University of Virginia Prepares for 2009 Graduation Weekend, May 16-17

J. Harvie Wilkinson III headshot

J. Harvie Wilkinson III

UPDATED May 15, 2009 — Between 30,000 and 35,000 people are expected to descend upon the University of Virginia Grounds on May 16 and 17 for graduation weekend.

J. Harvie Wilkinson III, a University of Virginia Law School graduate and appeals court judge who has been on short lists for U.S. Supreme Court vacancies, will give the commencement address at U.Va.'s 180th Final Exercises on Sunday. Wilkinson will speak on the Lawn following the traditional academic procession, which begins at 10 a.m.

Dawn Staley, a U.Va. alumna who went on to be an Olympian, WNBA all-star and head women's basketball coach at Temple University and the University of South Carolina, will give the valedictory address Saturday at 11 a.m. on the Lawn.

Other public events, all on Saturday:

• The School of Nursing Hooding Ceremony, 1 p.m., McLeod Hall Auditorium.

• The Curry School of Education Hooding Ceremony, 2 p.m., Culbreth Theatre.

• Commissioning Exercises for Army, Marines, Navy and Air Force ROTC candidates, 3 p.m., Old Cabell Hall Auditorium.

• The School of Nursing Pinning Ceremony, 6 p.m., Old Cabell Hall Auditorium.

• The Virginia Glee Club Finals Concert, 9:30 p.m., Old Cabell Hall Auditorium. Degree candidates admitted free (ticket is required); for others: general admission $15, students $5. Tickets available at Mincer's, Newcomb Hall Ticket Office at 924-7314 (through May 15) and the door.

For information on Finals Weekend, visit  


James Harvie Wilkinson III, 64, was born in New York City and raised in Richmond. After graduating from Yale and serving in the U.S. Army, he entered U.Va. as a law student. He was the first student to be appointed to the University's Board of Visitors.

Following his clerkship for Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell – an experience he turned into a book – he returned to U.Va. as an associate law professor from 1973 to 1978.

Six years later, after working as editorial page editor of The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk) and deputy assistant attorney general in the Civil Rights Division in the U.S. Justice Department and returning once more as a faculty member to U.Va., he was nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit by President Ronald Reagan.

Wilkinson has served on the court since 1984 and was its chief judge from 1996 to 2003. In 2004, he was honored with the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal in Law, the highest external honor bestowed by the University, which doesn't grant honorary degrees.

He has written four books: "Harry Byrd and The Changing Face of Virginia Politics, 1945-1966" (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1968); "Serving Justice: A Supreme Court Clerk's View" (New York: Charterhouse, 1974); "From Brown to Bakke: The Supreme Court and School Integration, 1954-1978" (Oxford University Press, 1993); and "One Nation Indivisible: How Ethnic Separatism Threatens America" (Addison Wesley Longman, 1997).

Dawn Staley, 38, widely considered to be the best woman basketball player to emerge from U.Va., is a 1992 graduate. While playing professionally for the WNBA's Charlotte Sting – a "summer job" as she called it – she began an eight-year run as head coach for the Temple University women's basketball team in her hometown of Philadelphia.

She founded the Dawn Staley Foundation in 1996 to help at-risk youth in Philadelphia. In 2004, Staley captured her third Olympic gold medal, playing for Team USA in Athens. And in 2006, the U.Va. Women's Center chose her as that year's Distinguished Alumna.

Since May 2008, she has been the women's head coach at the University of South Carolina. The Gamecocks finished the regular season with 10 wins and 17 losses and Staley pledging a turnaround in the coming seasons.

Receiving the Distinguished Alumna award, she noted her affection for the University.

"Of all my lifetime experiences, my time at the University of Virginia remains the most life-defining," Staley said. "I am forever grateful to U.Va. for exposing me to difference, providing the foundation for my quest for knowledge and helping to shape and channel my competitiveness, all of which have ultimately defined me in terms of how I see and participate in the world.

"I am proud to have been associated with such a fine institution, and I can only hope that I have brought some pride to the University that I love."

