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Letter to Parents of Incoming Students

August 2003

Dear Parents:

As the summer wanes, we look forward to the arrival of our new students and to their first ventures as members of a new community. We look forward also to welcoming you as members of our extended family. If you attended orientation this summer, I hope you already feel at home here.

This letter is to say welcome, and also to offer my thoughts about how you can support your daughter or son in this step toward personal independence and adulthood. Our children have grown up in a world unlike the one in which we grew up. Modern communications make it smaller. The global economy makes it more complex. Here, your child will join fellow students who are bright and sophisticated, ready to engage in the complexities of the age.

While the University responds to our changing world, it remains in many essentials timeless. Faculty who teach with passion and commitment; friendships that endure; the thrill of learning new bodies of knowledge, new ways to pursue knowledge, and new ways to think and reason; social challenges faced and met; and people, places, and events that become life-sustaining memories — these are the central ingredients of the collegiate life we all want for our daughters and sons.

Students and faculty here share values that are almost as old as the University itself. These include student self-governance and the Honor System. From the first day on the Grounds, students enter a community of trust where responsibilities go hand-in-hand with opportunities. The choices are many. Restrictions are few. Responsibility to oneself and to one's fellow students is fundamental.

The challenges here are real and substantive. And some opportunities for growth (including the opportunity to make occasional, instructive mistakes) can combine with newfound freedoms to confuse the new student. Help and guidance are available when students seek them out. Faculty and faculty advisers, deans, and their colleagues help students make academic decisions. The faculty and the deans have devised ways to make faculty easily accessible

from the first day. These efforts and others aim to assure that new students' first experiences at the University are academic in nature and focused.

This seems important to me for reasons that will be obvious to most families. New friendships, social adjustment, and a certain amount of celebration are natural to the early days of the first year of college. The faculty's undertaking is to make sure that the process of settling in also includes an honest and accurate introduction to the hard work that is the real reason students come here.

Outside the classroom, Vice President for Student Affairs Pat Lampkin, Dean of Students Penny Rue, and their staff members form a support network of peers and trained professionals who help new students cope with the crises that arise no matter how well one plans, who open doors when necessary, or answer questions. The student health center, special units for counseling and psychological services, intramural and recreation programs, and other institutional resources help students maintain physical and mental well-being. Other units, including the Women's Center, the International Center, the University Career Services office, and the Office of African-American Affairs, provide services to the entire community.

We work, as do others in Virginia and across the country, to address the effects of alcohol abuse among young people. Ensuring our students' health and safety is a priority for all of us, and we are committed to educational programs and policies that promote a culture of responsibility within the law.

You can help. At this time of new beginnings, we need your participation, and so does your daughter or son. Accepting personal responsibility is essential to students' well-being. So are family support and encouragement. Please take time before the semester begins for family discussions about your values and expectations. Work together now to assure open communication after your child leaves home. Make clear that the move from your home to a University residence hall is a step toward independent adulthood, with all the responsibilities and rights that independence entails. Make clear also that although your child is leaving home, you care deeply about her or his welfare during the final steps in this journey to adulthood. If you have access to the Internet, review the information in the Safety/Health Care section of the University's web site for parents (

You and I know that your child's journey to maturity began long before your upcoming trip to Charlottesville. You have contributed in profound ways to her or his temperament, intellect, and capacity to face hard challenges. Despite the distance from home, your influence will remain a strong component of your child's intellectual and personal development.

Best wishes as you make those final lists, figure out how to make everything fit in the car, and reflect on this important transition in your child's life and in your own as well. I look forward to seeing you on Saturday, August 23, at 2:00 p.m. in Old Cabell Hall auditorium. I look forward also to seeing you often at parents' events, on special occasions when we cross paths on the Grounds, and eventually at the Final Exercises that will mark your child's graduation from the University.


John T. Casteen III