At Charter Day, a Glimpse of a Bold Future

Charter Day Dinner 2020 Speakers

Every anniversary is a chance to look back to the past with an eye toward the present. This year’s Charter Day was no different.

William & Mary, a university so connected to its history, celebrated its 327th birthday with a clear vision of its past, present and future. The celebration came as the university enters a new era — now in its second year under President Katherine Rowe, under the second term of Chancellor Robert M. Gates ’65, L.H.D. ’98, and in the final year of its historic For the Bold campaign.

As it has for more than three centuries, William & Mary has challenged itself, and through that challenge excelled. A billion-dollar campaign would’ve seemed unthinkable decades ago. Now, as For the Bold nears its end, all eyes are on what’s next. At the Charter Day dinner, the audience got a glimpse.

One alumnus and two students — each embodying William & Mary’s approach to teaching and learning, research and innovation, and flourishing and engagement — described their experience at the university. Zachary Fetters ’16, M.A.Ed. '18, Megan Brunick ’21 and Alton Coston ’23 explained how William & Mary is shaping their future, even as they, and other students like them, are shaping William & Mary’s.

Three hundred and twenty-seven years after King William and Queen Mary signed a charter for a small colledge in a distant land, their school is thriving. But William & Mary in 2020 is more than the school of English monarchs in days past; it’s the university of students like Fetters, Brunick and Coston, young, ambitious and bold. All receiving standing ovations, they’re leading the university into a new decade, a new future. They have a near 33-decade legacy to support them.

Zachary Fetters ’16, M.A.Ed. ’18

Not many Division I linebackers who major in philosophy end up becoming a special education teacher. But Zachary Fetters doesn’t exactly fit the mold.

After graduating in 2016 having played five years of William & Mary football, he thought his future lay in coaching. Bearded, 6' 3'' and 230 pounds, Fetters certainly looks the part. But after a season on staff at the collegiate level, he found himself wanting something more. What would I do, he asked, had I never played football?

The answer started with family. Fetters has twin brothers, 10 years his junior, diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. They each have unique personalities — one barely talks and the other won’t stop; one competes in the National Spelling Bee and the other hacks iPads — and Fetters wanted to know how two people with the same DNA could be so different.

So Fetters returned to William & Mary for a master’s degree in special education, learning how to build relationships with students like his brothers. Not only is he helping fill a critical teacher shortage across the country, but he’s also addressing the paucity of male teachers in elementary schools, who make up only around 11 percent of the total number.

He now works at Laurel Lane Elementary School in James City County, Virginia, and last year he won his division’s Rookie Teacher of the Year award.

Life after graduation hasn’t quite gone to plan for Fetters, but he says he’s grateful for a university that’s there for him when plans change. Both of his degrees were made possible through scholarships. He can now change people’s lives for the better because others did the same for him.

“Each and every day my aim is to allow each beautifully and wonderfully made student make their unique contribution to our community,” says Fetters. “This is the same impact that scholarships have on our Tribe.”

Megan Brunick ’21

“What do you love about William & Mary?”

Megan Brunick, who volunteers at the Office of Admission, says she often gets this question from prospective students. Her answer? William & Mary punches above its weight — combining the warmth of a small school with the resources of a large one. That blend, she thinks, is what makes the university so special.

Having attended last year’s DoG Street to Wall Street event and Women’s Leadership Summit, Brunick is familiar with the reach of those resources — the cherry on top of her first semester in the Mason School of Business. She also sees firsthand the difference private support makes on campus through something perhaps unexpected: robots.

Made possible through the For the Bold campaign, every business student now has access to their own “robot,” or software that automates business processes. Valued at over $4 million, the gift comes through a partnership with UiPath, a leading provider of the software. It’s the first gift of its kind in the country.

Last semester, Brunick participated in a training course to learn the conceptual and technical side of the software, helping push her closer to a career in data analytics or IT consulting. The training she received through the gift, she says, has been invaluable.

“The power and potential of this technology is truly mind-blowing,” she says. “For the first time in fourteen years of education, I learned about something so current, so relevant, and so innovative.”

Alton Coston ’23

It wasn’t the battle with the surrounding poverty, crime and homelessness that most challenged Alton Coston as he grew up in Richmond, Virginia. It was his battle with himself.

Coston’s family taught him from an early age to have faith — to trust that “the storm doesn’t last forever” — but that approach didn’t fit with his feeling of hopelessness, the result of severe depression. The taboos around mental health in his community made that struggle more difficult, he says, as did all his outward success.

Captain of his high school football team, vice president of his National Honor Society chapter, a standout in the classroom — Coston was ostensibly thriving. Still, he felt stuck in a pit, in large part because, despite his work, he couldn’t afford a college education.

He remembers one night telling his family how he felt. They prayed. A few weeks later, a scholarship letter from William & Mary arrived. Coston was going to college.

“It is for this reason that I’m able to stand before you all today,” he says. “Thank you for giving a young, humble and resilient kid from Richmond, who has an interior fire and passion brewing deep inside me for bringing about change, the opportunity to live out his dreams and aspirations.”

That fire has continued in his time at the university, as Coston, a Forsyth scholar, studies for a planned double major in sociology and public policy, with the goal of bringing change to his hometown of Richmond. He and others are trying to remake a student “stress culture” into a “culture of hustle and grit.” Two people he credits in particular for spurring that change are the late Bee McLeod  ’83, M.B.A. ’91 and her husband Goody Tyler HON ’11, whose philanthropy established the McLeod Tyler Wellness Center and supports Campus Recreation.

“Thank you for standing for something bigger than yourselves,” says Coston, addressing an audience that included the donor who made possible his college education. “Thank you all for investing in me, future generations of William & Mary’s Tribe, and America’s future.”