Inclement Weather

If the inclement- or severe-weather plan is followed for Valedictory Exercises or Final Exercises, announcements will be made no later than 8 a.m. on local radio stations and the University's home page. If in doubt, call 434-924-SNOW, 434-243-SNOW or the graduation information line, 434-982-2908.

In the case of inclement or severe weather on Saturday, Valedictory Exercises will be moved from the Lawn to the John Paul Jones Arena.

For Sunday, the severe-weather plan will be followed only in case of thunder, lightning, high winds or other conditions that make it unsafe to hold ceremonies outside. Rain alone does not constitute severe weather.

Depending upon the weather, the University may decide to hold Final Exercises on the Lawn as planned, but move diploma ceremonies inside. Under this plan, faculty and students and their guests will go to the inclement weather sites designated on the "Diploma Ceremony Locations" chart[link to:] for diploma distribution.

If the weather is severe, there will be a central convocation in the John Paul Jones Arena for the College of Arts & Sciences and the schools of Architecture, Commerce, Continuing and Professional Studies, Education, Leadership and Public Policy, and Nursing.

In that event, faculty and students should arrive at the arena by 9:30 a.m. Graduating students will be seated on the main floor of the arena. Only guests with tickets will be allowed entry into the arena. A limited procession (faculty and the president's party only) will begin promptly at 10 a.m. Faculty should be assembled no later than 9:45 a.m. in the Courtside Club, located on the lower level of the arena.

Faculty and students of Darden, Engineering, Law and Medicine and their guests will go to the severe-weather sites[link to:] designated on the Diploma Ceremony Locations chart for both degree conferral and diploma distribution. Faculty and students should plan to arrive at rain sites 30 minutes prior to the start of their respective ceremony.

Alcohol is not permitted at any of these locations.

Live Web

A live webcast of the commencement is available on the University of Virginia's Web site[link to:].


Weekend Parking: Free parking will be available at the Emmet/Ivy parking garage (near the Cavalier Inn) beginning May 15 and continuing throughout the weekend. Shuttle bus service will not be available from the garage.

Saturday: To accommodate graduates and guests attending Valedictory Exercises, bus service will run from University Hall and Scott Stadium to Central Grounds from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Sunday: Public parking on Central Grounds will be suspended. Graduates and guests attending Sunday's ceremonies are urged to park at the Emmet/Ivy garage and walk to Central Grounds, or to park at Scott Stadium or University Hall and take a free shuttle bus to the Lawn area. Bus service will begin at 7 a.m. and run continuously throughout the day. Prior to the Lawn ceremony, buses will stop on McCormick Road near the University Chapel. After Final Exercises, buses will run from the Chapel to University Hall and Scott Stadium.

The Central Grounds parking garage, on Emmet Street below the U.Va. Bookstore, will offer limited spaces on Sunday for a $5 fee, payable upon entering the garage. No bus service will be available from the Central Grounds garage.

For guests attending diploma ceremonies near the Chemistry Building, Gilmer Hall, Kent House Lawn, Ruffner Hall, Thornton Hall and other buildings in that vicinity, bus service will be available from McCormick Road near the McCormick Road residence area to University Hall and Scott Stadium beginning at noon.

For people attending diploma ceremonies on North Grounds — the Darden School, Law School and North Grounds Recreation Center — buses will run to University Hall and Scott Stadium until the diploma ceremonies conclude at approximately 5:30 p.m.

By the Numbers

History of commencements
•     2009 marks the 180th year that Final Exercises (U.Va.'s traditional way of describing commencement) have been held at the University of Virginia.

Degrees being awarded (as of Friday)

•     3,567 baccalaureate (56 of these were earned in three years, two in two years);
•     549 first-professional degrees
•     2,164 graduate degrees, including 330 Ph.D.'s, 21 Doctor of Education degrees, one Doctor of Juridical Science degree and nine Doctor of Nursing Practice degrees
•     678 degrees awarded to international students
•     Total number of degrees awarded to the Class of 2009: 6,280

Oldest degree-earner

•     Undergraduate: James Garland Cecil, 67, earned a bachelor's degree in interdisciplinary studies from the School of Continuing and Professional Studies, spring 2009.
•    Graduate: Robert Jarrett Guerin, who turned 68 on May 15, earned a degree in special education, summer 2008.

