Wet Weather Doesn’t Dampen the First of Two Lawn Ceremonies

May 18, 2024 By Alice Berry, aberry@virginia.edu Alice Berry, aberry@virginia.edu

At 6:30 a.m. Saturday, a small crowd of eager family members, sporting rain gear and carrying umbrellas and towels, huddled under a tent, trying to stay dry. The rain that began overnight continued to fall as students, family and friends awaited the 7 a.m. opening of the Lawn for Final Exercises, marking the completion of the 195th academic session at the University of Virginia.

Degree candidate Ursula Zavala said the excitement of Final Exercises motivated her and her family to get an early start.

“They were the first people to get here, and I was the first grad to get here. I’ve been under the tent for like an hour now. They were so excited to come. We woke up at 3:30 today,” Zavala said.

Anne Stephenson and her family, cloaked head-to-toe in rain gear, also arrived early to celebrate her son, Kyle. After the pandemic forced a non-traditional high school graduation and an unusual start to his college years, Stephenson said she was looking forward to celebrating her son and his UVA experience.

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Graduating students coming down the stairs of the Rotunda onto the Lawn

Nearly 4,000 degree candidates, balloons in tow, gathered at the Rotunda to begin walking the Lawn. (Photo by Dan Addison, University Communications)

“It’s been absolutely fabulous. Amazing professors, amazing friends and activities. He has had a wonderful experience, and I couldn’t ask for anything different,” Stephenson said.

For Nicole Portmann, who was graduating from the College of Arts & Sciences, today’s ceremony was exciting, no matter the weather. And she had plenty of supporters present to cheer her on.

“I think everyone is really excited today to get to be outside and for me to actually walk the Lawn and then go to my department ceremonies,” Portmann said. “My mom invited everyone, and everyone is here. My mom woke up and said, ‘Rain or shine, we’re going.’”

And rain it did. It fell as nearly 4,000 UVA students, many with soggy mortar boards that seemed to melt in the drizzle, descended the steps of the Rotunda and walked the Lawn for Saturday’s Final Exercises.

Graduates taking cover under an umbrella during the ceremony

Rain fell throughout Saturday’s ceremony, but the event continued as scheduled. (Photo by Clara Castle, University Communications)

The College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, as well as the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy and the School of Education and Human Development, awarded 2,947 bachelor’s degrees, 763 master’s degrees, 24 education specialist degrees and 226 doctoral degrees. 

For many of the graduating students, this year’s ceremony was the first in-person graduation they had experienced. Their time at the University began with remote classes and saw hardships, including the November 2022 shooting deaths of their classmates, Lavel Davis Jr. and Devin Chandler, and D’Sean Perry, a member of the Class of 2023. All three students were honored with posthumous degrees last year.

Rector of the Board of Visitors Robert Hardie told the graduates that their experiences, relationships and achievements will remain with them as part of their UVA DNA.

“So as this graduation day fades into the background of your life, you can be proud of what you each have accomplished here and who you have become,” Hardie said.

Graduating students wearing orange stoles processing down the Lawn

Orange stoles were worn by the 159 students from the College of Arts & Sciences and the School of Education and Human Development who earned their degrees in three years or less. (Photo by Erin Edgerton, University Communications)

Keynote speaker and psychology professor Daniel Willingham, an expert on learning, offered advice to those gathered on the Lawn on how to become lifelong learners. He said the best examples may come from the youngest students – preschoolers.

“The first preschool principle for lifelong learning is that you should replace your very definition of learning. Don’t think of learning as memorizing or mastering. Think of learning as exploring and understanding,” Willingham said.

He encouraged graduates to curate an environment filled with easy-to-access information, adjust their existing habits instead of trying to overhaul their routines, and treat learning as a family value – even if they were just starting out as their own family of one.

“I am confident that your experiences here have provided the foundation you need to continue learning for a lifetime. But think about that tomorrow. Today, celebrate your achievements with your loved ones,” Willingham said.

And so they did.

Here are some more photos of Saturday’s Final Exercises.

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