The Class of 2004 will welcome University alumnus and professional football player Atiim Kiambu "Tiki" Barber at Valediction Exercises May 15, University officials announced yesterday. Barber, a 1997 Commerce school graduate, is a star running back for the National Football League's New York Giants and a veteran of Super Bowl XXXV in January 2001. "He was a great student and a great athlete who really matured into a fine young man," University spokesperson Carol Wood said. "I think he'll be inspirational and also a great deal of fun, and that's what you want in a Valediction speaker." Barber was voted both the Atlantic Coast Conference's Player of the Year and a first-team academic All-American in 1996 after setting the University's all-time career rushing record, which has since been broken by Thomas Jones. Fourth-Year Class President Justin Ferira said since Barber is a University graduate, he will be able to better connect with students. "Tiki is a success story from this school," Ferira said. "Everyone knows his name." Valediction Exercises are part of the University's graduation weekend activities held the day before Final Exercises. "Valediction is very important," Graduation Committee Chair Cerissa Cafasso said. "It's just for undergraduates and it's a unique opportunity for us to come together as a class." Whereas Final Exercises include all graduating University students, Valediction is primarily undergraduate event, Ferira said. "Graduation, because U.Va. is so large, can be sort of cumbersome," Ferira said. "Valediction is more of an undergraduate's award day, where parents and family can come and everyone gets seat." The ceremony is primarily organized by the 46-person Fourth-Year Council, or the Class of 2004 Trustees, who solicited speaker suggestions from fellow class members. "At the end of last year we started soliciting suggestions from fourth and fifth years," Ferira said. "We wanted people with a good image and a good speaker to attract a large crowd -- a well spoken celebrity with a connection to U.Va." The Trustees narrowed suggestions to about 30 people and then broke the list into three tiers based on preference order, Ferira said. The Graduation Committee wrote personal letters to the 20 choices listed in the first tier and Barber was the first to respond, Ferira said. "I'm really excited to have Tiki come back to U.Va.," Cafasso said. "He's a young alum, so he will connect with students a lot. He's not just an athlete, he's involved in a lot, he was involved in a lot as an undergrad and he has commitments to the community in which he lives."