University of Virginia President Teresa A. Sullivan conferred intermediate honors on 414 third-year students and presented Thomas Jefferson Awards to A.E. Dick Howard and Gordon Stewart at the annual Fall Convocation ceremonies at John Paul Jones Arena Friday afternoon.
In presenting the honors, Sullivan invoked University founder Thomas Jefferson and U.Va.’s heritage of educational excellence.
“One hundred ninety-four years after the University’s founding, we affirm Mr. Jefferson’s faith in the potential of education to advance the human condition,” Sullivan said. “Today we acknowledge publicly that our students are agents of justice, democracy and positive change. With their talents and their education, they can be relied on to set things right in the world.”
The deans of the College of Arts & Sciences and the schools of Architecture, Education, Engineering and Applied Science and Nursing presented the Intermediate Honors candidates in their disciplines and Sullivan conferred the honors upon them.
Intermediate Honors are awarded at the beginning of the third undergraduate year to students who are in the top 20 percent of their class while carrying a full course load during their first four semesters at the University.
“It is a recognition of significant academic achievement, and I, along with the faculty, share their parents’ pride in what these students have accomplished,” Sullivan said.
After presenting the student honors, Sullivan announced the Thomas Jefferson Awards, one to law professor Howard for scholarship and one to German professor Stewart for service to the community, particularly his work as an association dean.
“I wish all of my students could be here to see this, because no man is a prophet in his own classroom,” said Howard in accepting the award.
Howard, who has been on the faculty for nearly 50 years, said he did not dream when he started teaching at the Law School from which he graduated that so many years would pass and he would still be there.
“I have done so many wonderful professional things in my life, but nothing gives me the same pleasure I get from teaching,” he said.
Stewart said he was “unbelievably humbled” by the award. In his more than 40 years on the faculty, Stewart said his wife has worked at U.Va., his children have been students here and his family has become part of the fabric of the University.
“I accept this award on behalf of all of us who still care about the essence of this place,” he said
In her keynote address, Dorrie Fontaine, dean of the School of Nursing, advised the students to pause in their lives and be more aware of what is around them.
“Today is a wonderful celebration,” she said. “A recognition of you, students, and your achievements at this moment in time. This is surely a time to pause. A time to celebrate. We don’t pause often enough in our busy lives.”
Fontaine, Sadie Heath Cabaniss Professor of Nursing and associate chief nursing officer for the U.Va. Health System, cited the “power of pause” and the wisdom that comes from brief, mindful breaks. By pausing in their busy lives, she said the students may become more grounded.
She lamented the distractions of modern technology, noting that students frequently have up to four screens running on their computers simultaneously while they are working or trying to write a paper, and that people in meetings are constantly consulting their mobile telephones.
“Is today’s life such that the present moment is so not interesting that we need extra stimulation from elsewhere?” Fontaine said. “Decades-old research suggests that all this multi-tasking is actually not good for us and ‘fatigues the brain,’ even though many perceive they are accomplishing much. Scientific studies on multi-tasking indicate that carrying on several activities at once may, in fact, reduce productivity, not increase it.”
Distractibility can increase stress; she cited an initiative in the School of Nursing and at the Medical Center in which doctors and nurses take a pause after a traumatic event, such as the death of a patient.
“It seems simple, but with powerful results,” Fontaine said. “Being fully present, paying attention. This is how we hope to change our culture, to create resilient nurses, physicians and all colleagues who can better care for themselves so they can care for others with compassion and strength.
“Not only nurses and physicians wish to pause and reflect,” she said. “Students and faculty across schools are actually coming to their senses, so to speak, and realizing they are missing something in these hectic lives.”
Fontaine cited author Shawn Achor, who maintains that success flows from happiness, not the other way around.
“Happy people find success,” Fontaine said. “Happiness fuels success. And contemplative practices that I define here can lead to increased well-being and happiness.”
Fontaine described to the students the work being done at the Contemplative Sciences Center, by faculty members on Grounds and in the Medical Center, with practices that go beyond just pausing.
Yoga and t’ai chi programs are available, professors in different schools are incorporating contemplative practices in their courses and a popular meditation class soon will be offered online.
“In a unique way, the center pulls the 11 schools together with students who are truly looking for ways to de-stress, be more reflective, pay attention and create more meaning, even wisdom, in their lives,” Fontaine said. “Faculty, a few in every school, have found each other and have been working quietly on studying and fostering contemplative practices, sometimes for many years.”
She said the Contemplative Sciences Center will focus on five areas – health and well-being; education and learning; design and place; professions and performance; and culture and wisdom.
She framed her advice to students in three “C”s: consider a contemplative practice; carve out time for gratitude, and cultivate a practice of kindness towards others and yourself.
“I always say to my students, ‘What do people see when they see you?’” Fontaine said. “Someone distracted and rushing, closed-minded and judgmental, maybe chronically unhappy? Or someone who is kind, compassionate, calm, and able to serve others with love? Yes, I mean real love. For each of you here today, I hope it is the latter, and I will stand ready to cheer you on in all your progress.”
The ceremony opened with an ROTC color guard that stood at attention while the crowd recited the Pledge of Allegiance and two-dozen black-suited, black-bow-tied members of the Virginia Glee Club sang the national anthem. As the honorees processed into the hall, wearing black robes and mortarboards, their family members hoisted cameras aloft from their seats to get photographs. Gweneth L. West, a drama professor in the College of Arts & Sciences, led the academic procession.
The convocation was followed by the ring ceremony for the class of 2015. The speaker was Rick Carlisle, head coach of the National Basketball Association’s Dallas Mavericks. Carlisle graduated from U.Va. in 1984 and was co-captain of the Cavalier men’s basketball team when it played in the 1984 Final Four.