The University kicked off its two-year-long Bicentennial Celebration with an event on Friday. Held on the Lawn, the event featured many inspiring performances and speeches which addressed our institution’s complex history throughout its 200-year existence. Students, prominent alumni, faculty and state officials came on stage to help tell the University’s story, along with a projection which wove the performances together. In this event there were several moving moments, one especially one was when the descendants of enslaved laborers told stories of the horrors their ancestors endured as they built this University. This moment demonstrates to our community how far we have come as an institution that no longer idealizes its past, but engages in an important self-examination which allows us to put that history into perspective. While this acknowledgement is promising, it signifies something greater — that efforts to rectify historic wrongs will continue.
While coming to terms with the University’s past was a prominent focus of the event, the present was discussed as well. Many of the speakers addressed the horrific events of Aug. 11 and 12, by noting how our community came together against white supremacists and their hateful ideology. It is essential to continue this unity moving forward, because the fight against white supremacy is not over. White supremacists to Charlottesville over the weekend in an attempt to disrupt our community. The best thing we can do in the face of a seemingly endless stream of hatred and bigotry is to continue on the path to acknowledge these historic wrongs. That path, which was laid out beautifully during the Bicentennial event, stands opposite the ideology of white supremacists.
Placing the University’s history in perspective is not a one-time event, but an everyday practice. University President Teresa Sullivan said it best when she stated that “the launch of our Bicentennial is a celebration of U.Va.’s past and an invitation to envision its future.” As members of the University community it is important to remember that it is up to us to envision that future in the context of the past. It is up to us to ensure that future lives up to the values of progress and unity put on display at the Bicentennial Celebration. As we enter the third century of the University’s history, we should own the good and the bad of this institution and make sure the next century is better than the last two.