At Fourth-Year Dinner, President Invites Students To Be 'Problem-Solvers'

May 1, 2012 — Approximately 150 members of the University of Virginia's Class of 2012 reminisced about their four years on Grounds and peeked toward the future Monday night at a formal dinner hosted by President Teresa A. Sullivan and organized by the Fourth-Year Trustees.

Speaking after the dinner, held at Carr's Hill, Sullivan encouraged the students to store away as many moments as possible during their final days as undergraduates.

"Set aside the apprehension you're feeling about the future and enjoy the next few weeks as fully as possible," she said.

Sullivan acknowledged the tough economic times the country has suffered while the Class of 2012 has been enrolled at U.Va., as well as the economic, social and political issues the students will face in the near future.

"Think of it like this," she challenged them. "The future is a problem waiting to be solved, and you are problem-solvers."

She told them they have spent the past four years cultivating unique and powerful traits that will help them succeed in the future. She said they have expansive knowledge, the capability to listen and understand other points of views and the capacity to participate in an open discourse.

"These are qualities the country needs today," she said. "You're arriving just in time."

Sullivan concluded by encouraging the fourth-years to stay connected with U.Va. as alumni. "Just as your future is bright, the University's future is bright," she said. "We want you to be a part of it."

After Sullivan's address, students were given the opportunity to ask her questions.

One student asked about the transition of new Provost and Executive Vice President John Simon to U.Va. Sullivan responded by saying that after she met Simon, she came home and said to her husband, "Now I can die." While that alarmed her husband, Sullivan quipped, she explained her reasoning – she was relieved to know that Simon could lead U.Va. to success even if she were not around.

Other students asked Sullivan her favorite part about U.Va. (the four seasons, she said) and about the international community at U.Va. Sullivan said she hopes to expand the number of study-abroad opportunities and encourage more students to take advantage of them. Students need international experience in order to be properly prepared to work and thrive in the 21st century, she said.

Earlier, as they mingled before dinner, students shared with Sullivan and their classmates stories about their time at U.Va. and plans for the future.

Christy Steirhoff, a foreign affairs major in the College of Arts & Sciences from the Hampton Roads area, plans to teach English in India for a year, then attend law school. Ultimately, she hopes to pursue international or human rights law, specifically in regard to human trafficking in India. She dreams of opening a women's center in India to help those affected by human trafficking or prostitution and educate abused women so they can eventually have careers.

Her interest in India stems from a South Asian studies course she took as a first-year student, during which she said she "fell in love with India."

John David Quate, an American studies major in the College with a concentration in popular culture and society, transferred to U.Va. from Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla., before his third year. Quate, who is from Virginia Beach, recalled visiting U.Va. for a football game during his freshman year at Rollins. U.Va.'s school spirit and long-held traditions made an impression.

"It's hard not to fall in love with this place," said Quate, who will complete two final courses this summer for his degree, after which he will pursue a position at a New York City-based travel magazine.

New York City native Agnes Pyrchla, a fourth-year student in the McIntire School of Commerce, said she'll most miss U.Va.'s sense of community. Charlottesville fosters an atmosphere where you know everyone around you cares about you, she said. In addition to the opportunity to spend an evening with the president, it's one of the reasons she signed up for the dinner – Pyrcha said she came to meet other fourth-years she had yet to meet.

Before starting her job a business consultant with Accenture in New York this fall, Pyrchla plans to take a cross-country road trip.

Fourth-year systems engineering major Bill Palombi, who organized the dinner, said that hearing Sullivan speak is always interesting, because it helps students gain insight into what the president is like as a leader and how her leadership reflects on U.Va.

Events like the dinner also help fourth-years contemplate the mark they are leaving on the University and gain a sense of closure before they graduate, and to connect to one other, Palombi said.

It's important to have an idea of who the future "stewards of the University will be," he said.

– by Kate Colwell and Lisa Littman