I write today about the matter of renaming T. C. Williams High School.
Our high school should be renamed and the rationale for such a change should not be up for debate. Flatly, the name must be changed.
In searching for a new name, we should be focused on recognizing someone in our community who embodies both character and integrity and someone who has served our community through years of dedicated commitment and humility. I believe such a person is Judge Nolan Dawkins who recently retired from the bench of the Alexandria Circuit Court.
I have known Judge Dawkins since our children were teammates on the youth soccer fields in Alexandria and later as classmates and teammates in high school. Like so many Alexandrians who have met through the activities of their youngsters, Nolan and I spent many hours discussing civic affairs while our girls toiled on the soccer pitch or on the basketball court.
Fortunately our friendship has lasted decades and I count myself lucky to have a friend such as Judge Dawkins. I can certainly attest to Judge Dawkins’ high intellect and character throughout the years of our friendship. What I believe is most striking about Judge Dawkins is his sense of right and wrong together with his ability to appreciate the differing perspectives of others be they friends, colleagues or citizens who have come before the court. I suppose these qualities are what have truly made him such a fine jurist.
Judge Dawkins grew up in Alexandria and was among the first students to have integrated George Washington High School. He graduated from GW in 1965. Having grown up in Alexandria Judge Dawkins returned to his hometown to raise his family and to serve our community.
In these years of a mobile society it is truly refreshing to see a person return to his hometown which has been so important to his life and upbringing and select it as a home for his growing family. But the commitment to Alexandria displayed by Nolan and his wife Lorraine did not end there as they did not view their residence as a passive existence but rather one of service.
After serving in the military and in Vietnam as an officer and graduating for Seton Hall University Law School, Nolan came home to Alexandria. He joined the City Attorney’s Office where he served with distinction until 1981 when he entered private practice as an attorney serving the legal needs of his fellow citizens. In 1994 Judge Dawkins was appointed to the bench of the Juvenile and Domestic Relations court becoming the first full-time African American judge in the city’s history. As a trailblazer, Judge Dawkins created one of Virginia’s first family drug court programs which focused more on rehabilitation and treatment as opposed to incarceration.
After serving 14 years on the Juvenile and Domestic Relations bench, Judge Dawkins was appointed by the General Assembly to the Alexandria Circuit Court where he served from 2008 until his recent retirement in June of this year.
I firmly believe all citizens of Alexandria would be proud to have our high school named in honor of Judge Nolan Dawkins. Certainly he is a hometown Alexandrian who has achieved a great deal, but he is also a person who was committed to serving his hometown and its citizens through decades as a distinguished jurist. And perhaps the greatest testament of his commitment to the City is that he and Lorraine entrusted his hometown of Alexandria to be the spot where they raised their three daughters.
Without reservation I strongly endorse and wholeheartedly recommend that our community rename our high school after Judge Nolan Dawkins. His commitment to fairness, to equity, to service and to community are the very qualities that should embody the Alexandria experience and the American experience. Future generations of Alexandria students will surely walk the halls of Nolan B. Dawkins High School with pride.
Kerry J. Donley
Former Mayor of Alexandria