2013 and returning to teaching at the College. “I’ve been committed to concluding my career just as I began — as a faculty member,” she said. “It’s the best role ever.”