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Welcome to Parents

Good afternoon. I’m Teresa Sullivan, and I have the honor to serve as president of UVA.

I’m so glad to welcome you to UVA, and to Charlottesville — all of you, every person of every race, every gender, every national origin, every religious belief, every orientation, and every other human variation.

I welcome you with deep appreciation for the many differences that make us stronger — that make UVA one, united University.

In a moment, I’ll have some remarks about how your students can succeed at UVA and fit into this great University. But let me begin with comments about the events that occurred in Charlottesville last weekend.

The views expressed by the racist and bigoted groups that gathered for the “Unite the Right” rally last weekend directly contradict our shared values of diversity, inclusion, and respect. For those groups, their only “shared value” is their shared hatred of everyone who is different from them.

At UVA, we stand for education, open inquiry, and open-mindedness. These hate groups do not stand for anything; they only stand against the people and groups that they hate.

We’re aware that our students, especially African-American, Jewish, immigrant, international, LGBTQ, and others, are especially threatened by last weekend’s events. We stand with all members of the UVA family, as we stand together against the racist groups that seek to divide us.

The safety of our students is my top concern as president. In the aftermath of last weekend’s events, this is my promise to you today: We will use what happened on our Grounds to improve our preparation and response to emergencies; improve our safety and security efforts; and train our students and other community members how to stay safe.

Right now, I encourage you and your students to be familiar with UVA’s safety resources. Our Student Safety Guide is delivered to all first-year students in their dorms this weekend, and given to transfer students, and it’s available online.

We have the “UVA Alerts” system for email/text notification during emergencies — students need to sign up for it, and they can sign up their parents as well. We’re going to use the alert system on Monday to remind students not to look at the solar eclipse without proper eye protection. So by Monday you’ll know if your student has signed you up!

We also have the “Just Report It” online reporting system for students and others to tell us about bias and other incidents.

Our UVA Police watch out for our students, as do the UVA Ambassadors that you’ll see on the Corner and in other areas where students live and congregate. We have Late-Night Bus Service and the Safe Ride program to help our students travel safely at night.

For our students, the UVA community is their greatest safety resource – their classmates, professors, and staff. We watch out for each other at UVA. The students are leaders in this effort. Their “Hoos Got Your Back” program encourages all of us to be aware and active bystanders.

In June, the National Council for Home Safety and Security published its 2017 report on “The Safest Colleges in America,” and UVA was on the list.  We’re going to work to make our already-safe school even safer in the days ahead.

Last weekend’s events remind us that democracy is never a finished product; it has to be renewed with every generation, and each generation has to stand up for its values and beliefs. Eventually your sons and daughters will define the values of their generation. And while they’re on these Grounds, they will learn the values of inclusion and respect for all people.

Some of you may have questions about these matters that I haven’t addressed. After my remarks, several UVA colleagues with relevant expertise will come on stage for a panel session including Q&A. Our Chief Operating Officer, Pat Hogan, is going to talk explicitly about safety.

But for now, I want to focus on the many reasons that UVA is a great choice for your students.

A Unique Time for Students at UVA

Your students will have the chance to participate in a unique opportunity while they’re at UVA. Why is it unique? Because no other UVA student has ever experienced it before.

47 days from today, we will begin the University’s bicentennial celebration. Opening events will take place on the weekend of October 5 – 7, when we’ll mark the 200th anniversary of the laying of the University’s cornerstone at Pavilion VII. The celebration will feature many activities that are available to students, including academic and social programs, guest speakers on Grounds, exhibits in our museums, and so on.

Students are also heavily involved as participants in the Bicentennial — they’ve been serving on planning committees and helping with research for programming, and they’ll be performing during launch weekend and volunteering for various events.

The bicentennial will be a time for us to look back at UVA’s past 200 years, but also — and perhaps more importantly — this is our moment to look forward. 

And that’s where your sons and daughters come in.  So let me offer some advice on how you can help your students get off to a good start at UVA.

The Challenge of Fitting In

New college students face a lot of challenges in their first year: more-demanding academics; the responsibilities of living on their own for the first time; basic life-skill issues, such as managing their time and study habits.

But I want to discuss one particular challenge, and that’s the challenge of fitting in — both from an academic standpoint and a social standpoint.

Academic Fit

First let me talk about academic fit. Your sons and daughters are high-achievers. All of these students are academic super-stars. But being a super-star feels different when you’re surrounded by thousands of equally talented super-stars.  Your child will discover that the level of competition has changed when they start their classes at UVA. They might not be able to get the perfect grades that they got in high school.

Some students who come to UVA have never experienced failure; many have never gotten a “B” in school. It’s a cliché to say that we learn more from failure than we do from success — yet it’s true. Students need to know that it’s okay to get an occasional “B” in class, especially when they’re new to college; it’s okay to run in student elections ….. and not win.

Elite schools across the country have recognized this challenge. Smith College in Massachusetts launched a new program called “Failing Well”  that aims to “destigmatize failure.” The program includes student-group discussions about perfectionism and videos of students and faculty talking about how they overcame their own failures.

Lessons learned from setbacks build character, durability, and leadership-potential in our students. Your students should not be afraid to push themselves into uncharted academic territory, for fear of failure.

Some first-year students may feel an urgency to rush into an area of specialization; some have already decided on careers.

But their undergraduate years are the best time to explore academically, and to shore up weaknesses while building on strengths. They will have plenty of time to specialize later. Now is the time to be expansive in their academic pursuits.

Encourage your students to engage in research and the arts. We have awards that support undergraduate research, and we have similar grants to support projects in the arts.

