President Jim Ryan’s Graduation Address to the Class of 2023

May 21, 2023
President Ryan at the podium addressing the graduates

UVA President Jim Ryan said he admired the Class of 2023 for overcoming the challenges of a pandemic and helping each other through November tragedy that took the lives of students Devin Chandler, D’Sean Perry and Lavel Davis Jr. “Remember, because of this, that you can do hard things, together,” he said.

Mr. Rector, members of the Board of Visitors, students, colleagues, family, friends – welcome to Final Exercises.

My name is Jim Ryan, and in addition to being the president of UVA, I am your host for today’s ceremony, and I will also officially award the degrees.

Today marks the end of the 194th academic session, and we are here to celebrate and confer degrees on students from 11 of the University’s schools, as we did yesterday for the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.

I would like to acknowledge graduating members of the women’s golf team and the men’s tennis team, who can’t be here today because they are competing on the road in NCAA championships. [Note: In similar remarks Saturday, Ryan noted the absence of the men’s tennis, men’s lacrosse and baseball teams, who also competed away from Grounds.]

Let me also offer some thanks.

First, our music today is provided by the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command Band from Fort Eustis, Virginia, under the direction of Major Dae Kim. Please join me in a round of applause for them, as well as for the members of our ROTC programs representing the United States Army, Navy, Air Force and Space Force, who presented the colors.

I would also like to offer a huge thanks to our talented staff who work hard all year, and then put in tremendous effort to make our Grounds look especially beautiful for this weekend and to make this ceremony special for all of you. Particular thanks are due to Cecil Banks, our director of major events, and his team. And I’d like to thank our outstanding faculty, who have served not simply as teachers and colleagues, but also as mentors and friends. Please join me in giving our staff and faculty a big round of applause.

I’d like to take a moment to congratulate and thank all the parents and grandparents, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, family and friends in the audience today. Together, you have supported our students – your students – in countless ways. You have helped pay tuition, you have offered encouragement, and you have fed them when they are home on break. This has been a momentous, but by no means easy, journey for anyone, including all of you. Today is your day, too, which is why I would like to ask all our graduating students to stand, turn toward the audience, and give a round of applause to those who helped you on this journey.

Any reflection on this past year must include acknowledgement and remembrance of those we lost this year. That includes Devin Chandler, Lavel Davis Jr. and D’Sean Perry, whose lives were lost during the terrible events of Nov. 13. It also includes B. Yoon, an undergraduate computer science major I got to know over the summer, who died after a two-year battle with cancer. The depth of the loss of these talented classmates and friends is incalculable, but if there is one thing I learned about our community this year, it’s that these students will never be forgotten. Yesterday, I welcomed the Perry family to Final Exercises; today, I’d like to give a special welcome to B.’s family, and I invite you to join me in offering them our love and support.

Finally, I’d like to extend my sincere congratulations and gratitude to the talented and passionate Class of 2023. You have had experiences like few others. Your time here, due to COVID and the tragedy last November, could not have been what you were expecting. But you rose to the challenge with grace and courage. I hope and trust that you will look back on your time here as among the most important, engaging and life-changing experiences of your lives. I hope and trust that you will remember the moments of joy as well as the challenges, and that you will take from both that there is much joy to be found in this life and that you can do hard things. You are leaving this community stronger than you found it, and I have no doubt that you will make the world beyond UVA a better place.

With that, let us begin this ancient and honorable ritual, through which we will recognize and welcome you into the company of superbly educated citizen-leaders.

The president’s welcoming remarks were followed by the Rector Whittington W. Clement’s introduction of speaker Louis Nelson, professor of architectural history and vice provost for academic outreach; Nelson’s address to the class; the conferring of degrees; and a greeting from Lily W. West, president and CEO of the University of Virginia Alumni Association.

President’s Closing Remarks

I’d like to say a final thank you to our grand marshal, and to all of today’s speakers and performers.

At this point, I am the only person keeping you from your school ceremonies, celebrating with your family and friends, and/or finding air conditioning, which is why I would like to spend the next 20 minutes or so talking about 10 global challenges and how your time here has prepared you to meet them.

I’m kidding, although I trust your time here has prepared you for these challenges. What I would really like to do is leave you with one simple request, which is to carry this place, and this community, with you.

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. Instead, I would like you to remember the feeling of being here, in this place, with these people, and carry it with you.

Carry with you what it felt like to be surrounded by a diverse group of fellow students who were as compassionate as they were talented.

Carry with you what it felt like to explore in ways you never had before, and to learn from professors who loved a subject so much you couldn’t help but get excited about it, too.

Carry with you what it felt like to live with your friends. You don’t need a lot of friends in life, but you do need some rock-solid ones, and I hope you’ve met some of them here. Maybe even a future spouse, as I did.

Carry with you what it felt like to build bridges, reaching out to get to know someone – or someplace – different, and how it ended up changing you. 

Carry with you how it felt to serve others, and the satisfaction that came from devoting your time and energy to something bigger than yourself. 

Carry with you how it felt to be part of a community that faced a pandemic, and how, together, you helped each other through. Remember, because of this, that you can do hard things, together.

Carry with you the numbers 1, 15, and 41, and what they mean to you.

Carry with you what it felt like to live in a community of trust and continue to live your life with integrity and honor.

Carry with you the feeling of being a Wahoo, but keep in mind that most of the people you meet outside of this place will have no idea what that means. 

If you remember all of this, I have no doubt that you will carry the very best of this place with you as you face, with courage and purpose, the beautiful, joyous, challenging, sometimes tragic, and ever-magical road ahead. And should that road ever lead you back to Charlottesville, please know that we will leave the lights on for you.

Finally, I hope you remember the words to this song, which many of you are about to sing for the very first time as graduates of the University of Virginia.

Congratulations, Class of 2023, and good luck.

Media Contact

Bethanie Glover

Deputy University Spokesperson