The good news: The annual late-August rite of students moving back to the University of Virginia’s Grounds was not conducted under a blazing hot sun, as is often the case.
The bad news: Many of those who moved in on Saturday, especially in the afternoon, were thoroughly soaked by a persistent rain.
The weather did little to dampen the enthusiasm of students beginning a new chapter of their lives – or to quell the emotions of parents who couldn’t help but mourn the closing of an old one.
The University welcomed its new students with official Greeters, who helped incoming first-years and their families empty their minivans and fill their new living quarters, and with official addresses by U.Va. President Teresa A. Sullivan and others.
Making the Move
On Friday afternoon, on the cusp of his final year at the University, Ben Elron helped a student move into the same room in Lefevre House where he’d lived as a first-year.
It was a little bittersweet. Aside from the normal emotion involved in revisiting the place where his college career started – Elron admitted to getting a bit choked up – there was also no ignoring the visible improvements.
“They painted it and put in some new blinds. I was actually a little jealous,” he joked.
Now at the beginning of his final year in the McIntire School of Commerce, Elron was one of a small army of official University Greeters in orange shirts who spent part of the weekend helping newly arrived students move in to the dorms.
He and his colleagues, organized by the University Programs Council, helped the new arrivals and their parents navigate Grounds, retrieve keys, find rooms and carry luggage.
Some tasks were easy. In one case, Elron helped newly arrived first-year student Will Bravante and his dad by carrying a cardboard box filled with household items like soap and Saran Wrap. Carrying a futon – about the biggest piece of furniture that would fit comfortably into the room – for another student was a little harder. He also helped a student and her family tote in about 40 dresses.
“There wasn’t enough room in the closet, so she ended up storing a bunch of them under the bed,” Elron said.
Bravante, who traveled to Charlottesville with his father from a small town outside of Fresno, Calif., said it was nice to find a helping hand and a friendly face. Bravante said he’d originally applied to U.Va. without knowing much about it, but said he was taken with the city and the University after visiting for Days on the Lawn.
“Remember, it’s also a top-notch academic institution,” said George Bravante, his dad.
A lot of emotions entwine with the scramble of move-in weekend. Some students are anxious, while others can’t wait to meet people and get started. Some parents have a tough time letting go. But a sense of community and of everyone starting out on the same page appealed to Elron.
“All students have a tendency to get in a bubble after a few years,” he said. “You find your friends and organizations and kind of settle in. Being a Greeter brings you back to the time when you first arrived, when everything and everybody was new and you were totally open.”
– by Rob Seal
Sullivan Welcomes Parents and Students
The Virginia Sil’hooettes warmed up the crowd of parents and first-year students in Old Cabell Hall on Saturday afternoon in anticipation of President Sullivan’s welcoming remarks.
Fact is, Sullivan required no warm-up act.
When she walked onto the stage, the audience broke into loud applause and a few hoots and hollers, and finally a standing ovation. Head down slightly, but with a broad smile, Sullivan raised her arms to quiet the unexpected welcome.
“I guess you know who I am,” she quipped, a clear reference to her dismissal and reinstatement earlier in the summer.
Sullivan launched into lively remarks that ranged from intentionally silly – she held out a box of Kleenex for parents who might not make it through the weekend without a few tears – to deeply serious when she talked about mental health issues, safety and security, and the solemnity of the honor pledge that students would sign Sunday night.
It was Sullivan the president and Sullivan the parent talking from long personal experience as both an academic and a mother.
There was knowing laughter and hugs between parents and their children when she did a riff on comedian Jeff Foxworthy’s signature “You know you’re a redneck if …” routine, replacing “redneck” with “helicopter parent.” On Sullivan’s list: “You might be a helicopter parent if you’re shopping for a new vacation home within 500 yards of the Rotunda!”
Turning serious, she advised, “Let your child grow. Allow room for mistakes, because those mistakes become life lessons. And those life lessons become the foundation of experience and awareness in the adult who will soon emerge before your eyes.”
Before opening a Q&A session at the end of her remarks, Sullivan said she would save the audience the trouble of asking about the summer’s “controversy” and address it directly.
“What happened here was unique,” she said, “but the issues that surfaced during the controversy are not unique. They are the same issues facing nearly every university in America, especially the public universities” – listing the erosion of state and federal funding, the sharpened focus on efficiency and productivity, and the question of how to use emerging technologies appropriately as key risks and opportunities.
Despite what happened, the University remains one of the strongest, best managed and most affordable universities in the country, she said. These were some of the reasons that first drew her to U.Va. and the same ones that caused her to return as president, she said.
“I decided to stay here for the same reason that your students decided to choose U.Va. over other colleges and universities across the nation: because U.Va. is a great university, and we know it has the potential to become even greater.
“That potential – high promise for the future – is embodied in the sons and daughter you brought here this weekend.”
– by Carol Wood
Safety and Honor the Focuses at Convocation
Heavy clouds blotted the sky for much of Sunday, but by the time the members of the Class of 2016 had settled into their chairs on the Lawn, brilliant light from an early evening sun reflected off of the Rotunda's columns.
The Opening Convocation and Honor Induction serves annually as one of the signature events designed to welcome students to Grounds during their first weekend at the University. President Sullivan reminded the first-years – a class of nearly 3,400 – and transfer students that the day serves as just the beginning of a student journey that will include learning, sharing, researching, volunteering and giving.
“In a sense, Thomas Jefferson has been expecting you,” she said. “Nearly 200 years ago, he said that he wanted students at this University to go on to ‘destinies of high promise.’ You, the members of the Class of 2016, are well on your way to fulfilling those destinies of high promise.”
The Lawn was alive with fresh faces, sundresses, bowties, khaki shorts and Ray-Bans. Sullivan urged the students to join clubs and to look out for one another – and to resist the urge to climb up the scaffolding to the top of the Rotunda, which is undergoing repairs. Already, the University has increased security around the building as the skeleton of metal poles has proven too irresistible for some.
“Among the many wonderful recreational facilities at U.Va., we have a climbing wall at the Outdoor Recreation Center on Emmet Street,” Sullivan said, drawing chuckles. “If you have the urge to climb, do it there and stay off the Rotunda scaffolding.”
She warned that trespassers will receive a warning the first time, but a second violation will result in arrest.
U.Va.’s Honor System took center stage after Sullivan’s speech. Fourth-year Stephen Nash, chair of the University Honor Committee, urged the new students to use the Honor System as a foundation that guides their behavior and decision-making. Following the pledge by vowing not to lie, cheat or steal is not enough, he said; living in a true “community of trust” requires more. The Honor System is “the promise to be absolute in our commitment to do what is right.”
“The only thing that can weaken the self-governed walls of our community of trust is student apathy from within,” Nash said.
In the keynote address, alumna Glynn D. Key (College ’86, Law ’89), former Honor chair and until this summer a member of the Board of Visitors, welcomed the first-years and transfer students to that community and challenged them to carry its banner forward.
“The University's community of trust is going to live if the Class of 2016 is committed to its longevity,” she said, “if the Class of 2016 has the foresight and the strength of character to recognize that their modern world can be, must be, a community of trust.”
After the speeches, the students headed to tables aligned at the edge of the Lawn to sign their honor pledges, then streamed together across Grounds to a welcome reception hosted by Sullivan at Carr's Hill.
– by McGregor McCance