Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III Will Be U.Va.'s Finals Speaker; Basketball Star Dawn Staley to Give Valedictory Address

March 10, 2009 — J. Harvie Wilkinson III, a University of Virginia Law School graduate and appeals court judge who has been on short lists for U.S. Supreme Court vacancies, will give the commencement address at the University of Virginia's 180th Final Exercises on May 17.  Wilkinson will speak on the Lawn following the traditional academic procession, which begins at 10 a.m.

Dawn Staley, a U.Va. alumna who went on to be an Olympian, WNBA all-star and head women's basketball coach at Temple University and the University of South Carolina, will give the valedictory address May 16 at 11 a.m. on the Lawn.

James Harvie Wilkinson III, 64, was born in New York City and raised in Richmond. After graduating from Yale and serving in the U.S. Army, he entered U.Va. as a law student. While in law school, he made history as the first student to be appointed to the University's Board of Visitors.

Following his clerkship for Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell – an experience he turned into a book – he returned to U.Va. as an associate law professor from 1973 to 1978.

Six years later – after working as editorial page editor of The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk) and deputy assistant attorney general in the Civil Rights Division in the U.S. Justice Department and returning once more as a faculty member to U.Va. – he was nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit by President Ronald Reagan.

Wilkinson has served on the court since 1984 and was its chief judge from 1996 to 2003. In 2004, he was honored with the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal in Law, the highest external honor bestowed by the University, which doesn't grant honorary degrees. The citation for that award noted that Wilkinson "is one of our own," as a Virginian, student, professor and scholar.

He has written four books: "Harry Byrd and The Changing Face of Virginia Politics, 1945-1966" (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1968); "Serving Justice: A Supreme Court Clerk's View" (New York: Charterhouse, 1974); "From Brown to Bakke: The Supreme Court and School Integration, 1954-1978" (Oxford University Press, 1993), and "One Nation Indivisible: How Ethnic Separatism Threatens America" (Addison Wesley Longman, 1997).

Dawn Staley, 38, widely considered to be the best woman basketball player to emerge from U.Va., is a 1992 graduate. While playing professionally for the WNBA's Charlotte Sting – a "summer job" as she called it – she began an eight-year run as head coach for the Temple University women's basketball team in her hometown of Philadelphia.

She founded the Dawn Staley Foundation in 1996 to help at-risk youth in Philadelphia. In 2004, Staley captured her third Olympic gold medal, playing for Team USA in Athens. And in 2006, U.Va.'s Women's Center chose her as that year's Distinguished Alumna.

Since May, she has been the women's head coach at the University of South Carolina. The Gamecocks finished the regular season with 10 wins and 17 losses and Staley pledging a turnaround in the coming seasons.

Receiving the Distinguished Alumna award, she noted her affection for the University.

"Of all my lifetime experiences, my time at the University of Virginia remains the most life-defining," Staley said. "I am forever grateful to U.Va. for exposing me to difference, providing the foundation for my quest for knowledge and helping to shape and channel my competitiveness, all of which have ultimately defined me in terms of how I see and participate in the world. 

"I am proud to have been associated with such a fine institution, and I can only hope that I have brought some pride to the university that I love."

For information on Finals Weekend, visit the Office of Major Events Web site.  Additional contacts are Pam Higgins, director of Major Events, at 434-982-3099 or apw6h@virginia.edu; Joy Arcangeli, graduation committee chair, 865-405-2408, and Christina Polenta, president of the class of 2009, 412-559-1839.