May 28-June 10, 2004
Vol. 34, Issue 10
Back Issues
Finals Weekend 2004
Miksad to leave deanship
Wadley named 2004 inventor of the year
Headlines @ U.Va.
General Assembly roundup
Smackdown your vote
College strikes a high-tech deal with Microsoft and Thomson Learning
A Childhood Dream Come True
A Day in the Life
University’s busiest gym to debut new addition
The Ultimate Guide to Getting the Career You Want
Ring CMC telethon phones for 20th year
Museum having 30th birthday party
Finals Weekend 2004
The Rotunda
Photo by Jim Carpenter

By Carol Wood and Kathleen Valenzi

On 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.

When asked what they were doing, they replied: “We’re hugging the University.”

So run the esmotions about the University of Virginia.

Students sometimes have a difficult time tearing themselves away — even when their four years have come to an end.

The 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 front yard.

Two 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 continents.

U.Va. grads
Photographs by Jim Carpenter
Students wait to begin their march down the Lawn (above), while others celebrate having received their degrees (below).

They 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.

Just 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.

By 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.”

Referring to last year’s overwhelmingly “aquatic experience,” he noted to cheers, “This year we’re playing on a dry field.”


But, we get ahead of ourselves.

Finals weekend actually has its official start on Saturday with Valedictory exercises on the Lawn.

Opening 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.

Following 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.

Tiki Barber
NFL player and 1997 U.Va. alumnus Tiki Barber signs autographs after delivering the Valedictory Address on Saturday afternoon.

After 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.

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.

“When 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.”

color guard
A day later, the U.Va. color guard leads the academic procession.

Class 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 at war”).

Ferira urged his classmates to “find whatever you enjoy doing, and, like Tiki said, do it with a passion.”

From students to military officers

As 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.

Mid-afternoon, 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 anthems.

In 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.

Maj. 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.

The two-star general applauded the efforts of the University’s faculty and its ROTC administrators in producing young leaders committed to military service.

Alumni 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.”

Whitcomb 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.”

After instructing the class to “serve honorably and faithfully,” Whitcomb administered the oath of office.

John Warner returns to the Grounds

Sunday 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 commencement exercises.
He remembered that he’d spoken at Finals two previous times, but never, he said, for the main event.

After 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.”

Warner, 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.”

He also discussed today’s troubled political waters. He said that 9-11 changed everything. “Terrorists have no boundaries.”

He called on those graduating to rely on education and honor to hold them in good stead as they went out into the world.

He 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.

He 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.”

Warner 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.”

At the end of the day

By 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.

The 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.

There 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 rainbow.

The Lawn had been relinquished by the Class of 2004.


© Copyright 2004 by the Rector and Visitors
of the University of Virginia

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