As their second week of classes came to a close, new students at William & Mary Law School were invited on September 4 to attend a private tour of Colonial Williamsburg and walk in the footsteps of many of America's founders.
The tour began at the home of George Wythe (1726-1806), signer of the Declaration of Independence and prominent Virginia attorney. Tour leader John Sutton told students about Wythe's tremendous impact on individuals such as Thomas Jefferson, a College of William & Mary graduate, who received his legal training with Wythe and would go on to become the nation's third president. In fact, Jefferson held his mentor in such high esteem that when he became governor of Virginia he appointed Wythe as the school's first professor of law. Among Wythe's first students at William & Mary was John Marshall, who would achieve renown as the fourth Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Read more about the history of the Law School, the first law school to be founded in America.
The tour highlighted what the lives of Williamsburg's residents would have been like at the time of the nation's founding. Sutton described Williamsburg's tremendous influence on colonial politics and the visits of such notable figures as George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Patrick Henry. Students were delighted by the stories of important heroes, such as Pocahontas and John Smith, and villains, such as the pirate Blackbeard, all of whom lived in and around the Williamsburg area. The tour concluded at William & Mary's Wren Building, where portraits on the walls of George Washington, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, all former chancellors of the university, were reminders of William & Mary's rich heritage.
In the Wren's Great Hall, Dean Davison M. Douglas greeted students. He encouraged them to appreciate the incredible history located less than a few blocks from the Law School, and shared his prediction that the new J.D. and LL.M. students would make their own notable contributions to public service.
Eric Taber J.D. '17 was one of the evening's attendees. "On day one of orientation, we heard the dean say that some of the members of our class will probably be judges or members of Congress. It seems surreal to be compared to people like that," Taber noted. "The tour helped remind me that even one of William & Mary's most famous alumni, Thomas Jefferson, probably had trouble making his first opening remarks in court."
The dean invited the participants to a reception sponsored by the George Wythe Society of Citizen Lawyers, where students enjoyed refreshments while socializing with one another and faculty. Many shared experiences of their transition to William & Mary and the first two weeks of Law School classes.
Kelsey Christensen J.D. '17 said she "was pleasantly surprised by the feeling of community I found upon arriving on campus. Many schools say there is a loving and supportive community, but I was relieved to find the connection here instantly."
Michelle Monfiletto J.D. '17 agreed. "I really appreciate the sense of support I've felt at William & Mary; everyone has been very understanding and supportive as we adjust to a new phase in our lives," she said. "It is clear the school holds itself to a high standard of community."
Thomas Jefferson founded William & Mary Law School in 1779 to train leaders for the new nation. Now in its third century, America's oldest law school continues its historic mission of educating citizen lawyers who are prepared both to lead and to serve.