Today’s students need to prepare themselves for a global economy, so encourage your son or daughter to study or work abroad while they’re here. We have a Global Internship Program to match students with opportunities overseas. We’ll make sure your students understand the value of a global perspective.

Social Fit

Now let’s talk about fitting in socially. In high school, your son or daughter probably had a close-knit friend group that served as a sounding board and source of security. They’re separated from that group now; at UVA your child may know a few people, or maybe nobody at all. Fitting into a social group is one of the big challenges of the first year, but there are ways to make it easier.

Public service is a big part of the UVA student experience, and it’s an entry point for social life. Madison House, our student volunteer center, has 19 programs and coordinates over 3,400 student volunteers each week. Students can serve as tutors, construction workers, youth mentors, and in other roles. By participating in these activities, students meet new friends and build social connections while doing good in our community.

Students can learn more about service programs and other opportunities at the Activities Fair this coming Monday, August 21, from 11:00 AM to 2:00 PM, on the lower end of the Lawn and in the Amphitheater.  Encourage your students to choose a few activities that appeal to him or her — but also advise them not to sign up for every program available, or they’ll soon find themselves overwhelmed by their commitments.

To fit in socially, students need to embrace the great diversity we enjoy at UVA, and this now seems more important than ever. 

Students in the first-year class come from 47 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, and from 73 foreign countries. We have students from many races and religious backgrounds, different socio-economic situations and varied life experiences. Getting to know people from various walks of life will prepare your student for the diverse world they’ll enter after graduation.

Encourage your students to make the effort to get to know someone who comes from a completely different background than they do; encourage them to seek out these encounters — even if it means stepping outside their comfort zones.

We know that the effort to fit in socially involves peer pressure of various kinds. We’re aware of the health and safety hazards associated with alcohol use among our students, and we have a number of programs to address this issue. The Gordie Center, based in Student Health, serves as a central point for outreach. Many of us are engaged in education and prevention efforts, including faculty, staff, medical personnel, police … and the students themselves.

As parents, you have a part in this dialogue: I encourage you to talk to your sons and daughters about your family’s expectations regarding alcohol and drug use. In fact, I urge you to talk to them about one event in particular.

Each year for the past several years, on the Saturday night of opening weekend, there has been a large, off-Grounds block party in the area along Wertland Street, near The Corner. The party draws thousands of students to a chaotic scene, fueled by excessive drinking, that lasts into the morning hours.

This environment can be dangerous for students, especially those who are new to UVA and new to college life generally. Our Chief Health Affairs Officer, Dr. Rick Shannon, is especially concerned about this event because of the number of cases of alcohol poisoning we have to treat each year after the Wertland party.

Following the events of last weekend, I have appealed to students to cancel the Wertland party. The party places a tremendous strain on law enforcement and health officials, who may have other pressing duties tonight, and it endangers our students.  I hope students will do the right thing — and stop the Wertland Party. Please urge your students to participate in UVA-planned activities tonight. We have a full schedule of fun, safe events, including a party inside and outside of the Aquatics & Fitness Center with several carnival-type events, food trucks, and a DJ.

Eventually, your students will find their fit at UVA, both academically and socially. Your sons and daughters were offered admission to UVA because of who they are now — their academic achievements and other qualities that distinguish them.

Their UVA education will be about who they will become in the future — through their intellectual growth, their social development, and their maturation as young adults.

Advice for Parents

Now that I’ve said how you can help your child get off to a good start, I have some brief advice on how you as parents can get off to a good start this academic year.

This is a big day for you. This day marks a major milestone in your child’s life … and also in your life as a parent. This is an emotional day, as excitement mixes with anxiety, sadness, and a dozen other emotions.

It’s normal to feel a sense of loss today; it’s normal to feel miserable … it’s also normal to feel exhilarated.  My advice is to give yourself permission to experience all those emotions, with all their complexity and contradictions.

I encourage you to provide support for your sons and daughters, but I also urge you to stand back and let your children learn by doing. Every new college student makes mistakes — so does every parent, as all of us know.  These mistakes are part of your children’s education and part of their maturation as adults.

By finding their own solutions, students will learn to adapt and to overcome. Allow room for those mistakes, because those mistakes become life lessons. And those lessons become the foundation of experience and awareness in the adult who will soon emerge before your eyes.

Although you face mixed emotions today, more than anything this should be a day of celebration. Feel proud of your sons and daughters, and feel proud of yourselves for what you have done to bring them to this day.  Moms and dads across the nation and around the world strive to help their children get admitted to the University of Virginia … and you succeeded. Congratulations.

This is Your UVA

Before we begin our Q&A session, let me mention a few resources that are yours now as a member of the UVA family.

The Handbook for Parents includes details about student self-governance, housing and residence life, technology, safety, and other aspects of student life.  Copies are available in the lobby, and the handbook is available online in a searchable format at virginia.edu.

You will have opportunities to participate in your local community through UVA Clubs, and to be part of our lifelong learning activities. To find out more, visit our parent-and-family web portal at virginia.edu/families. 

You should know about the Parents Fund Committee, which supports student initiatives, including alcohol-education, club sports, arts groups, and the Career Center. Information about the Parents Fund Committee is at uvaparents.virginia.edu.

Please come visit us often. Come to sports events, performances, honors ceremonies, and other gatherings on Grounds.  Join us for Family Weekend, which takes place November 3 - 5.

Now that you’ve officially joined the UVA family, I hope you’ll feel a sense of ownership and pride in this great University.

This is your UVA now. And we’re so glad to welcome you here — all of you.  Thank you very much.