Rachel Schotz is a master's student in higher education and director of communications for the Higher Education Student Association (HESA). She joins us today to share her thoughts on the organization's recent lunch with W&M President Taylor Reveley.
The excitement built as we chowed down on our boxed lunches; we were in the presence of a great leader. On Friday, September 8, President Taylor Reveley joined the Higher Education Student Association for our monthly lunch talk. These talks provide aspiring higher education leaders with a chance to learn more about different functional areas within a university system. Amidst a vastly changing educational climate in the United States, hearing directly from the president was invaluable. As he chomped down on the last of his flatbread sandwich, the crowd silenced in anticipation.
But President Reveley didn’t want to give a high and mighty speech; he wanted to get to know us, the people who would keep higher education functioning after his nearing retirement. Reflecting back, this was a powerful way to start the lunch — a leader gets to know his or her constituents and treats them with respect.
After our introductions, he delved into his own background. President Reveley grew up in a university-enriched setting, since his own father was the president of a university as well. As a young adult, Reveley aspired to drive politics and so he went to law school based on advice from his mentors, despite feeling adamantly against becoming a lawyer. Interestingly, he became a law professor after law school, even though he had never practiced law, but the irony wasn’t lost on him. President Reveley felt that he should gain professional experience in order to better instruct his students, so he joined a firm. He ended up practicing law for many years until he was offered a position as dean of the William & Mary Law School.
He accredited his career as president to hard work and sheer luck, stating that many find their calling in leading a university but only a few ever get called upon to fulfill that destiny. In 2008, President Reveley was asked to serve as interim president. His mentor advised him to act as if he were the full-time president by being active in effecting change, and so he did, which got him the permanent title. His honesty and down-to-earth demeanor were admirable. He didn’t want to scare us away from aiming high, but he let us know how it really is.
This speaking style continued as he recounted ten pieces of advice he’d prepared for us, including “You’re never going to please everyone, so make sure you please the right 50%.” He also warned that if you cannot handle constant criticism and twisting of your words, that this is not the career for you. His advice left us feeling empowered and ready to face the battles ahead. When the time for open questions began, he commented that no question was off limits, and that if he wasn’t allowed to answer it, he’d let us know — another powerful leadership tactic showing his approachability and strong communication skills. Reveley even stayed after the lunch to speak with us individually, far surpassing his one hour commitment. It is safe to assume that his schedule is packed every day, so his willingness to devote extra time to our organization garnered even more respect. I hope that W&M can find a President with such repute to continue progressing our school the way President Taylor Reveley has; he or she will certainly have large shoes to fill.