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U.Va. celebrates the Class of 2021 with weekend-long in-person celebration

Graduating students from the Class of 2021 participated in ceremonies Friday through Sunday

<p>All graduating students from the Class of 2021 enjoyed the opportunity to walk the Lawn and process to Scott Stadium, where the ceremonies took place.&nbsp;</p>

All graduating students from the Class of 2021 enjoyed the opportunity to walk the Lawn and process to Scott Stadium, where the ceremonies took place. 

Class of 2021 graduates from across the University’s 12 schools took part in in-person ceremonies over the weekend. All graduating students from the Class of 2021 enjoyed the opportunity to walk the Lawn and process to Scott Stadium, where the ceremonies took place. 

In order to comply with COVID-19 distancing requirements, two ceremonies were held each day — one ceremony in the morning beginning at 9 a.m. and the other in the afternoon beginning at 2 p.m, as was the case for the Class of 2020 ceremonies held May 16. The ceremonies were live streamed for those unable to attend the event in person. A total of 7,494 degrees were conferred to the Class of 2021, 4,505 of which were baccalaureate degrees, 2,522 of which were graduate degrees and 467 of which were professional degrees.

Students from Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, School of Education and Human Development, School of Medicine and School of Nursing graduated in an in-person ceremony on Friday, May 21 at 10 a.m., while students from the School of Architecture, School of Continuing and Professional Studies, School of Data Science and School of Engineering and Applied Science celebrated with an in-person ceremony at 11 a.m. Two separate ceremonies were held for the College of Arts and Sciences on Saturday, and Final Exercises for the Darden School of Business, School of Law and McIntire School of Commerce were held Sunday.

Prior to the ceremony, students participated in an academic procession from the Lawn to Scott Stadium. 

Following the Pledge of Allegiance, fourth-year College students Blair Smith and Owen Wilson performed the national anthem for attendees at Friday’s ceremony. 

University President Jim Ryan spoke next, describing the event as “miraculous,” given “the hopes raised and the hopes dashed, just to get to this moment.” The University originally canceled Final Exercises “as planned” for the Class of 2021, but revised those based on revised statewide gathering size limits and travel guidelines.

Ryan thanked those faculty members ending their time at the University, including Pat Lampkin, vice president and chief student affairs officer, and Dean of Students Allen Groves, saying that they “shaped the University through their service.” 

In his remarks, Rector James B. Murray Jr. noted that this day is when “life gets seriously interesting,” and left the students with some words of wisdom.

“Time goes quick, quicker than ever, and you best manage it well,” Murray Jr. said. 

Murray shared that his graduation occurred in the wake of the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and President John F. Kennedy, inflicting “our own version of collective trauma” similar to the way in which the COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally altered graduates’ lives.


The Commencement speaker for the Class of 2021 was Alexis Ohanian, Class of 2005 alumnus and co-founder of Reddit. Ohanian described himself as “a son of undocumented immigrants and a business dad.” 

In his speech, Ohanian reflected on his time at the University and urged graduates to thank the people supporting them because “family is the most basic atomic unit of community.” 

Ohanian advised students that it is important to acknowledge that humans and manmade institutions are flawed so that they can recognize how they can work to improve the institutions and communities of which they are a part of.

“The sooner you start looking at the world this way, the sooner you’ll be in a position to radically change things, to improve things, to build better systems,” Ohanian said.

To close his speech, Ohanian encouraged graduates to build their communities and support one another.

“The people and the experiences they had and that you had with them — those are the things that matter,” Ohanian urged graduates. “Please, invest in people and experiences.”

His remarks closed with an energetic “Wahoowa” chant from his three-year-old daughter Olympia. 

All four deans of the graduating schools spoke at Friday’s morning ceremony, including Dr. David S. Wilkes, Dean of the School of Medicine; Robert C. Pianta, Dean of the School of Education and Human Development; and Ian H. Solomon, Dean of the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy Dean. 

Students from each of the schools also shared reflections on their time at U.Va through a video they compiled. Students shared memories from the year defined by the pandemic, highlighting trips to Carter’s Mountain, time spent baking and hiking with friends. Following the video, student representatives from each of the schools shared a few parting words for their peers. 

“We found each other,” fourth-year Education student Isabelle Edwards said. “We found programs and faculty and fellow students that will help us change the world in dozens of ways,” 

“It means so much for us that we are entering a field of compassion and care during a time that our world needs it the most,” said John S. Costello, representing the School of Medicine.

Creative Writing Prof. Henry Hoyns and former U.S. Poet Laureate Rita Dove performed a poem she wrote, entitled “Daffodil.”

“No matter whether you are coming home, staying home, or preparing to leave wherever or whatever home is,” Dove said to preface her reading.

Singer-songwriter Brandi Carlisle performed a song after congratulating students for “graduating in such a challenging and tough, crazy, ridiculous year.”  

Following the performance, Patricia K. Epps, Chairman of Board of the U.Va. Alumni Association and a triple Hoo, welcomed the graduating class into the Association.

“It is my privilege to be among the first to welcome you as alumni of this great University. As of today, you are members of a 183 year-old organization, made up of over 250,000 proud U.Va graduates worldwide,” Epps said.

In his closing remarks, University President Ryan left the graduating class with a few parting words of wisdom.

“Explore in ways you never have before," he said. 

Journalist and Class of 1979 Alumna Katie Couric closed the event with a rendition of “The Good Ol’ Song.”

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