Youngest degree-earner
• Undergraduate: Neal Patrick Fox, 19 (born Aug. 3, 1989), completed the requirements for an interdisciplinary degree in cognitive science in spring 2009.

Degrees by gender
•     Total female: 3,369 (53.6 percent); bachelor's, 56.1 percent; master's, 53.7 percent; education specialist, 69.6 percent; Ph.D., 46 percent; law, 38.8 percent; M.D., 45.1 percent.
•     Total male: 2,911 (46.4 percent); bachelor's, 43.9 percent; master's, 46.3 percent; education specialist, 30.4 percent; Ph.D., 54 percent; law 61.2 percent; M.D., 54.9 percent.

Most degrees by state

•     Virginia 3,795
•     New York 189
•     Maryland 160
•     Pennsylvania 136
•     New Jersey 120
•    California 113

Most degrees by nation
•     United States 5,602
•     China 113
•     India 92
•     South Korea 82
•     Canada 27

Degrees by school
•     Basic Sciences (interdisciplinary): 88 (50 master's, 38 doctorates)
•     College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences: 2,906 (2,479 bachelor's, 265 master's, 162 doctorates)
•     Curry School of Education: 702 (40 bachelor's, 514 master's, 69 education specialists, 79 doctorates)
•     Darden Graduate School of Business Administration: 383 (380 master's, three doctorates)
•     McIntire School of Commerce: 499 (326 bachelor's, 173 master's)
•     School of Architecture: 187 (105 bachelor's, 79 master's, three doctorates)
•     School of Continuing and Professional Studies: 49 (all bachelor's)
•     School of Engineering and Applied Science: 672 (451 bachelor's, 158 master's, 63 doctorates)
•     School of Law: 439 (31 master's, 407 J.D., one doctorate)
•     School of Medicine: 142 (all M.D.)
•     School of Nursing: 213 (117 bachelor's, 84 master's, 12 doctorates)

Most popular undergraduate degrees
•     Commerce (326)
•     History (301)
•     Psychology (291)
•     Economics (283)
•     Biology (260)
•     Foreign Affairs (255)
•     English (236)

Miscellaneous Finals numbers
•   Chairs: For about 6,000 graduates, their families and guests, approximately 45,000 chairs at 50 sites, including 20,000 on the Lawn, are set up for Finals Weekend. About 21,000 chairs are used for the individual school ceremonies the follow the main ceremony, held on the Lawn.
•  Food: U.Va. Catering operates food stands and caters several events on the Sunday of Finals Weekend; this year, they plan to serve 500 pounds of hot dogs, 17,000 petite gourmet cookies, 4,000 bakeshop cookies, 500 jumbo cookies, 2,500 brownies, 400 gallons of lemonade, 200 gallons of iced tea, 4,000 bottles of water, and 400 pounds each of pineapple, cantaloupe, honeydew melon and strawberries.
•  Stages: Workers install 12 stages of various sizes around Grounds and furnish them with podiums, tables, stairs, ramps or lifts, skirting, rails and sound systems.
• Wire: A quarter-mile of electric wire is used to power monitors and speakers. A half-mile of speaker cable is used to connect speakers.
• Grass: About 2,000 pounds of grass seed are sown on the Lawn starting in early spring in preparation for the University's Finals Weekend.
• Tents: Around 18 tents are set up for information booths, food tents and other functions.
• Workers: Around 140 Facilities Management employees are deployed on the day of graduation. Around 200 Facilities Management employees are involved in the preparation for Finals Weekend, which includes everything from set-up to take-down.
• TV screens: Two Jumbotron television monitors are set up on the Lawn.

Media passes are issued from U.Va.'s Office of Public Affairs, 400 Ray C. Hunt Dr., in Fontaine Research Park. Communicate the number of press passes you will need and the names of the reporters to Penney Catlett via e-mail at or via phone at 434-924-7620.

A video feed of Finals Exercises highlights is available at the following coordinates:

Galaxy 3C transponder 21
C-band analog
Downlink frequency 4120 Horizontal
Standard audio 6.2 / 6.8
Time: 4-4:30 p.m.
Sunday May 17, 2009

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