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Chris Long to be keynote speaker for valedictory exercises

NFL player and U.Va. alumnus will deliver his speech before President Teresa Sullivan’s commencement address

<p>U.Va. alumnus Chris Long played football for the University and now plays for the Philadelphia Eagles.&nbsp;</p>

U.Va. alumnus Chris Long played football for the University and now plays for the Philadelphia Eagles. 

U.Va. alumnus Chris Long — who played football for the University and now for the Philadelphia Eagles — will be the valediction speaker at this year’s graduation. The Valedictory Exercises will take place May 18, the day before the Final Exercises May 19 and 20 in which outgoing University President Teresa Sullivan giving the commencement address.

Erik Roberts, a fourth-year College student and chair of the Fourth Year Trustees Graduation Committee, reached out to Long about giving the address. According to Robert, there are three key reasons Long makes a suitable candidate — he is a committed philanthropist, is connected with Charlottesville and is a talented athlete. 

“I watched an ESPN documentary short about him and the Waterboys Project which really put him at the front of my mind,” Roberts said. “It just really made sense to me that a renowned philanthropist — with the Charlottesville connection — and [who] is now a two time Superbowl champion ... it was the perfect storm of things that made it seem very clear to me that he was the person we should have.”

In May 2015, Long launched the Chris Long Foundation which helps raise money for the
Waterboys Initiative. Waterboys unites NFL players from across the league to support a single shared cause — providing clean accessible water to rural communities in East Africa. The initiative was started following Long’s travels to Tanzania where he climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, which is Africa’s tallest peak.

In 2016, Long was released by the Los Angeles Rams, and Roberts said this made for an interesting come back story as he has since gone on to play for the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles, winning the Super Bowl in 2016 and 2017. 

“After being dropped he has come back to win two Super Bowls,” Roberts said. “I think he’s got a lot of drive to stick with it and he’s always trying to be the best he can be in everything he does, so I think that’s something he can share and bring to the Valedictory Exercises.”

University Deputy Spokesperson Wesley P. Hester said Long’s connection with philanthropy and Charlottesville was particularly important to his choice as a candidate for being the Valedictory speaker.  

“Mr. Long grew up in Charlottesville and has remained involved in the community,” Hester said in an email statement to The Cavalier Daily. “Through his foundation, working with the Boys and Girls Club of Central Virginia, Mr. Long donated his first six game checks of the 2017 season to fund two seven-year scholarships for underprivileged youth from the Charlottesville area at St. Anne’s Belfield School, which he attended.”

Roberts said Long’s connection with Charlottesville was particularly important for the graduating class of 2018. 

“Given everything that the Class of 2018 has experienced here in Charlottesville we thought it would be really powerful to have someone speak to us, who not only knows what has gone on here but really understands it and is a part of it,” Roberts said.

An email was sent out last week to the graduating Class of 2018 about the decision of Long. Roberts said the reception so far has been positive, particularly among people who are aware of his football success.

“Those who already knew of Chris were really excited from what I had gathered,” Roberts said. “People who didn’t know who Chris was prior, have started looking into him and seeing how awesome he is and how perfect he is for this community.”

However, fourth-year College student Jane Diamond said she was not initially happy with the selection.

“We got an email last week ... and I was initially underwhelmed,” Diamond said. “But I looked him and he’s done a lot of cool philanthropy and that made me feel better. Also, Obama tweeted about him so that’s cool.”

Fourth-year College student Jack Armstrong said he had followed football for a long time and so knew of Long, but was also underwhelmed in comparison to previous years. Last year, the keynote speaker at the Valedictory Exercises was Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and in 2016 was University alumna and “Grey’s Anatomy” actress, Sarah Drew.

“I was a bigger sports fan in high school and have known of him since then,” Armstrong said. “He’s a great defensive player and recent Super Bowl champ, but … I think some of the past speakers have been better ... But who knows, he may give the best speech of my four years here and I hope he does.”

University President Teresa A. Sullivan, who picked Long out of a list presented to her by the Fourth Year Trustees Graduation Committee, said she was pleased with the choice.

“Chris Long personifies the principles of leadership and service that we emphasize at U.Va.,” Sullivan said in a statement. “His achievements as a collegiate and professional athlete are equaled only by his personal sacrifice and generosity in striving to make the world a better place.”