Classes of 2024, ’25 Welcomed With Sage Advice, Dad Jokes and ‘Ted Lasso’ Reference

August 22, 2021 By Jane Kelly, Jane Kelly,

In a history-making move, the University of Virginia held Opening Convocation ceremonies Sunday for two classes: UVA’s newest Class of 2025, and the Class of 2024, who did not get to enjoy the traditional welcome last year because of COVID-19

First came Opening Convocation for the Class of 2024, who gathered on the Lawn Sunday at 1 p.m. as a slight, intermittent breeze mercifully blew in the 90-degree heat, accented by 49% humidity – relatively low for summertime in Virginia.

Robyn Hadley, UVA’s new vice president and chief student affairs officer and a first generation student, welcomed the crowd of nearly 4,000 students. “This is going to be a great year and I feel fortunate to share this adventure with you today,” she said. “We are here to celebrate you. You started at UVA in the middle of a pandemic. Although it was a year of many losses, you prevailed and learned resilience.”

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President Jim Ryan walking down an aisle between people sitting
Acting Dean of Students Julie Carrucio, President Jim Ryan and Robyn Hadley, UVA’s new vice president and chief student affairs officer, arrive at the Opening Convocation ceremony for the Class of 2025.

Looking out onto the crowd, Hadley encouraged the students to reflect on where they were a year ago, as UVA’s only class to begin their college experience via videoconference, and to take comfort and courage from the fact that they prevailed.

“Fast-forward to today: You are here. We’re here. We made it. So, give yourselves a hand!” she said, drawing thunderous applause and cheers from the crowd.

“In the weeks and months ahead, when the road gets a little bumpy, if you should get some grades you’ve never seen before; if your roommate does something and you say to yourself, ‘Is that normal?’; look back on your photos and texts from today and tell yourself, ‘I can do this. I did more than a year of college on Zoom. I can do this!”

Interim Dean of Students Julie Caruccio then stepped to the lectern to offer her own remarks. “I’m so happy to welcome you to Grounds and invite you into one of the shared rituals of the University, Opening Convocation, followed by the honor induction,” in which students sign their names to a promise not to lie, cheat or steal.

Then it was UVA President Jim Ryan’s turn. As nearly everyone in the audience and in the platform party used their Opening Convocation programs as fans, Ryan mopped his forehead with his face mask. “It turns out these masks are good for wiping your forehead when it’s wicked hot,” he said to chuckles.

“I can’t begin to describe how happy I am to see all of you together and in 3-D,” he said. “I have been looking forward to having the chance to speak to the remarkable, historic and already unforgettable Class of 2024.

President Jim Ryan speaking at the Class of 2024 Convocation
President Ryan addresses students at the opening convocation.

“Convocation is normally the occasion to welcome brand-new students to the University, which some of you who studied remotely last year are. But most of you were here. To all of you, whether you were here or studying remotely, all I can say is thank you for your compassion, your grace, and your resilience last year.”

Ryan then threatened to “talk just briefly; just an hour, or an hour-and-a-half at most.”

The president, himself a first generation student, said he wanted to offer a reminder. “You belong here, each and every one of you. I hope you already feel that way,” he said. “But in case you have any doubt, know that our admissions office didn’t make a mistake and know that 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 or your political preferences. Whoever you are and wherever you’re from, you belong.”

Ryan encouraged students to be independent thinkers. “The essence of the university, its fundamental purpose, is both simple and profound. Universities exist to pursue the truth,” he said. “As Thomas Jefferson said about this particular university, ‘We are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it.’”

Ryan said “students play an important role, not just as recipients of this knowledge, but as creators. They too – which is to say, all of you – participate in the search for truth through questions in class that challenge conventional wisdom or open new avenues for discovery.”

Corgi being bet by a student during the opening convocation
Corgi Cosmo welcomes UVA’s newest class with aplomb.

Then came a reference to “Ted Lasso,” a sitcom headlined by Jason Sudeikis that’s about a small-time football coach who is hired to coach a pro soccer team in England, even though he has zero experience.

As the words “Ted Lasso” came out of Ryan’s mouth, a member of the Class of 2024 turned to her seatmate, her mouth dropped open in shock and delight, as if to wordlessly say “OMG!”

“A great way to begin what I hope will be a lifelong love affair with the truth is to follow the advice allegedly offered by Walt Whitman, but definitely amplified recently by the memorable and irresistibly charming character Ted Lasso of the television series by the same name,” he said.

The advice, Ryan said, is simple. “Be curious, not judgmental. If you remember nothing else from this speech … please remember this, as it will help you across the next three years and beyond: Be curious, not judgmental.”

Person signing a piece of paper that reads University of Virginia Honor Committee
Every student is required to sign UVA’s honor code.

Five hours later, it was the Class of 2025’s turn for Opening Convocation. The 3,919 first-year students (who are about 56% female) steadily made their way onto the Lawn for the 6 p.m. event. By then, the temperature had dropped to “only” 87 degrees.

The program was largely the same, with opening remarks from Hadley and an address from Ryan, followed by members of the Class of 2025 signing the honor code.

In his address to the Class of 2025, Ryan expressed the importance of talking civilly with those with whom your opinion differs and to understand that you don’t know what you don’t know.

“To be an empathetic speaker is to consider alternative perspectives and experiences before formulating or expressing your views,” he said. “To at least be aware of what you don’t know. 

“And to be a generous listener is to resist drawing quick conclusions or judgments about a person’s character because of a view articulated. It’s about not assuming the worst, and instead about first trying to understand why someone would hold or express a particular point of view.”

The University Singers stand on the steps of the Rotunda signing
The University Singers perform at each convocation.

Before closing, Ryan asked everyone in the audience to look to their left and to their right and the people sitting next to them. Then, he asked everyone to stand up and turn around three times.

There were murmurs and laughter as each member of the Class of 2025 slowly spun around three times. It was at this moment that Ryan shared something about himself – and that is that he loves pranks.

“OK, that is truly awesome, because that last part was just for fun. I love pranks. That’s not an invitation, by the way,” he said. “I wanted you to look at each other for the simple reason that this is your second family. This is who you can and will depend on; this is who will inspire and delight you; this is who will drive you crazy at times. But this is who will help you find the truth and shape the world if you let them, if you remain curious about them and nonjudgmental,” he said. “Thank you and welcome again to the University of Virginia.”

To read President Ryan’s full remarks, click here.

Media Contact

Jane Kelly

University News Senior Associate Office of University Communications