U.Va. alumnus, Super Bowl Champion Chris Long speaks at Valedictory Exercises

Ceremony honors graduates, community members who made a difference during their time at the University

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Chris Long — a University alumnus and former football team member known for his philanthropic efforts and two Super Bowl wins with the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles — was this year’s keynote speaker.

Courtesy U.Va.'s live stream of Valedictory Exercises

Spirits were high at Friday afternoon’s Valedictory Exercises despite inclement weather that forced the relocation of the ceremony from the Lawn to John Paul Jones Arena.

Chris Long — a University alumnus and former football team member known for his philanthropic efforts and two Super Bowl wins with the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles — was this year’s keynote speaker at the ceremony, which celebrates the achievements of the graduating fourth-year class. Long was selected by the Fourth Year Trustees Graduation Committee, chaired by College student Erik Roberts, who reached out to Long about speaking at the event.

Long’s speech had notes of humor as he paid homage to his childhood in Charlottesville and football career, but the speech took on a tone of humility as Long challenged the class to redefine the concepts of failure and success.

Long urged the Class of 2018 to view graduation not as a destination, but rather as a mere marker in the progression of evolution and growth in one’s life. 

“Jefferson believed that learning goes far beyond your formal education. He’s right,” Long said, adding that graduates would be less likely to be a catalyst for growth and change in the world if they viewed graduation as “a destination or a crowning achievement.”

Long moved on to recognize the importance of failure, mentioning his time as a University student as a period that taught him how to use shortcomings to move forward and ultimately achieve some of his greatest accomplishments. He encouraged graduates to invite fear of failure, saying that fear often times precedes success.

“I challenge you to welcome fear,” Long said. “Life’s most fulfilling journeys begin with this basic evolutionary and sometimes socially constructed feeling.”

Long urged graduates to move past a mentality of becoming complacent with reaching a destination and continuously work to make a difference in their respective communities, regardless of the possibility of fear or failure. 

“If you love something, look at it critically and improve it,” Long said. “Tend to it. That’s school pride, and that is patriotism. Accept the challenge here and in the communities you will soon call home.”

The ceremony also featured the presentation of awards from the Class of 2018 and from secret societies, as well as the presentation of the class gift. 

The Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award — given to graduating students, alumni and community members of selected Southern colleges and universities for service to the community — was awarded to fourth-year Batten student Maeve Curtin and fourth-year College student Tyler Ambrose. The faculty recipient was Tabitha Enoch, an assistant dean and director of Orientation and New Student Programs.

The Seven Society awarded the Lewis A. Onesty Memorial Scholar Award to fourth-year College student Lauren Moses and fourth-year Batten student Haley Fauntleroy in recognition of their excellence as student-athletes. Additionally, the society gave the James Earl Sargent Award — recognizing an organization that works to benefit the University community — to the Tuff Armenia Project, spearheaded by fourth-year Engineering student Leon Yacoubian.

The Society of the Purple Shadows awarded the Gordon F. Rainey, Jr. Award for Vigilance to the Student Experience to Dean of Students Allen Groves. 

The Class of 2018 Trustees awarded the Award for Community Service to fourth-year Curry student Paola Sanchez-Valdez and the Award for Cultural Fluency to fourth-year College student Nivedha Kannapadi.

This year’s ceremony also included the presentation of the inaugural Miss Kathy Award. The Miss Kathy Award is an honor presented to a graduating fourth-year who exudes kindness and friendliness throughout the University community, much like beloved U.Va. Dining Employee Kathy McGruder, the individual after whom the award was named. The award was given to fourth-year Batten student Sarah Brotman. 

Representatives from the 2018 Class Giving Campaign also presented the University with $63,597. Raised by 40 percent of the fourth-year class — about 1,443 students — the money will be allotted to over 400 groups representing various schools, departments and organizations throughout the University. 

The ceremony ultimately reflected sentiments of community and family for a class that had seen a number of difficult periods during their University career, including the murder of Hannah Graham, the violent arrest of Martese Johnson, a now-retracted Rolling Stone article detailing an alleged rape at a fraternity house and the deadly Unite the Right rally in August. 

“I am proud to say that our class chose to stand together. In each instance, our student leaders responded quickly, defining what community looks like,” Fauntleroy said. “We are strong, we are resilient and we are the future leaders that are going to take their experiences and be agents for change.”

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