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Prepared Remarks for Reunions 2016

June 4, 2016

Welcome, and thank you all for coming to Charlottesville for Reunions Weekend. It’s a pleasure for me to welcome our Reunion classes and the members of the Thomas Jefferson Society back to Grounds.

When UVA alumni come back for Reunions weekend, many of you tell me how much you enjoy returning to Charlottesville — to walk the Grounds again, take in views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and stop by your old haunts from your student days. Thomas Wolfe said, “You can’t go home again,” but UVA alumni know better. You can come home to these Grounds, and it always feels wonderful.

Today I share that feeling. Less than 36 hours ago, I returned to Charlottesville after completing my most extensive international trip on behalf of the University. Together with several of our deans, faculty members, and other UVA leaders, I traveled to 5 Asian cities in 11 days.

During the trip, I gave keynote addresses at Tsinghua University in Beijing and at the American Center of Japan in Tokyo; I participated in panel discussions in Singapore, Hong Kong, and Shanghai; I joined U.S. Ambassador Caroline Kennedy for a roundtable discussion with Japanese students in Tokyo; and we held receptions with alumni and parents in all 5 cities.

The trip had several purposes: to seek out new collaborations with Asian university partners; to explore opportunities for UVA students in study-abroad and internships; to engage our alumni throughout Asia; to raise awareness of our University among Asian leaders in higher education; and to generally expand UVA’s opportunities in the region.

We’re still unpacking from this trip, but we’re already exploring official University trips to two other international destinations — India, and the South American nation of Colombia.

Why is this global outreach important for UVA? And why now

The answers to those questions have everything to do with how we need to prepare UVA students for the complex futures that they face, and how we’re preparing UVA for its future, as we approach a major milestone in the University’s history.

The 20th century is often called “The American Century” because the United States so thoroughly dominated the period in terms of economics, culture, and military might, especially after World War II. Most of us here today grew up in that American Century, in a largely homogenous economy. Many of us worked our entire careers in one job, in one industry, in one place.

The 21st century is different: this is a global century of connected nations and interconnected economies. Rapid advances in communications, travel, and technology have made the world smaller, while accelerating innovation. Today’s global labor market is fiercely competitive and constantly evolving. As a result, during their careers UVA graduates may work in several different jobs, perhaps in several different industries, possibly in several different nations.

Today’s college students need to acquire the necessary skills for work, citizenship, and leadership on this global scale.

As we prepare UVA students for a changing world, we are approaching the bicentennial of UVA’s founding, which will begin in October 2017 on the 200th anniversary of the laying of UVA’s cornerstone.

This will launch the beginning of a multi-year bicentennial celebration … and also the dawn of the University’s third century.

What will that third century look like for UVA, in terms of its reach and impact?

During the University’s first and second centuries, it gradually expanded from local, to regional, to national distinction. Now, just as the American Century led to this global century, UVA’s third century will be characterized by rising global distinction and the expansion of the University’s horizons around the world.

Let me be clear: We will not sacrifice our commitments to Virginia and the nation for the sake of global outreach. Our core mission as a public university is to serve our citizens here at home. Instead, UVA will be dynamically multi-dimensional. We will be both local and global; both Virginia-centric and global; both US-focused and global.

To be a great university in the 21st century, UVA must be all these things, all at the same time.

Let me take a few minutes to explore each of the topics I’ve introduced — preparing our students for a global century, and preparing UVA for its third century as a global standard of excellence in higher education.

We prepare UVA students for global citizenship in multiple ways: by sending them into the world to study, work, and conduct research; by bringing the world to UVA; and by fully integrating global issues into our curriculum and extra-curricular activities. Let me share some examples …

On the curricular front, we recently launched a new major in Global Studies with four concentrations: Global Development; Global Public Health; Environments and Sustainability; and, Security and Justice. About 120 students enrolled in the major in its first year in 2014-15, and that number doubled in the academic year that just ended.

On the extra-curricular front, we’ve increased our offerings in study-abroad, internships, research, and service overseas. 25 years ago, UVA had fewer than 10 faculty-led study-abroad programs, with even fewer exchange agreements. Today, we have more than 50 UVA-managed study-abroad programs, and we have exchange agreements with more than 80 universities, including important Asian universities such as Peking University, Fudan University, and others.

In addition to study abroad, students should have the opportunity to work abroad, so we launched a Global Internship program two years ago. This summer, we placed about 50 students in internships in 17 countries on 6 different continents.

To strengthen this effort, UVA’s Career Center just created a new Global Careers Taskforce to help our students obtain internships and other career-oriented experiences overseas. The taskforce brings together school-based career centers and units across the University to provide a streamlined approach to advising, employer relations, and alumni engagement.

