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Va. Education Secretary Holton Speaks, Receives Honorary Degree at W&L

Virginia Secretary of Education Anne Holton advised Washington and Lee University seniors at their May 27 baccalaureate service to “live life optimistically, be on the lookout for opportunities, jump in vigorously, and don’t worry about who gets the credit.”

Holton, the guest speaker and recipient of an honorary doctor of laws degree, said she learned those lessons from her parents, former Virginia Gov. Linwood Holton, a Washington and Lee alumnus, and Virginia “Jinks” Holton, a former W&L trustee.

Holton said her father often awoke the family’s children in the morning by shouting, “Opportunity time, kids!” She continued, “He chooses optimism. That’s the secret of his success.”

She said she learned from her father always to be on the lookout for opportunities and to seize them, no matter the circumstances of the day. She recalled the unexpected court decision seven months into her father’s term that ordered Virginia to desegregate its public schools. Instead of following the lead of other Southern governors in leading massive resistance, Gov. Holton enforced desegregation and even sent his children to previously all-black Richmond public schools.

“Most importantly, what others may have seen as a stumbling block or a problem or at best a challenge to address in due time, a chance for a speech or two, my dad saw as an opportunity — an opportunity to live his values,” she explained.

On the personal level, she described the opportunity she and her husband, U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, discovered by visiting “a small, black Catholic church in Richmond shortly after moving there. Not many white people, after all, get the chance to experience what it means to live in the minority within a community. Over 30 years ago, we joined that church, and now it’s been our church home — we were married there, all our children were baptized there, we’ve heard a lifetime of great gospel music, we have fast friends from all walks of life.”

Holton told the W&L seniors to jump in vigorously like her mother, now 89, who in her early 80s was still swinging a hammer as a volunteer building Habitat for Humanity houses. And, she said, her mother never looks to take credit.

Holton said she could have adopted her father’s wake-up call, also the title of his memoir, “Opportunity Time,” to sum up her advice to the seniors. Instead, she paraphrased the lyrics of the popular song “I Hope You Dance,” by Mark Daniel Sanders and Tia Sillers.

“Graduates, I hope you dance. Welcome to your dance,” she concluded.

W&L President Kenneth P. Ruscio presented Holton with the honorary degree for being an advocate for children and families, a champion of quality education for all of Virginia’s citizens and an esteemed member of Washington and Lee’s extended family. “Your commitment to justice and opportunity for every person serves as a model for us all,” he said.