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New Student Convocation

Greetings and Introduction of the Class

To all new Wahoos gathered here this evening: welcome to the University of Virginia! We’re glad that all of you are here!

Preliminary numbers indicate that we have 4,476 new undergraduate students here this fall. You may know a few classmates who came from your home town. And maybe you’ve made some new friends this weekend. But for the most part, you’re strangers to each other. To help you get acquainted, let me tell you a bit about yourselves.

Among our new undergraduates, there are 3,809 first-year students, and 667 transfer students. Among the transfer students, 367 are from Virginia’s Community College System.

In the first-year class, 67% of you are from Virginia; 33% are from elsewhere. You come from 47 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, and from 73 countries around the world, making this a truly global university.

You have done very well on your tests. Among first-year students, your mean SAT scores are 693 in evidence-based reading and 696 in math. Your mean overall score is 1,387. 32 of you scored a perfect 800 on reading; 208 of you scored a perfect 800 on math; and 18 of you got a perfect score on both sections.  88% of you were in the top 10% of your high school’s graduating class, for high schools that report class rank.

You are a diverse group. Among all new undergraduates, 45% of you are men; 55% of you are women. You come from different racial and ethnic backgrounds, and from a range of family situations.  Preliminary numbers show that 38% of you are participating in the AccessUVa financial-aid program, and 570 of you are the first members of your families to go to college. This diversity in your class ranks will make you stronger, both as individuals and as a class.

Some of your classmates are not here this evening. About 25 first-year students are starting their UVA undergraduate work overseas. They enrolled in the new “London First” program that gives students the opportunity to begin their UVA careers at our partner school in London — Regent’s University.

This program is just one of many ways that UVA students can gain the global awareness you’ll need for work and life in the 21st century. I encourage all of you to pursue opportunities to study or work abroad while you’re at UVA.

While you’re at UVA, even in your first semester, I encourage you to make the effort to get to know someone who comes from a completely different background than you do … Someone of a different race or ethnicity … Someone whose religious faith is different than yours …

If you’re from the U.S., get to know someone from one of the foreign countries represented in your class. If you’re from Virginia, get to know someone from a state far away.  If your parents and siblings are college graduates, get to know a classmate who’s the first member of his or her family to go to college. If you’re a first-year student who just graduated from high school, get to know a transfer student from a community college. All of those people have unique stories to tell.

The experience of getting to know people from various walks of life will make you a wiser and more empathetic person — and ultimately you will be better prepared for the diverse global economy you’ll enter after graduation.

Being a Good Citizen

I want to say a few words about your rights and responsibilities, both as public citizens and as members of the UVA community.

For the next few years, you will be living in Charlottesville for the majority of the year. So I encourage you to be engaged here.

You can serve this community in various ways. Each week, more than 3,300 students volunteer their time to better the community through Madison House, our student volunteer center. Students serve as tutors, construction workers, day-care supporters, peer counselors, and in many other roles.

You can learn about these and other opportunities at the Activities Fair tomorrow from 11 AM to 2 PM on the lower end of the Lawn and in the Amphitheatre.

UVA has a long-standing system of student self-governance that defines life and learning here.  The Honor System plays a central role. Tonight you will sign the honor pledge. With this pledge, you promise not to lie, cheat, or steal. If you break the pledge at any time, you will be asked to leave the University.

Although I endorse the Honor Code, I do not enforce the Honor Code; the Board of Visitors delegates that responsibility to the students. This means that this is your pledge — and now this is your community, complete with all rights and responsibilities.

Remember that we are more than an academic community at UVA; we are a social community as well. As members of this social community, each one of you has a responsibility to be a good citizen.

]We want you to look out for yourself, and we also want you to look out for the well-being of your friends and classmates. By looking out for each other and by taking an interest in one another’s well-being, we create a caring community defined by a sense of shared responsibility.

Be aware of the dangers of alcohol and drug use. There’s a catch-phrase that has become a sort-of universal slogan among students at elite universities such as UVA:  “Work hard, play hard.” It’s a catchy slogan, but believing the myth that hard work earns you the right to play hard with alcohol or drugs, with no consideration of the dangers, can lead to disaster.

Let’s adopt a new slogan: “Work hard, and play smart.” Have fun and celebrate — but use your intelligence, and don’t make decisions that could ruin your future.

A Moment of Unique Opportunities

You are coming to UVA as we approach a major milestone in the University’s history: about 45 days from now, we will launch the University’s bicentennial celebration. The first events will take place on the weekend of October 5 -7 to mark the 200th anniversary of the laying of the University’s cornerstone at Pavilion VII.

The celebration will feature activities for students, including academic programs, research opportunities, distinguished guest speakers on Grounds, exhibits in our museums, and so on. I encourage you to take advantage of all the opportunities that our Bicentennial celebration will present for you.

Looking Ahead

Let my close these remarks by looking to the future. A few years from now, when you gather on the opposite end of the Lawn for Final Exercises, you will begin a new phase of your life — a phase in which your success as professionals and public citizens will come largely from the work that you do here over the next few years.

On that day, you will take your well-earned place among our global network of alumni. Our alumni are known for their life-long commitment to the University.

Because they believe in the significance of this University and its mission, they invest in its future. They support UVA with gifts; they serve on advisory boards; they serve as mentors; and they volunteer in other capacities that strengthen the University.

The Jefferson nickels that you found on your seats this evening were provided by alumni to help you recall the contributions that Thomas Jefferson made to the creation of UVA and to the founding of the United States. But the nickel also symbolizes the gifts that our alumni have given to UVA.

We ask that you keep this nickel as a reminder of the tradition of giving that has made UVA so strong and durable through the years. You will have opportunities to join that tradition in the future, and your future at UVA begins right now.

Intro to U Singers – “We Shall Overcome”

I have one final comment before we continue with the program. A little more than a week ago, members of hate groups whose hearts were filled with rage and bigotry marched down this Lawn — exactly where you are seated this afternoon — leading to violence here and in the streets of downtown Charlottesville.

The views of the racist groups that came here last weekend contradict UVA’s deepest values and our shared commitment to diversity, inclusion, and respect for all people.

Last weekend’s events will not define us as a community, and will not define our University or this town. We will overcome the voices of hate and violence. As an expression of our unity and our resolve, the University Singers prepared a special performance this evening. They will perform the great gospel song that became an anthem for the Civil Rights Movement, “We Shall Overcome.” I encourage you to stand and sing along.