May 25-June 7, 2001
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Collins did it his way: mixing humor, wisdom and even song
Paul E. Norris Jr. to head U.Va. police
More nurses coming, hospital will reopen beds
Nursing receives $1 million for McLeod expansion

Search committees for key posts named

Probing the mental wounds of ethnic conflict
Graduation festivities
Hot Links -- graduation special edition
Second Hot Links -- hospital centennial
Shenandoah Shakespeare Express coming to Charlottesville June 28
U.Va.'s 'Chicken Run'
In Memoriam
Memorial efforts for Meloy
Dr. Francis S. Collins
Matt Kelly
Francis Collins

Collins did it his way: mixing humor, wisdom and even song

By Matt Kelly

Finals speaker Dr. Francis S. Collins exhorted the graduates to have fun and, as an illustration, burst into song at the close of his address.

Collins, director of the National Human Genome Research Institute and a native of Staunton, received a standing ovation for the song, a parody of “My Way” about getting through college by doing it “their” way.

More than 5,500 degrees were conferred under cloudy skies May 20 in the 172nd graduation ceremony for the University. Exuberant students ignored the mud on the Lawn and the threat of more rain as they celebrated the latest milestone in their education. Some students screamed and waved to friends and family while others joked among themselves and hoisted colorful balloons as they processed from the Rotunda to Old Cabell Hall.

University President John T. Casteen III said that graduations marked shared accomplishments and he praised families for the sacrifices that made it possible for the students to be there. He also praised the faculty for its passion for learning and for conveying that passion to the students.

Casteen reminded the students that during their time here, U.Va. was and continues to be the pre-eminent public university in the country and that that adds value to their degrees.

Collins, in his remarks, mixed humor and the profound, nostalgia for his days at the university and advice for the future. A 1970 graduate of U.Va., he majored in chemistry.

He told the graduates that through advances in medical science, their lifespans could be increased notably, to over 100 years of age. “Remember, the best revenge is to live long enough to be a problem to your children,” he said.

I did it their way

I came, I bought the books
I stayed in the dorms and
followed directions
I worked, studied hard
Made lots of friends who
had connections
I crammed
They gave me grades,
And may I say, not in a fair way
But I’m a good Wahoo
I did it their way.
Now, my fine young friends,
Now that I am a full professor,
Where once I was oppressed,
I have now become the cruel
With me, I hope you will see
The double helix is a highway
And yes, you’ll learn its best
To do it my way.

This is an excerpt from a song credited by Dr. Francis Collins to Bright Morning Star, music group from the 1980s. It is a parody of the Revaux/Francois/Anka song “My Way,” which was made popular by Frank Sinatra.

He recalled some of his time at the University, but noted that the essential concerns remained the same: “sex for the students, athletics for the alumni and parking for the faculty.”

He advised the graduates to seek a balanced life, noting that it was simple to say, but harder to achieve. He said it could be done in part through how students made four decisions in their lives.

The first was in what work they chose or in how they gave back to the society. "Some say that the purpose of life is to have a life of purpose,” he said.

To do this, the graduates needed to understand that while they have lofty plans, they touch other people one at a time. And that is how they will bring about change, he said.

The second decision is how they approach faith, the meaning of life and what happens after death. Collins said he can easily and simultaneously believe in the scientific rigor of intellectually disciplined mind and in a God that has a personal interest in each of us.

The third area focuses on what the graduates will do about love. He advised them to reject prejudices, since humans are 99.9 percent the same genetically. On a personal level, he said if they have not found someone they want to spend the rest of their life with, they should keep looking.

The fourth decision he advised the graduates was to keep fun in their lives. He cited Winston Churchill as saying that people could not consider weighty matters unless they were also capable of considering humorous matters. As a way injecting fun into the graduation celebration, Collins pulled out his guitar and sang a song about college life. The song centered on working as others direct you to in college, and Collins included a verse of his own at the end, saying that now that he was a professor, he had become “the oppressor.”

The graduates gave Collins a standing ovation.

“I’ve never heard an encore demand for a graduation speaker before,” Casteen added after Collin’s remarks.

Alumni Association president Leigh B. Middleditch Jr. spoke on the honor system, noting that his remarks were written before the recent allegations of 122 violations of the honor code in a physics class. He said while many students seem ambivalent about the honor code, he advised the graduates to consider the honor code and whether or not it sets U.Va. apart from other schools and if it added value to their lives and their degrees. He said the students should also consider what it means to give their word and stick by it.

He said the honor code could offer the students the best lessons they take away with them from U.Va.

Casteen echoed Middleditch’s remarks, advising the graduates not to follow the path of unenlightened self-interest. “Dream, create and commit your fortunes to the common good,” Casteen said.


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