The University announced Monday that they have selected the speakers for the Class of 2023’s Finals Weekend exercises. Jacqueline Novogratz, University alumna and Acumen founder and CEO, will speak at Valedictory Exercises May 19, University Director of Athletics Carla Williams will speak at May 20 Final Exercises, and Louis P. Nelson, architectural history professor and vice provost for Academic Outreach, will speak at May 21 Final Exercises.
Each year, the University Committee on Public Occasions recommends a commencement speaker for the graduating class’s Final Exercises. According to University spokesperson Bethanie Glover, the Committee is composed of selected student leaders, faculty and staff and designated with selecting possible speakers for final exercises. University President Jim Ryan has final say over the final lineup, which is selected from a pool of University community members.
“Speakers for valedictory exercises are typically U.Va. alumni, and commencement speakers are drawn from current, highly regarded faculty and staff,” Glover said.
Williams became the first Black woman to act as a director of athletics when she entered her position October 2017. During her time as director, Williams has overseen the progress of the Virginia Athletics Master Plan, a multi-phase initiative aimed at upgrading student athletic facilities and fostering a culture of personal and collective achievement among student-athletes.
Williams is also a member of the NCAA’s NIL Legislation Solutions Group — a committee devoted to examining student-athlete rights — the NCAA Federal and State Legislation Working Group, and an executive for the Black AD Alliance, a collective focused on promoting Black Division I athletic administrators.
In a statement to The Cavalier Daily, Ryan expressed his enthusiasm for this year’s commencement speakers.
"I'm excited to hear from both Carla Williams and Louis Nelson, two outstanding and inspiring University leaders," Ryan said. "Our graduating students and their families are in for a treat."
Nelson specializes in the architecture of the early modern Atlantic world and is well-known for his advocacy for place-based public history retellings. During his time at the University, Nelson helped found the President’s Council on U.Va. Community Partnerships and oversees academic units including the new Karsh Institute for Democracy, Virginia Humanities, the Center for Liberal Arts and the Morven Sustainability Lab.
While commencement speakers are selected by the Committee on Public Occasions, the valedictory speaker is chosen exclusively by the board of fourth-year trustees. Sophia Liao, president of fourth-year trustees and fourth-year Commerce student, said that the board is extremely excited to host Novogratz for this year’s event.
“A friend of mine had heard her talk and give her an amazing speech somewhere else, and she's a U.Va. graduate which is amazing too,” Liao said. “She is exactly the kind of passionate speaker with a connection to the University that we are looking for this year.”
Novogratz has been named one of the 25 Smartest People of the Decade by the Daily Beast, one of the world’s 100 Greatest Living Business Minds by Forbes and one of Insider’s Climate Action 30 leaders. Over the course of her career, Novogratz’ venture capital company Acumen has invested over $145 million in ‘patient capital’ and another $243 in assets for for-profit funds aimed at combating global poverty and helping global communities in need.
Valedictory Exercises serve as the kick-off for Final Exercises and mark the final time the entire graduating class will convene. The event includes the presentation of the class gift, a class video, and University and Class awards.
The College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences hold their Final Exercises on the Lawn May 20, while each of the University’s other undergraduate and graduate schools hold their joint final exercises May 21. Individual School and Department Graduation Ceremonies will occur throughout the weekend.
According to Liao, this year’s commencement speakers are meant to speak to both the hardships and the triumphs of the Class of 2023’s University experience.
“I think after all that our class has gone through, both the challenges and the successes, they are kind of the best example of people who understand this place and understand us,” Liao said.