“On the obverse, the front side, you are staring in the face of Mr. Jefferson and the illustrious University he founded. That’s where you were during your college days.
On the reverse, the back side, you are looking at Monticello,” he said. “That’s the manifestation of the life Mr. Jefferson had the vision, the creativity and the drive to create for himself. That’s where you’re headed – where you will be.”
The most important side, though, might be the nickel’s edge, Webb said.
“It’s completely unassuming, seemingly only a transition space from one side to the next. But when you stand that nickel up, or spin it around, you realize that there’s actually some substance there,” he said. “Today – in this moment – I want you to realize that you are standing on the edge of a nickel, and that there’s a lot of power and potential in that space.”
He offered graduates five pieces of advice for making their transitions successful – be authentic, find mentors, iterate, cross-pollinate and seek out diversity of thought, and lift as you climb – “reaching back and lifting someone up who is on the way up behind you.”
And, he said, remember.
“Remember how you walked onto these Grounds surrounded by complete strangers, but you left with new family members and lifelong friends,” he said, citing several friends and his wife, whom he met on Grounds. “Remember how you came in full of potential but walked out as scholars and innovators and activists and champions. Remember that this chapter of your life is closing, but this ceremony is called commencement because this just the beginning. Remember that you are just getting started.”
Following Webb’s address, Ryan welcomed Arts & Sciences Dean Ian Baucom to the podium to officially confer this year’s degrees.
Candidates for doctors of philosophy, master’s and bachelor’s degrees rose in groups, each roar louder than the last.
Ryan took the podium again, giving closing remarks and, in a sweet moment, requesting that the crowd give his daughter Phebe – who turned 13 Saturday – a birthday shout-out. Then, echoing Webb, he sent the Class of 2019 off with a final injunction to “remember what happened here.”
“When I say that, I’m not just talking about remembering a specific class you took or an event that happened, although I hope you do,” he said. “Instead, I want you to remember the feeling of being here, in this place, with these people, and to carry it with you.”
Remember, he said, how it felt to be surrounded by such diverse, talented and compassionate classmates, to explore, to learn and to do it all with your friends by your side.
“Remember what it felt like to build bridges, reaching out to get to know someone or someplace different, and how it ended up changing you,” he said. “Remember how it felt to serve others, and the satisfaction that came from devoting your time and energy to something bigger than yourself.
“If you remember all of this, I have no doubt that you will carry with you the very best of this place as you face, with courage and purpose, the road ahead, a road which will be, at various turns, be beautiful, tragic, joyous and challenging. And should that road ever lead you back to Charlottesville, please know that we will leave the lights on for you.”