Ryan: Challenging Years Produced a Resilient, Compassionate Class of 2024

May 19, 2024 By Jim Ryan, president@virginia.edu Jim Ryan, president@virginia.edu

Below are University of Virginia President Jim Ryan’s remarks as prepared for Sunday’s Final Exercises.

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 195th academic session, and we are here to celebrate and confer degrees on students from nine of the University’s schools: the School of Medicine, the School of Law, the School of Engineering and Applied Science, the Darden Graduate School of Business Administration, the School of Architecture, the School of Nursing, the McIntire School of Commerce, the School of Continuing and Professional Studies and the School of Data Science. Yesterday, we conferred degrees for the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, the School of Education and Human Development and the Frank Batten School of Public Policy. 

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Before we begin, I would like to acknowledge graduating students who cannot be here today, including some of our student-athletes who are competing this weekend. Go Hoos!

I’d like to also offer some thanks.

First, thank you to the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command Band from Fort Eustis, Virginia, which is performing our music today. Please join me in a round of applause for them, as well as for the members of our ROTC programs 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. I’d also like to thank all of 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 everyone, 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.

President Ryan walking the lawn to Old Cabell Hall to speak to the class of 2024

Ryan leads the Sunday procession from the Rotunda to the stage in front of Old Cabell Hall. (Photo by Dan Addison, University Communications)

Your class has been through highs and lows during your time at UVA, and I would like to take a moment to acknowledge two students who should have graduated with the College of Arts & Sciences yesterday, Lavel Davis Jr. and Devin Chandler, who were killed in November 2022 along with D’Sean Perry, a member of the Class of 2023. All three were given posthumous degrees last year. We will never forget these talented and beloved teammates, classmates, friends and family members, and I will never forget how this community came together to comfort each other as we grieved. All of you have my deepest gratitude and admiration for that.

Finally, I’d like to offer my sincere congratulations and gratitude to the talented and passionate Class of 2024. You have had experiences like few others. For some of you, this is your first in-person graduation ceremony. Your time here began during the pandemic, and the months and years to follow could not have been entirely what you were expecting. These last few weeks have been very difficult as well, and I know that May 4th was troubling and painful day for many in our community.

Today, I’d like to focus on the grace and strength of your class, which has carried us through some very tough times, and which has created some very special moments. 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 also 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, because you have already done 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. I can also promise you that this class will always have a special place in my heart. You have cared deeply for your community, passionately pursued your goals in and outside of the classroom, and shown up for each other time and time again.

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.

After remarks from guest speakers and the conferring of degrees, Ryan returned to the stage for closing comments.

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

Ryan smiles at the class of 2024

Ryan tells the students he admires their resilience, and how they have comforted each other during four years of challenges on Grounds that included the slayings of three of their fellow students in 2002. (Photo by Matt Riley, University Communications)

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 discuss, in depth, a dozen or so 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 learn from professors who loved a subject so much you couldn’t help but love it as well.

Carry with you what it felt like to live with friends with whom you could share anything and everything. 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.

Carry with you what it felt like to build bridges and get to know someone different, and how that ended up changing you.

A view of the class of 2024 from behind President Jim Ryan as he speaks

Over two days, Ryan conferred degrees on more than 7,600 graduates and praised all of them for their resilience. “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,” Ryan said. (Photo by Dan Addison, University Communications)

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 experienced both great sorrow and great joy together.

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, as appropriate to your school and experiences, Bodo’s, North Grounds softball, late nights at the library, the Lighting of the Lawn, the streaking of the Lawn, first coffee, games at JPJ and Scott Stadium, hikes at Humpback, the Donning of the Kente, your white coat and first stethoscope, Mad Bowl, the Downtown Mall and the Corner.

And carry with you the memory of this day, of walking the Lawn and of being together in this magical place.

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.

Congratulations, Class of 2024, and good luck.

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