Class of 2024 Welcomed at Virtual Opening Convocation Ceremony

August 23, 2020 By Jane Kelly, Jane Kelly,

The crystalline voices of the University of Virginia’s premier University Singers delivered an operatic rendition of “Hail Virginia” on Sunday evening, as the group does every year at Opening Convocation, the traditional start of the academic year.

Except this year is, of course, different. Instead of their voices echoing on the historic Lawn, students scattered around the world listened to the music through personal speakers. Like many events in the era of COVID-19, the University’s annual welcoming ceremony was held online.

“Good evening. I’m Allen Groves, dean of students for all schools of the University, and I get to be the first person to say to you, ‘Welcome to Hooville,’ otherwise known as UVA,” Groves smiled from video screens, speaking alone on the Lawn with the Rotunda in the background.

“COVID-19 has upended many of our traditions and plans. But this doesn’t alter in any way the fact that you are starting what I hope will be one of the most memorable journeys in your life,” he continued.

The dean said all of the new students are joining “one of the most fervently loyal alumni networks in the country. … I’m very happy to have you joining us this fall.”

UVA President Jim Ryan then took to the podium. “On behalf of the entire community here, I would like to welcome you, the Class of 2024, to one of the finest universities in the world,” he said. Ryan said this will not be an ordinary year, coming after most of the incoming first-year class missed formal graduations or proms and completed their high school degrees online. “For all that you’ve missed and given up, I am truly sorry.”

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Ryan told students, “You all belong here. I don’t mean by this that you need to be here physically. I mean you all belong as members of this community,” he said. “You deserve to be a part of this community. I say this as someone who is a first-generation college student, as more than one in 10 of you are now. But this is a message for all of you.”

Ryan told new students they are entering “an incredibly caring community.”

“The faculty, staff and your fellow students will care not only about how you do in the classroom, but how you do outside of the classroom, as well. They’ll care about this whether you’re here in person or online,” he said. “So please understand this. You belong here. It doesn’t matter where you’re from, the color of your hair or the color of your skin, your gender, your sexual orientation, your religion, whoever you are and wherever you’re from. You belong.”

Ryan offered a piece of advice. “When in doubt, build a bridge. I don’t mean this literally, except maybe for students in the Architecture and Engineering schools,” he joked. “I mean: Make a connection and engage.

“I encourage you to make an effort to reach out and get to know someone who comes from a different background or looks different than you do or who took a different road to get here,” he said. And don’t forget to forge relationships “with our amazing faculty.”

“UVA has a well-earned reputation as a place where faculty genuinely care about their students and about teaching,” he said. “So, engage while you’re in class and go to office hours if and when you can, whether virtual or live.”

Ryan also urged the class to engage with the larger Charlottesville community, perhaps by volunteering through Madison House, the volunteer center for students at UVA. “UVA is your immediate home. But UVA sits within a larger community. And if you get involved in that community, I predict you’ll gain as much as you give,” he said. “When in doubt, build a bridge.”

University of Virginia Virtual Convocation 2020

Of course, he said, living during a pandemic will make that challenging. That means some bridges will have to wait to be built until the entire UVA community is on Grounds in person, he said. “But you can absolutely begin now, no matter where you are,” he said. “And in fact, with the pandemic making everyone feel a little bit more isolated, it’s going to be even more important than ever to reach out and create new connections.”

Ryan said the next time the Class of 2024 gathers as a group, “hopefully in person,” will be in four years’ time, at graduation. “All of you, all of us will be different people then, shaped by the choices we make over the next few months and the next few years. I hope you choose to build bridges,” he said in conclusion.

Student Council President Ellen Yates spoke next, urging students to embrace uncertainty and to “know that we are here to support you, to listen to you and to stand alongside you.

“This year may indeed be an uncertain one, but I want to impress upon you that you will never be alone in this unpredictability,” she said. “You are joining a community of people with a wide variety of passions and a fierce love for their school and the students who comprise it.”

Tre Tennyson, who chairs the Graduate and Professional Council, talked about the special community at UVA. “You are now entering a very special place at a very special time,” he said. “And I’m excited to see how you will uplift, transform and grant us the benefit of your wisdom and good nature.”

Ryan Keane, the chair of the Honor Committee, and Gabby Cox, chair of the University Judiciary Committee, both said they were excited to welcome new students at UVA. Keane said while everyone at UVA is different, “Honor brings us together. This shared accord that we will hold ourselves to a higher standard even in the face of adversity” is the glue that will bind the UVA community.

Cox told students that in addition to adjudicating UVA’S 12 standards of conduct, this year the University Judiciary Committee is charged with also adjudicating COVID-19 policy violations, “which are classified as any act that violates local, state, federal and or University guidelines,” she said. “One purpose of UVA is to promote a community bound together by foundational values of honor, integrity, trust and respect. Class of 2024, use your voice to push for equitable change in an environment you are unsatisfied with.”

The Class of 2024 numbers about 4,000 students. There are just over 2,500 new graduate and professional students.

Opening Convocation was capped by another performance by the University Singers, singing a rousing rendition of “The Good Old Song.” Typically, following remarks, new students sign an honor pledge to not lie, cheat or steal while enrolled at UVA. In coming days, administrators will notify students of alternate plans to make this pledge.

Media Contact

Jane Kelly

University News Senior Associate Office of University Communications