2021 in Photos: Re-emergence and Resilience

December 22, 2021 By Sanjay Suchak, sanjay@virginia.edu Sanjay Suchak, sanjay@virginia.edu

As we closed out 2020, we all hoped that the pandemic was going to slowly fade into the rear-view mirror. We know now, more than ever, that hope isn’t a strategy and far short of a guarantee. Despite vaccinations being available to all and our University of Virginia public health experts begging the community to get vaccinated, the pandemic is still with us as we close out 2021.

The cost of what COVID-19 has taken from the world and our community is immeasurable. Yet due to the flexibility, adaptation and hard work of faculty, staff and students, this year looked a little bit more normal. Piece-by-piece, we reclaimed traditions that had been sidelined and reconnected with our on-Grounds community.

While my photos in 2020 were largely of resilience and sacrifice, this year they are more focused on adaptation and adjustment to our new normal. Here some of the photos of moments which had a lasting impact and the stories behind them.

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The Memorial to Enslaved Laborers was unveiled last year, but it was always meant to be a work in progress. Space was left on the memorial for names that would be uncovered with further outreach and research. Shortly after the new year, the first new names were added to the memorial after their connection to UVA was discovered. In this photo, a stone carver blasts the name into the hard Virginia Mist granite with at a very high pressure. To get this photo, I cut a small slit into the containment tent and fired off a few pictures quickly before the very abrasive sand scratched the lens. Alas, I wasn’t quite fast enough to avoid some damage.
On the night of Jan. 6, UVA’s Center for Politics had a pre-arranged “Democracy Dialogue” planned for broadcast live from the Dome Room of the Rotunda. On that day, everything changed with the devastating attack on the U.S. Capitol and the attempt to reverse the result of the 2020 presidential election. Politics professor and center director Larry Sabato pivoted his plan and in real time helped all of us understand what was happening, speaking with members of Congress live from the Capitol even as they sheltered in place, waiting to finish the vote to certify the election. Everybody in the room felt the gravity of what happened that day and were trying their best to focus and make sense of a democracy in peril.
After years without a significant snowfall, a few inches of fresh snow finally blanketed UVA and the greater Charlottesville area.
We said goodbye to the stacks of Alderman library. The last bits came down in February to make room for the library’s expansion and renovation. Documenting renovations like this are some of my favorite assignments because you can see the transformation of a familiar place and the ingenuity that goes into designing a new space to blend with our historic University buildings. While we will all miss the stacks, seeing firsthand the changes happening to the library makes me very excited for what will be in their place.
Boxes stacked full of saliva samples from students, staff and faculty members sit in the walk-in refrigerator in the BeSafe lab, awaiting testing for COVID-19. At its peak, the lab was processing more than 3,500 samples a day with a small but dedicated team of scientists and lab technicians perfecting a technique for COVID testing that was designed at UVA. Their labors helped keep UVA open and safe.
The men’s and women’s basketball teams played the 2020-21 season without live fans. That didn’t mean the stands were empty, though. Fans had the opportunity to place a life-sized cardboard cutout of themselves, or sometimes their favorite pets, in the seats.
As the rate of vaccinations picked up, students from the schools of Nursing and Medicine stepped in to help vaccinate and take care of the community. At the vaccination center in the former Big Lots, Alyssa Gail, a nursing student, vaccinates Natalie Krovetz, a retired UVA Health nurse. Other students helped act as translators or registered those who came to get vaccinated. It was wonderful to see our students step up before they graduated to care for the community.
As spring crept in, the magnificent Yulan magnolia bloomed on a foggy March morning. The temperatures dropped the next day and the tree shed all the flowers. Sometimes the most beautiful things on Grounds are very temporary.
The Cavalier women’s swimming and diving team won its first NCAA Championship this year. President Jim Ryan showed up the Aquatics and Fitness Center to congratulate the champs, and immediately afterward, he and athletic director Carla Williams cannonballed into the pool to celebrate.
In April, the community finally held the pandemic-delayed formal dedication of the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers. Descendants and members of the community who helped move the monument forward stood in a circle to for a photo and honored their ancestors.
Classes were back in session in the spring, but some classes could not gather indoors. The University Singers had to get creative and sing in the garden to maintain social distancing and meet COVID safety requirements. A side effect of this was surprising those visiting Grounds with beautiful singing when they peered over the walls of the garden. Even during a very dark time, the U-Singers were an example to me of finding beauty in unexpected places.
The University’s Classes of 2020 and 2021 finally got to celebrate graduation in-person, spread over six ceremonies. Graduates processed down the Lawn, then walked to Scott Stadium and were seated, physically distanced, along with their families to wear the honors of Honor. The amount of work the entire UVA community put in to ensure that this graduation was special was incredible.
In July, the Dave Matthews Band set up shop inside the John Paul Jones Arena to rehearse for its first tour since 2019.
UVA removed the George Rogers Clark statue on the Corner, part of a nationwide trend toward re-evaluating the presence and meaning of public monuments.
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At the end of August, students were welcomed back to Grounds. New to Welcome Week programming this year was the 4th Side pep rally in Scott Stadium, where students were introduced to UVA Athletics and football and what it means to be part of the “4th Side.” This was the first major student event to occur since the pandemic without physical distancing; students were required to supply proof of vaccination before returning for the fall semester.
Students also were welcomed back with the traditional Opening Convocation on the Lawn. President Jim Ryan greeted the assembled first-year class in person for the first time in two years.
Students in James Cohoon’s “Introduction to Programming” course had an unusual assignment for their first day of class: Build a paper airplane – and throw it at your professor. As a photographer, I love visiting classes and seeing all of the ways that our faculty connect and make lessons interesting for students.
Fall color returned to Grounds with splendor after a lackluster year for autumn color last year. Often the best way to view fall color in the area is from the air.
The women’s rowing team practices on the Rivanna Reservoir late into the fall – even on cold, foggy mornings when the temperature hovers just above freezing. As a former collegiate rower, being invited to join the rowing teams for a practice is one of my favorite parts of this job.
In the annual rivalry at the end of November, UVA fell in a close game to Virginia Tech. This game would turn out to be head coach Bronco Mendenhall’s last home game before announcing his resignation. It was also the final game for someone with a longer tenure: Kim Kirschnick has ridden atop four different steeds named “Sabre” for 21 years at football games, graduations, orientations and other events as CavMan. As the second half started, Kirschnick rode out of the tunnel on Sabre for the last time. He has long been an important part of the gameday pageantry, and I know everyone at UVA wishes him well in his retirement.
After Thanksgiving, the last tree to turn color and shed its leaves is always the Pratt Ginkgo. This year, it shed its leaves in the first week of December, ushering in the winter season and the end of the year.

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Sanjay Suchak

Photographer Office of University Communications