President Ryan to the Class of 2026: Be Curious, Not Judgmental

August 21, 2022 By Andrew Ramspacher, Andrew Ramspacher,

Of the 3,000 words Jim Ryan delivered Sunday evening, the University of Virginia president hoped the newest group of UVA students gathered at the Opening Convocation and Honor Induction ceremony would remember just four of them as they embarked on their own Wahoo journeys.

“Be curious, not judgmental.”

It’s a line from the famous poet Walt Whitman that was recently used by the main character in the popular “Ted Lasso” television series.

“This,” Ryan said, referring the quote as he looked out to the 4,000-plus first-year and transfer students seated in John Paul Jones Arena, “is how you learn – how you leave yourself open to getting past the surface of things and getting to the heart and truth of things.”

Jim Ryan stands with his hands on the podium and looks out at the crowd
A main message from UVA President Jim Ryan’s Sunday address was to have students gain a passion for pursuing the truth while on Grounds. (Photo by Dan Addison, University Communications)

A rainy Sunday morning and afternoon led to a venue switch for Opening Convocation and the Honor Induction. These events typically place students on the Lawn facing the Rotunda, a symbolic setting that comes full circle four years later during Final Exercises when they walk toward Old Cabell Hall at the other end of the Lawn.

Ryan, who was introduced by Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students Robyn Hadley, began his speech by thanking those who pivoted quickly to allow for the event to carry on without a snag. He then made clear his message for the class of 2026. He wants them to fall in love with the pursuit of truth by the time they graduate.

“The world needs more people committed first and foremost to getting at the truth,” the president said.

That message was echoed throughout the night as Ryan touched on the University’s statement on free expression and free inquiry, released with Board of Visitors approval in June 2021. The statement includes the lines: “Academic commitment to free inquiry reflects the view that every idea must be heard so that it may be subjected to the rigorous scrutiny necessary to advance knowledge. This process requires deep critical engagement, as well as humility in the recognition that many commonly accepted views have proved mistaken, while many ostracized views have illuminated the path toward truth.”

The four class flags are visible over the crowd
The Opening Convocation and Honor Induction ceremony, typically held on the Lawn, was moved to John Paul Jones Arena due to rain. Over 4,000 new UVA students attended. (Photo by Dan Addison, University Communications)

Speaking after Ryan was Leslie Kendrick, the director of the Center for the First Amendment at UVA Law. Kendrick, who chaired the committee that crafted UVA’s free speech statement, invited the new UVA students to, among other things, take a broad view on the meaning of free inquiry.

“It’s debating people you disagree with, but it’s also finding communities and organizations of like-minded people – that’s freedom of association,” Kendrick said. “It’s getting involved with your fellow students on issues that seem to have nothing to do with free speech. Sharing a common goal with different people – such as volunteering for public service or playing on a team – exposes you to new perspectives, helps you appreciate the good in others, and builds trust and respect.

“Even something as simple as spending time with your roommates builds trust, which makes having real conversations easier. And the more real conversations we can have, the better off we’ll be.”

The search for the truth, Kendrick said, is not an easy process. She challenged students to keep an open mind.

“If you went to the gym and didn’t break a sweat, you would know you weren’t getting your money’s worth,” she said. “And if you go through college without sometimes being uncomfortable with ideas, the same thing is true. We learn, and we progress, by facing challenging ideas, not suppressing them.”

Two students sign their names on sheets of paper while others wait in line to do the same
New UVA students sign the Honor Code prior to leaving John Paul Jones Arena. (Photo by Dan Addison, University Communications)

The Honor Induction, when students make the important pledge not to lie, cheat or steal while enrolled at UVA, capped Sunday’s festivities.

Keynote speaker Michael Lenox, an alumnus and Darden School of Business professor, related to the new students with stories from his time on Grounds. The Philadelphia-area native admitted he, at first, had little understanding of the Honor Code’s meaning and significance, but eventually grew to appreciate its strength and importance.

“You will hear often about the community of trust at UVA,” Lenox said. “This is not empty rhetoric. A community is defined by its shared values. Without these shared values, we do not have community – you are merely a collection of autonomous students pursuing your studies independently. 

“The Honor System provides a core for all of you – poets and athletes, debutantes and farmers’ daughters, Virginians and a Philly boy – to come together to form a community.”

Upon signing the Honor Code, first-year student Simone Anderson of Richmond said she was making a “commitment to integrity and to the idea that there’s a level of trust with all of us” at UVA.

Fellow first-year student Susannah Allen of Bedford nodded in agreement with Anderson’s sentiment, less than 48 hours from her first class at the University.

“It’s a really awesome thing to be able to go into the dining halls and put my phone down and find a table and not have to worry about it,” Allen said. “That’s really nice.”

Media Contact

Andrew Ramspacher

University News Associate University Communications