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Class of 2024 celebrates graduation at final exercises

This year’s graduating students were the first to begin their time at U.Va. during the pandemic

<p>Psychology Professor Daniel Willingham, who spoke at the event, urged graduating students to continue learning throughout their life.&nbsp;</p>

Psychology Professor Daniel Willingham, who spoke at the event, urged graduating students to continue learning throughout their life. 

Colorful balloons stood out against an overcast sky as graduating students of the Class of 2024 streamed down the Lawn Saturday for the first day of final exercises. The morning ceremony included remarks from speakers including University President Jim Ryan and Psychology Prof. Daniel Willingham, and was followed by department-specific ceremonies in the afternoon and evening. 

Students graduating from the University’s College of Arts & Sciences, Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy or School of Education and Human Development received their degrees at Saturday’s ceremony. Students in the University’s other schools received their degrees at a similar ceremony Sunday, where they heard from keynote speaker Risa Goluboff, departing dean of the School of Law.

Saturday’s ceremony followed Friday’s valedictory exercises, an event open to all graduating students that featured speeches from Ryan, Class of 2024 President Kyle Woodson and Vice President Karina Reynolds and Ryan Zimmerman, retired Washington Nationals baseball player and Virginia Baseball alumnus. In his speech, Zimmerman encouraged members of the Class of 2024 to be involved in their communities and create positive change in the world. 

“At the end of the day, we are all human beings and we are in this together,” Zimmerman said. “Your generation can and will lead the way.”

Students in the Class of 2024 were the first to begin their time at the University after the outbreak of COVID-19, which disrupted many of their high school graduation ceremonies, delayed the date on which they moved into University housing and made multiple classes online-only. In his opening remarks, Ryan praised the graduating class for their resilience amidst challenging circumstances, citing the pandemic in particular. 

Class of 2024 Alumna Anna Hurley also described the COVID-19 pandemic as formative for the graduating class, saying that being able to attend final exercises in person was especially valuable for this year’s graduates because so many did not have a high school graduation ceremony in the years prior.

“Regardless of the pouring rain, the cold, waiting in lines and being soaking wet, the fact that we were there was what was so special about it,” Hurley said. “Because we don’t take for granted the fact that there is a world in which these things don’t happen.”

In his speech, Ryan also honored the victims of the Nov. 13, 2022 shooting on Grounds, noting that two of the deceased — Lavel Davis Jr. and Devin Chandler — were members of the Class of 2024. The University granted Davis Jr. and Chandler posthumous degrees in December 2022, along with the late D’Sean Perry, who was a member of the Class of 2023. Ryan thanked the Class of 2024, along with the rest of the University community, for coming together and supporting one another through a range of difficult times, including the loss of two of their classmates.

“The grace and strength of your class has carried us through times of both joy and sorrow,” Ryan said. “And I hope you’ll remember, especially after today, that there is joy to be found even in the rain.”

Ryan also briefly mentioned the events of May 4, when police forcibly cleared a pro-Palestine encampment on Grounds, as another challenging circumstance the graduating class persevered through. 

“These last couple of weeks have been challenging, and I know that May 4 in particular was a distressing and painful day for our community,” Ryan said. 

Immediately after this comment, one graduating student interjected with a cry of “Free Palestine.” This remark prompted cheers and applause from many of the other graduating students, while non-graduating attendees largely remained silent. 

Saturday’s ceremony also saw other small forms of pro-Palestinian activism, although none of them disrupted the proceedings of the event. During Ryan’s opening remarks, four graduates walked silently through the middle of the Lawn towards the Rotunda. Two of the graduates held a banner reading “disclose divest,” while the other two each held up a Keffiyeh, a traditional Arab headdress that has become associated with Palestinian resistance in recent years. During and after the ceremony, other graduates held a banner above the Rotunda steps facing the Lawn that read “Blood on U.Va.’s hands.”

Later during Saturday’s ceremony, Willingham gave remarks as the event’s keynote speaker, encouraging students in the Class of 2024 to remain lifelong learners even after graduating. Willingham said that graduates should approach learning not with the goal of mastering a subject, but with a spirit of curiosity and genuine interest.

“Lifelong learning outside the University will prove more challenging, but I’m confident that your experiences here have provided the foundational [skills] to continue learning for a lifetime,” Willingham said. 

Robert D. Hardie, rector of the Board of Visitors, also spoke to graduating students at the ceremony. In his speech, Hardie said that while each graduating class has a different University experience, the University’s fundamental traits, such as a world-class education and a commitment to student self-governance, remain ever-present. He also encouraged graduates to stay connected to the University as alumni. 

“[While] this graduation may fade into the background of your life, you can be proud of what you have accomplished here and who you have become,” Hardie said. “And when inevitably you hear news about something happening on Grounds, please start by assuming good intent.”

Final exercises marked the conclusion of the University’s 195th academic session. Classes for the University’s Fall 2024 semester will begin Aug. 27.

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