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​Colombian President speaks at valediction ceremony

Class of 2017 presents class gift, fourth-years and University employees receive awards

<p>Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos delivered a speech on failure and perseverance.</p>

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos delivered a speech on failure and perseverance.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos addressed the Class of 2017 Friday at the Valedictory Exercises in a speech on failure and perseverance. The ceremony also featured the presentation of the class gift and several awards.

Although the ceremony was originally scheduled to take place on the Lawn, it was moved to John Paul Jones Arena due to inclement weather. Attendees filled the lower level and floor level seats in the arena.

In his speech, Santos said the lessons he learned as a cadet in Colombia’s naval academy taught him, “If we do not know what port we are steering toward, no wind is favorable to us.”

“My own interpretation of this phrase is one that has guided my life ever since — ‘When we do know what port we are steering toward, even the most contrary winds can help us reach it,’” Santos said. “This is what we did in Colombia!”

Santos also drew upon his own experiences in negotiating peace talks in Colombia with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, a leftist guerrilla group. His efforts won him the Nobel Peace Prize in 2016, but according to Santos, the peace process was filled with many opportunities for failure.

“I knew deep down in my heart that as long as there was even a slight chance — a small opening — to bring to an end [to] such a bloody and tragic war, I just had to try,” Santos said.

Santos said in the changing landscape of international politics, the graduating students “must lead now, not later,” and connect with one another to create peace.

“Your generation cannot and must not retreat into regressive and sinister forces,” he said. “Your generation believes in the unifying power of love. Your generation sees diversity as a strength, not a weakness.”

The ceremony also featured the presentation of the class gift — a check for $316,517. Fourth-Year Trustees members Wyatt Moorer, a fourth-year College student, and Samantha Westrum, a fourth-year Batten student, presented the gift to University President Teresa Sullivan.

“Each gift is critically important to the success of the University and overwhelmingly valued by every area that received financial support,” Moorer said. “We hope that this tradition of giving back is something for which our class will always be remembered, and we hope you will continue to give to U.Va. in the future.”

In Sullivan’s acceptance of the gift, she said the money will go towards different schools and programs including the library system, Madison House, the Office of African-American Affairs and the Women’s Center.

“I’m very grateful for your generosity and the many ways your gift will enhance the University,” Sullivan said while accepting the gift. “The class gift has become quite a tradition here — this program offers each student to make a cash gift and to direct it to areas of the University that are most meaningful to him or her.”

Sullivan also said the Class of 2017 has faced unique struggles throughout their time at the University and she admired how the students have handled difficult situations. Although Sullivan did not elaborate on the class’s difficulties throughout the years, the Class of 2017 faced the death of Hannah Graham, the publication of Rolling Stone’s now-retracted article, “A Rape on Campus” article and the detainment of Otto Warmbier in North Korea.

“It is fashionable to proclaim that members of your generation are fragile and not very resilient,” Sullivan said. “That is certainly not true of your class. I have watched you overcome collectively many adversities that other classes did not face.”

Nine different awards were presented at the ceremony to fourth-year students, University employees and organizations.

The Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award committee gave student awards to fourth-year McIntire student Alysa Triplett and fourth-year College student Jackson Nell. The committee also gave an award to Carrie Rudder — the director of career counseling, advising and communities at the Career Center — for her work in helping undergraduates form career plans.

The Seven Society awarded the Louis A. Onesty Memorial Scholar-Athlete Award to fourth-year College student Leah Smith for her accomplishments as a student on the women’s swimming and diving team. The University’s chapter of the Student National Medical Association also won the James Earle Sargeant Award from the Seven Society for their work in helping underserved communities and underrepresented medical students at the University.

Additionally, three fourth-year students won awards from the Class of 2017. Fourth-year Commerce student Shreyas Hariharan was recognized for his dedication to community service, fourth-year College student Yolande Pokam Tchuisseu for her cultural fluency and fourth-year Engineering student Mario Sukkar was awarded the Diamond Award for resilience and optimism.

The final award was the Gordon F. Rainey Jr. Award for Vigilance to the Student Experience given to Nursing Dean Dorrie Fontaine by the Society of the Purple Shadows.