Ralph Sampson to the Class of 2022: ‘Stay Connected, Leave Your Footprint’

May 20, 2022 By Jane Kelly, jak4g@virginia.edu Jane Kelly, jak4g@virginia.edu

University of Virginia basketball legend Ralph Sampson, the featured speaker for Friday’s Valedictory Exercises, told members of UVA’s Class of 2022 to make their mark on the world by staying motived and having a plan, and by staying in touch with UVA after they graduate.

Sampson’s speech and other farewell addresses at John Paul Jones Arena, including an annual awards ceremony, led off UVA’s 193rd Final Exercises weekend.

The 7-foot-4 phenom – the most heavily recruited college basketball prospect of his generation – led the Cavaliers to a National Invitational Tournament title in 1980, an NCAA Final Four appearance in 1981 and an NCAA Elite Eight appearance in 1983.

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Speaking to an audience of students, faculty, students and friends, Sampson encouraged the graduating class to remember the acronym “MAP.” He said it stands for “motivation,” “attitude” and “plan” (as in have a good game plan).

Motivation means, “being self-motivated to get a good education, [to] do well at work with your career and [be a] success no matter what you do,” he said. “It makes sense, right?”

“The next letter in ‘MAP’ is ‘a,’ [for] ‘attitude,’” he said. “You can have a bad attitude; you can have a good attitude. But depending on how your attitude is will create your altitude, and your success and how far you go,” he said.

Two men and a woman hold an oversized check from the UVA Class of 2022 to the University of Virginia

Jonathan A. Laredo and Jane C. Pethokoukis presented President James Ryan with a check for $87,497 as the Class of 2022’s gift to the University, a tradition which began with Sampson’s Class of 1983. (Photo by Erin Edgerton, University Communications)

Sampson said a person’s plan can take different forms, but it always starts with someone who came before. “Your parents had a plan when they gave you life. They wanted children. They took you to dance recitals, classes, basketball practices, baseball practice when you were younger and helped you get to college and help you get here today. It could be uncles, aunts, grandparents. No matter who it is, they helped you get here today,” he said.

“Mom and Dad won’t be there to wake you up for class or see you out the door to your new job,” Sampson added. “Of course, you’ll always come home and have that chicken dinner at home. That’ll be good on Sundays,” he said.

But what is your plan, he asked?

One thing he said the graduates should do is stay connected with UVA. “As you leave every year, you get disconnected to your school,” Sampson said of graduates. But it doesn’t have to be that way, he pointed out. There are UVA alumni chapters across the nation and around the world.

Sampson said he himself “got disconnected over the years” because of playing professional basketball for 10 years in the NBA.

Ralph Sampson speaks from a podium on a stage flanked by the event's nine other speakers.
Sampson said he was determined to earn his UVA degree after he heard the late sports journalist Howard Cosell say he did not have the academic skill to graduate. (Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications)

“I didn’t think I would ever come back to Charlottesville,” he said. “I knew I’d come back to school for some of the games.”

Now, he said, “I live here,” adding, “I wanted to make sure I stay connected to the school in a way where I can give back as much as I can, not only to the school, but the city also.”

Sampson spoke lovingly of his parents, Sarah and Ralph, who are 83 and 86, respectively. He said his father went through several years of poor health, but found recovery and relief at UVA Health.

“We walk out the nurse’s station, he’s saying the Lord’s Prayer, so I knew at that point in time he would be all right,” Sampson said.

That’s another reason why you don’t disconnect from the network, because you’re going to need something from somebody someday. And this school is one of the best in the country, and the hospital is rated No. 1 in the state of Virginia,” he said.

The basketball legend just opened a restaurant in Charlottesville: Ralph Sampson’s American Taproom. He invited everyone in the audience to “come to the restaurant. Hang out with me.”

Ralph Sampson's orange, white and blue sneakers behind the podium
“We win the national title and I had the same shoes on. And that’s the title game. I’ve only worn them twice and today is the second time,” Sampson said. (Photo by Erin Edgerton, University Communications)

He implored the students, “Stay safe. Enjoy your weekend. It’s nothing like it. Leave your footprint here. I wear a size 17. So, when I leave my footprint, it’s pretty big. But leave a footprint here at UVA and stay connected to the school, because there’s no other place like it in the world.”

Friday’s valediction ceremony also featured the presentation of notable awards to members of the Class of 2022.

On Saturday, degree candidates in the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences will begin their Final Exercises on the Lawn at 10 a.m. The speaker is Claudrena Harold, the Edward Stettinius Professor of History and chair of the Corcoran Department of History.

On Sunday Dr. Taison Bell, an assistant professor in the divisions of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, and Infectious Diseases and International Health and director of the Medical Intensive Care Unit at UVA Health will speak to graduating members of the remaining schools at UVA.

The procession begins at 10 a.m. on the Lawn, celebrating degree candidates from the following schools:

  • School of Architecture
  • Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy.
  • School of Continuing and Professional Studies.
  • Curry School of Education and Human Development.
  • Darden School of Business.
  • School of Engineering and Applied Science.
  • School of Law.
  • McIntire School of Commerce.
  • School of Medicine.
  • School of Nursing.
  • School of Data Science.

Media Contact

Jane Kelly

University News Senior Associate Office of University Communications