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Class of 2023 celebrates graduation with Final Exercises

Speakers highlighted victims of Nov. 13th shooting, pandemic, Class of 2023’s resilience

On a Saturday morning of colorful balloons, caps and gowns, Final Exercises marked the first of two consecutive days of final exercises
On a Saturday morning of colorful balloons, caps and gowns, Final Exercises marked the first of two consecutive days of final exercises

A Saturday morning full of colorful balloons, caps and gowns, remarks from University President Jim Ryan, Director of Athletics Carla Williams and other speakers marked the first of two consecutive days of final exercises, bringing the University’s 194th academic session to a close. 

Valedictory exercises took place Friday at John Paul Jones Arena, where keynote speaker Jacqueline Novogratz, Acumen founder and Class of 1983 alumna, delivered remarks. Roughly 18,000-person audience watched the first day of final exercises Saturday, which began when University President Jim Ryan delivered a speech after graduating students walked down the Lawn.

While Saturday’s ceremony honored graduates of the University’s College of Arts and Sciences, graduates from the University’s other schools received their diplomas in a Sunday ceremony. The Sunday proceedings featured a speech from keynote speaker Louis P. Nelson, the University’s vice provost for academic outreach and an art history professor. 

“I have no doubt that you will carry the very best of this place with you as you face with courage and purpose the beautiful, joyous, challenging, sometimes tragic and ever-magical road ahead,” Ryan said in a speech at the Saturday ceremony. “And when that road leads you back to Charlottesville and U.Va., know this — we will leave the lights on for you.”

Ryan also highlighted the impact the Nov. 13 shooting had on University life and acknowledged the deaths of Devin Chandler Lavel Davis and D’Sean Perry. 

Members of Perry’s family were in attendance during the speech, as were third-year College student Mike Hollins’ who was injured during the shooting. Perry’s mother, Happy Perry, walked in place of her son at the ceremony. 

“The depth of the loss of these talented and beloved teammates, classmates and friends is incalculable,” Ryan said. “The way that this community came together to remember and celebrate the lives of those who were killed and to support each other made it plain that the students we lost will never be forgotten.” 

Ryan also said that the graduating class rose to the challenges of the shooting and the COVID-19 pandemic “with grace and courage,” citing the student-run vigil in November and students’ adherence to public health protocol.

Williams also addressed the shooting, saying that she chose to accept the offer to speak at final exercises after Happy Perry contacted her requesting to stand in for her son at final exercises.

In her remarks, Williams said students should believe in themselves instead of waiting for others to validate them, adding that there will be even more hurdles for them to overcome as they depart the University. 

“True champions in sport and in life lift others up, we don’t tear them down,” she said. “Not even our most bitter rivals.”

Class of 2023 alumnus Will Simpson said that Williams’ speech was a highlight of final exercises. 

“It’s really nice to hear about life lessons from someone who has been so successful in their career.” Simpson said. 

Graduating within three years, class of 2023 alumnus Avaneen Pinninti said that final exercises were well organized, especially given the shuttle system used to provide transportation for families.

“All three of my grandparents used wheelchairs today, and I thought people were really, really, really helpful when it came to that,” Pinniniti said.

Although Pinninti will return to the University to pursue a master’s degree in Computer Science next year, he said that he will miss people who are leaving, describing his feelings as “bittersweet.”

The University's Fall 2023 term will begin Aug. 22.