President Jim Ryan’s Remarks to the Class of 2020

President Ryan standing at a podium giving a speech at Final Exercises

Ryan spoke from a podium in Scott Stadium, where morning and afternoon ceremonies were held. (Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications)

Editor’s note: UVA President Jim Ryan spoke to graduates in the Class of 2020 as they returned for a special celebration Sunday, a year after the COVID-19 pandemic postponed in-person festivities. His text as prepared is below.


Mr. Rector, members of the Board of Visitors, graduates, colleagues, family, friends – welcome. And a special welcome to all who are joining us on live stream from points around the world.

My name is Jim Ryan. I am the president of the University of Virginia, and it is my honor to be the host of this (graduation-ish) ceremony. Let me start by saying that you are by far, and without any doubt, the most impressive and talented class ever to attend a postponed Final Exercises.

In all seriousness, I have been looking forward to this moment for a very long time, because I would like to be the first to officially welcome the Class of 2020 back to Grounds.

Of course, you will always be welcome back, as I will describe at the end of this ceremony. And I hope you are already making plans to return next summer, but I’m sorry to say that this will likely be the last graduation ceremony for the Class of 2020. Fortunately, it’s going to be a great one, because we have Melody Barnes here to deliver the graduation address, along with some live performances and a surprise or two.

I have said many times before and am sure will say many times again: No one makes it to graduation alone. For that reason, I would like to congratulate and thank all of the parents and grandparents, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, family and friends in the audience today –both in person and online. You have supported these alumni at every step of the way, and this ceremony is as much for all of you as it is for the Class of 2020. [I would ask that the Class of 2020 stand, turn to the audience, and give a huge round of applause.]

I would also like to thank the staff who have worked incredibly hard this year, under some very challenging circumstances, to make this event happen. Please join me in giving our staff a round of applause.

And to the Class of 2020, thank you for your patience and flexibility. Normally, Final Exercises is a rock solid point on the calendar that you know about years in advance and can count on. Not this time. As with almost everything else during this pandemic, uncertainty reigned, and you had to suffer through several changes of plans and a number of curveballs, including the recent gas shortage, about which all I could say – after everything else that happened this year – was: “Really? When are the locusts coming?” And then someone told me about the cicadas. In any event, I know that just getting here was no small feat for many of you. I’m glad you stuck with it, and I’m thrilled to see so many of you here.

During my virtual graduation speech to you last year, I rambled on a bit about coffee, which I know is often the subject of graduation speeches, and then asked several questions: What did you carry with you as you left UVA so quickly and unexpectedly in March of 2020?  What did you leave behind, and did you miss any of it? And more generally, I asked what you wanted to carry with you when the world reopens and your life restarts.

I expressed my hope that you carry with you the core values of this place, like trust, honor, and integrity. I hoped you would also carry forward the lessons you learned here, like how to read critically, how to empathize, how to lead, and how to build bridges across difference.

I continue to have those hopes for all of you, but seeing you all here, surrounded by your friends and your family, it’s clear to me that you have all carried with you perhaps the most important thing of all – the people you love and the people who love you. I hope you cherish this moment together. It was a long time in coming, but some things are worth waiting for, and we will do our best to make it unforgettable.