Another way that UVA prepares students for today’s global economy is by offering them opportunities to conduct research on an international scale. We recently formed a partnership with MAXNET Energy, a new initiative of Germany’s Max Planck Society, one of the world’s top research institutions. The research will focus on renewable energy sources, and it will provide opportunities for UVA undergraduate and graduate students to work with some of the world’s leading scientists.

About 30% of our undergraduate students who graduated last month participated in some form of education, research, or work abroad during their time at UVA. Research has shown that students who do those things outperform their peers in numerous ways, including creative, complex, and analytical thinking. One study showed that students with international experiences are better problem-solvers; more likely to be promoted in their careers; and more likely to start new businesses.

In addition to sending our US-born students abroad, it’s important for them to interact with students and faculty from other nations on Grounds at UVA.

40 years ago, only 67 of the undergraduate students at UVA were foreign citizens — less than 1% of the undergraduate population. Today, about 8% of our undergraduates are foreign citizens, and they come from 130 different nations. Applicants who were recently offered admission for UVA’s Class of 2020 include students from more than 100 different countries.

About 15% of our faculty also come from foreign nations, giving our students a variety of perspectives on other countries and other cultures. We recruited these professors not just to bring an international flavor to the Grounds, but for the same reason that Jefferson recruited some of UVA’s first faculty from other nations — because they are the best in the world.

Ultimately, a globally-oriented education prepares UVA students to be worldwide problem-solvers. This is important because so many of society’s most pressing problems are global in scope — including disease pandemics, terrorism and international security, climate change, and so on. Because these problems are global, their solutions must be global, too.

Here’s one example: UVA faculty and students in business, law, medicine, religion, data science, and the humanities are working together, across disciplines, to stop the spread of religious-based violence. As part of the effort, a team of graduate students from religion and data science is analyzing how patterns in language use can predict whether religious groups will act as peace-makers or aggressors; they’re testing linguistic models on the ground in South Asia and the Middle East.

This is not global citizenship as an abstract concept; this is global citizenship in action, with UVA students applying research to one of the greatest global challenges of our time.

Just as we prepare our students for leadership on a global scale, we must prepare UVA for the increasingly global dimensions that will be an essential part of its character in its third century.

This will require us to build a support structure of mobilized and well-connected alumni, parents, and friends all over the world. The work is already well under way. We now have more than 9,000 alumni living in 150 foreign countries. We have 19 active UVA Clubs abroad, and during the past year alone we held 140 events overseas, in 27 different countries. More than 40% of our international alumni have made at least one gift to UVA.

In my travels to Britain, Germany, and Asia this spring, I’ve seen that our alumni in London, Berlin, and Singapore are just as committed to UVA as those in Richmond, Atlanta, and Los Angeles. The UVA family is a truly global family.

All of this international interest and activity at UVA may sound new, but it’s not. As the University becomes increasingly global in reach and character, we are working within a tradition that dates back to our founder.

Thomas Jefferson was a global thinker, and an actor on the global stage for much of his adult life — as Minister to France, Secretary of State, and President. Many of his ideas about politics, economics, architecture, and other fields were formed through comparative study based on experiences abroad and his interactions with foreign cultures.

Walk outside to the Lawn, and you’ll see the influences of Italian, Greek, French, and other cultures in the architecture of the University’s original buildings.

We speak with great fanfare about Thomas Jefferson’s Academical Village, as we should. As the only university in the US recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and one of just five in the world, it’s a source of pride and inspiration.

But it’s more than that: the original buildings of our University tell the story of how we teach and learn here. By Jefferson’s design, students and professors work side by side in the pursuit of knowledge. The structural design of the Academical Village enables this shared pursuit. Our University’s architecture is the architecture of collaboration and close instruction.

During the University’s first two centuries, the Academical Village has served as a source of collaboration, innovation, and entrepreneurship among UVA students and faculty working here in Charlottesville.

In our third century, we have an opportunity to assemble what we might call a global Academical Village. I mean this as both metaphor and practical plan-of-action — we can create a third-century Academical Village that extends upward and outward from Charlottesville, bringing UVA’s best qualities of academic rigor, honor, ethics, and service to the corners of the world.

To do this, we need to nurture the connections that we have in critical regions of the world, and create new ones. Over time, we’ll see a multiplier effect: as foreign-born UVA students return to their home nations; as more of our US-born graduates move abroad to live and work; and as we build new research partnerships overseas, the global Academical Village will continue to expand and strengthen.

These are exciting times for our University, with the beginning of our bicentennial now just one year away. Almost 200 years ago, three of our nation’s founding fathers stood a short distance from here to preside over the laying of the cornerstone for the University of Virginia.

On that day, Presidents Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe began a building process that continues today — the work of building a great university for our time, and for all time. The work goes on, and I’m grateful for your commitment to it.

Thank you all, and have a wonderful Reunions Weekend.