Finals Weekend 2004
by Jim Carpenter
Carol Wood and Kathleen Valenzi
the morning before Finals weekend, two fourth-year women
stretched their arms around one of the hefty, white columns
that line the Lawn and clasped hands.
asked what they were doing, they replied: “We’re
hugging the University.”
run the esmotions about the University of Virginia.
sometimes have a difficult time tearing themselves away — even
when their four years have come to an end.
Class of 2004 is no exception. They arrived in Charlottesville
in the late summer of what was heralded as the new millennium,
and quickly began calling the University home, the Lawn their
weekends ago, they played host to their families and friends
whom they’d invited to join in a life-changing celebration.
And so they came, more than 30,000 strong, filling the area
with their pride and enthusiasm for everything U.Va. The
parents of first-generation graduates, the parents of fifth-generation
alumni, parents from in state, out of state, and from distant
Photographs by Jim Carpenter
wait to begin their march down the Lawn (above), while
others celebrate having received their degrees (below).
represented the many faces of U.Va. students and were bound
by a common denominator. Parents befriended parents as
they waited patiently, in the morning rain, for the fulfillment
of family dreams. The weather was beside the point, they
said, some settling in as early as 7 a.m. in order to get
prime seating for the 10 a.m. procession.
before 10, they were rewarded for that patience. It appeared
that the military marches of the Ft. Lee Army Band had the
power to move clouds.
the time all 5,744 graduates were seated, the sun was out,
and University Rector Gordon F. Rainey Jr. welcomed them
to what he called “this stunningly beautiful place.”
to last year’s overwhelmingly “aquatic experience,” he
noted to cheers, “This year we’re playing on
a dry field.”
we get ahead of ourselves.
weekend actually has its official start on Saturday with
Valedictory exercises on the Lawn.
remarks by Cerissa Cafasso, chairwoman of the Class of
2004 Graduation Committee, were followed by an awards presentation
and by the presentation of the $58,070 class gift — notable
as the largest gift by any graduating class and reflective
of the highest-ever participation rate, with 65 percent
of the class contributing to it.
these preliminaries, Tiki Barber — having traded his
New York Giants’ blue-and-red uniform for a more appropriately
colored blue suit and orange tie — delivered the valedictory
address. A running back for the Giants, Barber is also a
1997 alumnus of the McIntire School of Commerce.
player and 1997 U.Va. alumnus Tiki Barber signs autographs
after delivering the Valedictory Address on Saturday
quipping about Charlottesville’s “refreshing
heat wave” compared to the much cooler New York he’d
just left, Barber shared memories of his time on Grounds,
and thanked two people for contributing to his success: former
U.Va. football coach George Welsh and his mother, Geraldine
Barber, whom he called his “inspiration” as “a
single mother raising two knuckleheaded kids,” in
a reference to his equally famous twin brother, U.Va. alumnus
and Tampa Bay Buccaneer Ronde Barber.
encouraged the Class of 2004 to guard against mediocrity
with on-going self-honesty. “What is important is your
internal reason for doing things,” he said. “Not
what you tell other people, but what you tell yourself.
I think about your lives, I’m excited for you. You
live in a world where there are challenges, and your job
will be to make a difference.”
day later, the U.Va. color guard leads the academic procession.
president Justin Ferira concluded the event with remarks
that evoked peals of laughter (“when you leave here,
some traditions, such as streaking, are okay to let go”)
and quiet introspection (“September 11 changed our
perceptions forever, and now we are witnessing our country
urged his classmates to “find whatever you enjoy doing,
and, like Tiki said, do it with a passion.”
students to military officers
Ferira’s speech suggested, for many graduates, the
war in Iraq served as a sobering backdrop to an otherwise
festive weekend, and perhaps no more so than for the student
members of the University’s Reserve Officers’ Training
Corps who received their military commissions Saturday morning.
the newly commissioned officers — 12 Navy ensigns and
10 Army, 3 Marine and 18 Air Force second lieutenants — convened
in Old Cabell Hall for a joint commissioning ceremony. Their
spirited branch-by-branch march into the auditorium was heralded
by the Ft. Lee Army Band, playing their respective service
his opening remarks, President John T. Casteen III acknowledged
the sacrifices these students would be called on to make
in coming months. “Your choice of service, at a time
when the world has suddenly become a dangerous place, speaks
to your patriotism and also to your noble commitment to protecting
our country,” he said.
Gen. R. Steven Whitcomb, a 1971 graduate of U.Va., delivered
the joint commissioning address. For the last 16 months,
Whitcomb has served as chief of staff of the U.S. Central
Command, which has military oversight of Afghanistan and
Iraq, as well as neighboring countries.
two-star general applauded the efforts of the University’s
faculty and its ROTC administrators in producing young leaders
committed to military service.
of U.Va.’s ROTC programs who are now serving in the
Middle East, he said, “are displaying a resolve, a
determination that makes the American military the envy of
the world and the bane of its enemies.”
recommended five strategies for the continued development
of leadership qualities, including “doing what is right
legally and morally every day” and “treating
everyone with dignity and respect.”
instructing the class to “serve honorably and faithfully,” Whitcomb
administered the oath of office.
Warner returns to the Grounds
morning was a homecoming for Virginia’s senior senator,
John W. Warner, R-Va., who told more than a few people during
Finals weekend that he was both touched and honored to be
invited to deliver the keynote address at this year’s
He remembered that he’d spoken at Finals two previous times, but never,
he said, for the main event.
a speech interwoven with memories of his life at the University
and his current life as a public servant “in the vortex
of crisis,” the 77-year-old senator said, “This
day will be forever engraved in my mind. To be able to come
back here, walk down the Lawn and have these people listen
to my words and thoughts was one of the greatest pleasures
of my life.”
the Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee,
opened his remarks by giving thanks to the University’s
late president and one-time Virginia governor, Colgate Darden,
who influenced Warner’s own decision to enter public
life and from whom he fashioned the phrase, “politics
be damned; do what’s right.”
also discussed today’s troubled political waters. He
said that 9-11 changed everything. “Terrorists have
called on those graduating to rely on education and honor
to hold them in good stead as they went out into the world.
compared the values of honor, ethics and fair treatment of
others to the national crisis he is helping to oversee — what
he called the terrible mistreatment of prisoners in Iraq.
said that the American women and men accused of atrocities
against prisoners had “rejected basic civil rights,
rejected everything they had ever learned in their homes,
in their schools, in their churches. They abandoned civilization.”
said that he and his committee would leave no stone unturned
when it came to uncovering all the facts regarding the situation
at the Abu Ghraib prison. “We must do so on behalf
of the people of America. ... We must hold those accountable … and
we must treat with fairness all those who have been wronged.”
the end of the day
4:15, all speeches over, all diplomas awarded, the Lawn had
grown quiet. From the top steps of the Rotunda, one could
see piles of neatly stacked chairs being whisked away. There
was the occasional student marching across the Lawn, parents
and cameras in tow, ready to pose for one last shot. Lawn
rooms were mostly closed tight, although a handful of families
lingered in small circles of chairs, their laughter drifting
gently into the early evening.
only clear remainder of the day was the orange-and-blue striped
awning that stretched across the brow of Old Cabell Hall
at the far end of the Lawn.
was no sign of the morning rain or of the 30,000 people who
had huddled under a canopy of umbrellas every color of the
Lawn had been relinquished by the Class of 2004.