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A summary of my relationship with Jim Ryan

An unlikely friendship between a fourth-year student and a first-year president

<p>John Patterson is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily.</p>

John Patterson is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily.

A “parasocial” relationship is a one-sided relationship where one person feels emotionally invested in and connected to somebody while that person has no idea the other person exists. It’s a common phenomenon among celebrities and obsessed fans, Instagram models and their most devoted followers and definitely does not apply to my friendship with Jim Ryan. We’ve been really tight ever since I read his book and watched his holiday video six times. Here’s our story so far.

Part One: How we met

I remember skimming the email announcing his presidency as I had lunch at O’Hill my second year. I counted the word “Harvard” four times. I also read:

“The first in his family to attend college, Jim earned an A.B., summa cum laude, at Yale University and attended UVA Law on a full scholarship, graduating first in his class.”

“Wow.” I said to myself through a mouthful of chicken burger. Our similarities were obvious already — I’m pretty sure I also have the not-lowest GPA in my class. And I know where Yale is.

Part Two: Hanging out

James E. Ryan seems to have the mojo. The magic. The secret sauce. Remember when he did the coin toss at our opening football game? Virginia called heads. He flipped heads – very presidential. Remember when he got inaugurated way after he started working? The weather was perfect. Blue skies made Old Cabell’s marble pop. The crisp air and sunshine made sure everyone wasn’t too hot or too cold. Very presidential weather. I showed up at the inauguration to support my friend Jim. I was there, he was there, we were both wearing sneakers. The kids call that “hanging out.”

I learned a lot about J.R. then, mostly through his old boss Drew Faust, the former president of Harvard. Did you know Jim Ryan used to work at Harvard? Anyway, Dr. Faust mentioned some interesting details about Jim in her speech, like how he met his biological mother for the first time at a New Jersey rest stop when he was 46 years old. Also, he wrote a book and really likes running.

“Did you know he wrote a book?” I asked my friend standing next to me.

“Wait, What?” she said.

“Yeah! I didn’t know either!” I said.

Turns out she was telling me the title of his book. 

The next morning, I ran his Community Bridges 5K. I wanted to be supportive. I felt as a fourth-year I should welcome our new president to the University before I leave. So I showed up to run some miles.

Like Jim’s life, the course had many unexpected turns and obstacles to overcome. Namely hills. So many hills. I was exhausted by the final stretch — a long, gradual incline designed to break my spirit. As I inched along I heard a voice shout from behind me, closing in.

“Ron! I’m coming up from behind!” the voice shouted.

I saw ahead of me who I assume was Ron turn and glance at whoever was behind me.

“OK!” he said.

Then an elderly woman flew past me with the strength of 1,000 grandmas.  

I felt my blood heating up. I didn’t do three seasons of track in high school to go out like this. I dug deep into my reserve energy like my friend Jim E. Ryan did when he bicycled from Nairobi, Kenya, to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, in 1996. It’s on page 86 of “Wait, What?” I dare you to check. I’d show them what a real second wind looked like. I’d show them all.

I floored it past the elderly woman. I zipped past Ron. I was heaving. I crossed the finish line with dried spit on my face and an urge to vomit like a champion. I didn’t see Jim that day, but I felt his spirit with me during that last tenth of a mile.

A few weeks ago, I went with my friends to see Leslie Odom Jr. speak. Jim moderated the conversation. I also participated with my active listening. My friends were excited about a free ticket to see Leslie Odom Jr., and I was excited about my free ticket to see Jim Ryan. I had a great time. Jim was there, Leslie was there, I was there. Just hanging out.

Part Three: Our next steps

You’re probably wondering whether I’ve gone to one of his famous 6 a.m. runs. I haven’t. I’m pretty busy at 6 a.m. and just haven’t had the chance to come through. I’m free anytime on Fridays though if you’re out there, Jim. Also, are your knees ok? I worry about your knees sometimes with all this running. 

Either way, we both have graduation marked in our calendars. We’ll hang out then. It’s about time I introduce him to my family anyway.

John Patterson is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at


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