A century ago, Pu-Kao Chen 1923, a student from Shanghai, China, enrolled at William & Mary. Chen was an athlete, noted for track, tennis and soccer and, to our knowledge, was the first student from Asia to attend the university. More than a decade later, Hatsuye Yamasaki ’37, believed to have been the first Asian American woman to attend William & Mary, matriculated at the university. Yamasaki took on leadership positions as president of Brown Hall, a member of the Judicial Council and secretary of the Spanish Club. Like so many pioneering alumni, Chen and Yamasaki charted unusual paths to William & Mary that generations of adventurous students were to follow.
In 2021-22, William & Mary marks 100 years since Chen arrived on campus: a century of Asian and Asian American students in residence. A planning committee, led by honorary chair Michael Tang ’76, P ’13, and co-chairs Francis Tanglao Aguas and Deenesh Sohoni, distinguished faculty members, has designed a year-long university-wide commemoration. In this edition of the W&M Alumni Magazine, you will read more about this anniversary and many of the histories and experiences that student, faculty and staff researchers have documented. The William & Mary stories we have to tell are inspiring.
William & Mary will mark this centennial with special speakers and performances. Events and showcases highlight the defining impacts of Asian and Asian American students, faculty and staff at the university. Among the early campus leaders we celebrate is gridiron hero Arthur A. Matsu ’27. A proud member of the Order of the White Jacket, Matsu went on to a brief stint as a pro football player — by many accounts, he was the first Asian-descended player in the pros — before a career in coaching at the college level. Last spring, the Board of Visitors named the Arcade at Zable Stadium in Matsu’s honor. We will unveil the plaque this coming year. In August, Gov. Ralph Northam announced that Virginia will honor Matsu with a new historical highway marker, reflecting the importance and impact of Matsu’s legacy throughout the commonwealth.
Over more than a century, student leaders such as Chen, Yamasaki and Matsu helped our university community evolve towards the more global, more cosmopolitan values we aspire to. And they steadily expanded the pathways to a William & Mary education.
This anniversary is the third for William & Mary in recent years. Indeed, we are in the midst of a decade of extraordinary milestones. We recently honored the 50th anniversary of African American students in residence and the centennial of women’s education. In 2023, we will mark the tercentennial of the Brafferton. By 2026, we will celebrate the 250th year since the founding of Phi Beta Kappa by William & Mary students and the 250th semiquincentennial of the Declaration of Independence.
Each of these commemorations celebrates a legacy of striving at William & Mary: grit and adaptability in the ongoing pursuit of excellence. At each milestone, we reaffirm the essential institutional commitments of higher education in our pluralistic democracy: expanding access to diverse communities of learning; sustaining free inquiry, civil discourse and evidence-based argument. And each milestone underscores the interconnectedness of national and global cultures that has defined William & Mary since our founding 328 years ago.
As we grapple with the challenges of an ongoing world pandemic, the extraordinary efforts of earlier generations offer powerful reassurance. This university has weathered many trials in the past and used hardship to spur bold thinking. We have learned that we can do so now, too.
In that “can do” spirit, newly reminded of our ability to adapt to unforeseen challenges, William & Mary will roll out a five-year strategic plan this fall. Between now and 2026, we will build on the momentum of our best transformations under pandemic. I shared in my previous column the goals of this strategic plan. They are simple to describe yet ambitious: advance William & Mary’s distinctive excellence as a Public Ivy; create long-term financial stability to sustain our mission; raise our national and global profile.
William & Mary’s values statement, adopted in 2019, states compellingly: “We reflect on the lessons of history to meet the challenges of a rapidly changing world.” We draw on the power of sustained reflection in order to advance change that elevates what we value most. I look forward to the lessons of boldness, grit and positive transformation that the coming year will bring.