President Jim Ryan’s Remarks to the Class of 2019

Ryan's remarks to class of 2019
May 18, 2019

President Jim Ryan spoke briefly to graduates as part of Final Exercises 2019, which also featured keynote addresses from Cameron Webb and Dorrie Fontaine. His text as prepared is below. 

Mr. Rector, members of the Board of Visitors, graduates, colleagues, family, friends—welcome.

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, which means that I’m something of a cross between Oprah and Dumbledore.  For many of you, this is your first time at Final Exercises, and it is mine as well, at least in this role.  I think we share a hope that it’s memorable for the right reasons, and not because I made a huge mess of it all. If that makes you a tad nervous, all I can say is that I know how you feel.  

Today marks the end of our 190th academic session.  These final exercises are the University’s most joyful occasion, at least since the men’s basketball team won the national championship.  

Before we begin, I would like to recognize members of our leadership team who will either be leaving us or taking on new roles: Tom Katsouleas, our provost; Dr. Rick Shannon, Executive Vice President for Health Affairs; Dorrie Fontaine, the dean of the School of Nursing; Allan Stam, the dean of the Batten School; and Dr. Marcus Martin, our Vice President and Chief Officer for Diversity and Equity.

Each of these leaders has shaped this university in profound ways, and I am grateful to them for their service.  Please join me in a round of applause.

I would also like acknowledge some of our student athletes who couldn’t be with us.  Members of the men’s tennis team, women’s rowing team, men’s and women’s lacrosse teams, and baseball team are competing on the road today, and we wish them the best of luck.

Our music today is provided by the 392nd Army Band from Fort Lee, Virginia, under the direction of Chief Warrant Officer Two James H. Landrum.  Please join me in a round of applause for them, as well as for the members of the Army, Navy, and Air Force ROTC who presented the colors.

I would like 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 these graduates in countless ways—including financially, emotionally, and gastronomically. You have helped pay tuition, you have offered encouragement, and you have fed them when they are home on break.  My guess is that many of you are still helping out with laundry.  

Today is your day, too, which is why I would like to ask all the graduates to stand, turn toward the audience, and give a round of applause to those who helped you on this journey.

I would also like to thank the staff who work hard all year, and who have worked tirelessly to make graduation special for all involved.  And I’d like to thank the faculty, who have served not simply as teachers but also as mentors and friends.  Please join me in giving our faculty and staff a round of applause.

Finally, congratulations to the Class of 2019.  I hope and trust that you will look back on your time here as among the most important, enjoyable, engaging, and life-changing experiences of your lives.  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.

I also want to say a personal thanks for helping make this past year one I will never forget.  It has been a true joy and a sincere privilege to get to know many of you and to serve as your president.  I’m genuinely sorry that we had only a year together, but I take it as a small sign of success for all of us that you are moving on, and that I’m returning for my second year. 

And now let us begin this ancient and honorable ritual through which we shall recognize and welcome you into the company of superbly educated citizen-leaders.  

Closing Remarks

At this point, I am the only person keeping you from your school ceremonies and celebrating with your family and friends, which is why I would like to spend the next 45 minutes or so talking about our global challenges and how your time here has prepared you to meet them.

I’m kidding, although it’s true.  Instead, I’ll leave you with one simple request, which is 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.  Instead, I want you to remember the feeling of being here, in this place, with these people, and carry it with you.

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

Remember 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.

Remember 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, like I did.

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. 

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

Remember how it felt the first time you realized that in streaking, as in life, it’s important to leave enough gas in the tank for the return trip.

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 road ahead, which will be, at various turns, beautiful, tragic, joyous, challenging, and magical.  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 you are about to sing for the very first time as graduates of the University of Virginia.

Congratulations, Class of 2019, and good luck.