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.”