University President Jim Ryan was officially inaugurated as U.Va.’s ninth president Friday afternoon. The ceremony took place on the South Lawn in front of Old Cabell Hall and was attended by University staff, delegates from other universities and colleges and state officials. Ryan Aug. 1, succeeding former president Teresa Sullivan.
Several hundred attendees were present during the ceremony which included performances from the U.Va. Wind Ensemble and several a capella groups, such as the Black Voices Gospel Choir, the Virginia Belles and the University Singers.
Ryan’s address centered on faith in the University, the community of students and faculty and the people of Charlottesville. Ryan earlier this week to promote cooperation with the City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County in addition to creating a where students, faculty and community members can share ideas and opinions about the University and its policies.
“I would like to talk about faith in the unfinished project … the faith that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. described as taking the first step, even when you don’t see the whole staircase,” Ryan said.
Ryan described how the University must remain committed to research and progress while recognizing its troubled past.
“To begin that research is to take the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase,” he said. “It is to have faith that students will emerge from their time here not only smarter but wiser.”
That same faith requires “we recognize, with requisite humility, Jefferson’s brilliance and his brutality,” “the University’s role in promoting eugenics,” and the role of enslaved workers in building the University, Ryan said.
That faith comes with a purpose — according to Ryan, a “responsibility” that he described in his vision for the future of the University.
“I believe that in the future, it will not be possible for a university to be great unless it is also good … a community that is not simply inclusive and equitable, but also genuinely integrated,” Ryan said.
Ryan also made a commitment to providing affordable higher education by for low- and middle-income families. Students from Virginia families earning less than $80,000 a year and have “typical assets” will be able to attend the University tuition-free, Ryan told the crowd.
“We further promise families earning less than $30,000 a year that we will not only cover tuition, but also room and board,” he said.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and former Harvard President Drew Faust also spoke during the ceremony. They offered opinions on how Ryan fits in the vision of the University and how he will continue in the role.
“I am sure that the founder of this university and those involved would be proud of the landscape of the University today,” Northam said.
He went on to explain his hope for equal educational opportunity.
“I want every Virginian to have access to good opportunities — the opportunity for a good education,” Northam said. “As a pediatric neurosurgeon, I know it matters to level the playing field as early as possible.”
Faust focused on how Ryan lives the ideas he speaks about. She worked with Ryan when he was the dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
“An experience as a first generation college student has infused him with an understanding of the benefit of a good education,” she said. “Jim Ryan is ready for this moment because he has lived the power of education and the danger of ignorance.”
She went on to emphasize the importance of the University and higher education in society.
“[The University’s] future matters not just to the state, but to the world and all of us who believe in the power of knowledge and understanding,” Faust said. “I cannot imagine this essential and urgent task in better hands.”
Second-year Engineering student Joshua Rigby was struck by the approachability of Ryan.
“He feels a lot more relatable,” Rigby said. “[The speech] had a lot of life to it. It instills a lot of hope for the life of the University.”
Rigby was one of several students and community members who have joined Ryan on his mornings runs throughout this past month. Ryan invited students and community members on his runs around Grounds to train for a .
“[Ryan] just shows up and students can talk with him,” Rigby said. “He’s very approachable. It’s really easy to go up and strike up a conversation.”
In an interview, former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore and his wife, Roxanne — both of whom are graduates of the University — were optimistic about the prospects of Ryan’s presidency and appreciated his often humorous tone during the address.
“He’s self-[deprecating] and full of humor,” Jim Gilmore said. “He should be a great leader.”
Ryan “recognizes that works in progress take time and dedication,”Roxanne Gilmore said. “He has a great vision for what the University can be.”
“We will forever remain an unfinished project,” Ryan said. “That fact should not dampen your faith but strengthen your resolve.”