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Ralph Sampson, Claudrena Harold and Taison Bell to speak during Finals Weekend

This year marks the first normal in-person graduation ceremonies since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic

<p>This year marks the first regular in-person graduation ceremonies in three years.</p>

This year marks the first regular in-person graduation ceremonies in three years.

The University announced the names of three keynote speakers for Finals Weekend Monday. Former basketball player Ralph Sampson will speak at Valedictory Exercises May 20, while Claudrena Harold, chair of the history department, and Dr. Taison Bell, assistant professor of pulmonary and critical care medicine, infectious diseases and international health and director of the medical intensive care unit at U.Va. Health, will speak at Final Exercises May 21 and 22.

Sampson — the most decorated basketball player in Virginia Athletics history — will speak at Valedictory Exercises May 20 at 3 p.m. in John Paul Jones Arena. During his time at the University, Sampson led the Cavaliers to an NIT title in 1980, an NCAA Final Four appearance in 1981 and an NCAA Elite Eight appearance in 1983. He was the second athlete ever to win three Naismith Awards as the National Player of the Year and also won two Wooden Awards. 

The No. 1 overall pick in the 1983 NBA draft, Sampson was drafted by the Houston Rockets and later named NBA Rookie of the Year. Although injuries ended Sampson’s career, he has since received a number of honors. Sampson was named to the Atlantic Coast Conference 50th Anniversary Men’s Basketball Team in 2002 — recognizing him as one of the 50 best basketball players in conference history — as well as being inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2012.

Harold will speak to College graduates after the 10 a.m. procession down the Lawn May 21. Harold specializes in African American history, Black cultural politics and labor history. Harold earned her Ph.D. from the University of Notre Dame and received the Gordon F. Rainey, Jr. Award for Vigilance to the Student Experience and All-University Teaching Award for her work.

Harold is the author of several books — including “When Sunday Comes: Gospel Music in the Soul and Hip-Hop Eras,” “New Negro Politics in the Jim Crow South” and “The Rise and Fall of the Garvey Movement in the Urban South.” In addition to her publications, Harold worked on an ongoing film series called Black Fire with Art Prof. Kevin Everson. The series depicts the Black experience on Grounds and includes 10 short films which have been shown at the National Gallery of Art, the Whitney Museum and other international film festivals. 

Bell will speak May 22 at Final Exercises for all schools except the College. Bell graduated from the University with a degree in African American and African Studies and received his medical degree from Columbia University. Bell received the “Rising Star” Outstanding Faculty Award last year — the highest honor the state can give to faculty from both private and public colleges and universities in Virginia. Bell was also recognized as one of the Top 40 Under 40 Leaders in Minority Health by the National Minority Quality Forum.

Bell was critical of the University’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, caring for patients in COVID-19 units and assisting nearby long-term care facilities who dealt with a number of outbreaks. Bell also helped lead the effort to distribute personal protective equipment to frontline workers during the pandemic, as well as initiating a clinical trial of remdesivir to test its effectiveness in treating COVID-19. As a result of Bell’s and other trials, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized remdesivir as the first treatment for COVID-19.

Final Exercises this year will be the first normal graduation ceremony in three years. Last year’s graduation ceremonies were held in Scott Stadium and graduates were allowed only two guests, who were unable to watch them walk down the Lawn, while the Class of 2020 received a modified in-person graduation ceremony last May after having a virtual ceremony the year before. With Final Exercises and graduation ceremonies expected to be as they were in spring 2019, this year’s normal graduation is a welcome change for the Class of 2022.

In case of severe weather, John Paul Jones Arena will serve as the backup location for Harold and Bell’s events.

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