Valedictory Exercises - Friday, May 18
Keynote Speaker: Chris Long, NFL Champion, Philanthropist, Alumnus
Alumnus Chris Long, who has used a standout professional football career as a platform to advance charitable causes, including wider access to education and safe water sources in Africa, will be the featured speaker at the University of Virginia’s Valedictory Exercises, to be held May 18 on the Lawn.
The ceremony, is scheduled to begin at 3 p.m. and includes the presentation of the Class of 2018’s gift to University President Teresa A. Sullivan, as well as various class and University awards. Admission is free, and the public is invited to attend. (In the event of inclement weather, the ceremony will be moved to John Paul Jones Arena; seating will be on a first-come, first-served basis, with doors opening at 1:30 p.m.)
Long, who studied sociology at UVA, said he was “extremely surprised and honored” to be invited to speak.
“Then I was nervous,” he added.
He said he has a few ideas about what he may want to talk about. “The hardest part about speaking in front of such an esteemed group is giving them a perspective they may not already have,” he said.
“Chris Long personifies the principles of leadership and service that we emphasize at UVA,” UVA President Teresa A. Sullivan said. “His achievements as a collegiate and professional athlete are equaled only by his personal sacrifice and generosity in striving to make the world a better place.”
Long’s history of involvement in the Charlottesville community made him the perfect choice to give the valedictory address, said Class of 2018 Trustee Erik Roberts, who chaired the graduation committee. Members of the graduating class are very service-oriented, he said, and several events in the community that grabbed national headlines during their time on Grounds only deepened that involvement.
Roberts said that while the committee gives free reign to its speaker, he is hoping to hear about Long’s “authentic and very genuine connection to Charlottesville, and how he thinks about making the world a better place in general.”
Long, who grew up in Charlottesville and attended St. Anne’s Belfield School, had an outstanding football career as a defensive end at UVA, where he was a team leader; his teammates selected him as a captain in both his third and fourth years. In his final Cavalier season, Long tallied 14 sacks, was a consensus All-American choice, was voted Atlantic Coast Conference Defensive Player of the Year and earned the Bill Dudley Award as the best college football player in Virginia. Long’s No. 91 jersey was retired before his final game in Scott Stadium.
The St. Louis Rams selected Long with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2008 National Football League draft, and he quickly settled into his professional career, starting all 16 games of his rookie year.
He played for eight seasons with the Rams before being released. Undaunted, Long signed a one-year contract with the New England Patriots in 2016 and helped them to a Super Bowl championship. Again finding himself as a free agent, he signed with the Philadelphia Eagles last season – and again helped his team to a championship, defeating his former Patriot teammates in the Super Bowl.
While Long was a key contributor for the Eagles on the field, he earned even more attention off of it. Early in the 2017 season, the Chris Long Foundation, working with the Boys and Girls Club of Central Virginia, announced that Long would donate his first six game checks to fund two seven-year scholarships for underprivileged youth from the Charlottesville area at St. Anne’s Belfield School.
Later in the season, he donated his 10 remaining game checks to organizations supporting educational equity and opportunity in the three cities where he had played professionally: St. Louis, Boston and Philadelphia. He launched the “Pledge 10 for Tomorrow” campaign, urging fans and businesses in those cities to make their own contributions to his educational partners – and pledging another $50,000 to the city that raised the most additional funds.
This all comes in addition to the Chris Long Foundation’s efforts to raise money for “Waterboys,” an initiative dedicated to bringing clean water to villages in East Africa – and to bringing Long’s fellow professional athletes into the cause.
Long started Waterboys in 2015 after a trek up Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Inspired by the region’s people and its beautiful natural scenery, Long realized that he could use his platform as an NFL player to bring clean water, and all of the benefits that come with it, to the villages he visited.
Long’s initial goal was to build, with local labor, 32 clean water wells (one for each NFL team) – each costing $45,000 and supplying water for up to 7,500 people. Fittingly, Waterboys achieved that goal the same week that the Eagles won the Super Bowl. (Former UVA basketball star Malcolm Brogdon, the 2017 NBA Rookie of the Year with the Milwaukee Bucks, recently joined the effort, becoming the organization’s first NBA Ambassador.)
Long’s valediction address lands somewhere in between two previous public speaking experiences, he joked. “I spoke at my high school graduation,” he said, “and more informally in front of 3 million people at the Eagles’ Super Bowl parade.” (He also spoke about the Waterboys project to a Darden School of Business course in March 2017.)
Final Exercises - Saturday, May 19 and Sunday, May 20
Keynote Speaker: Teresa A. Sullivan, President of the University of Virginia
President Teresa A. Sullivan will deliver the commencement address at the University of Virginia's 189thFinal Exercises on May 19 and 20.
Sullivan will speak on the Lawn both days following the traditional academic procession, which begins at 10 a.m. In 2015, UVA began dividing graduation ceremonies over two days, a change spurred in part by growing student enrollment. Students from the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences will graduate on May 19. Students from all other schools and the Data Science Institute will participate on May 20. Valediction, which features presentation of the class gift and university and class awards, is scheduled for May 18. Its speaker has not yet been announced.
“The Final Exercises ceremonies are joyful occasions, and participating with our graduates and their families is one of the greatest pleasures of being president,” Sullivan said. “I’m honored to be the commencement speaker for this year’s ceremonies, and I look forward to celebrating this significant moment in our students’ lives in May.”
As president, Sullivan already fulfills an important role in Final Exercises. For students wearing caps and gowns, it might be the most significant role: The president officially confers degrees to graduating students as part of the formal program for Final Exercises.
This year’s ceremonies will mark the last Final Exercises with Sullivan serving as president. Sullivan, who took office in 2010 as the first female president and the eighth overall president of UVA, plans to step down this summer. She will be succeeded by James E. Ryan, a School of Law graduate and former faculty member who currently serves as dean of the Harvard University Graduate School of Education. The Board of Visitors announced Ryan’s appointment in September.
The opportunity to deliver the commencement address reflects a tradition at UVA for outgoing presidents. In 2010, then-President John T. Casteen III was the graduation speaker as he neared conclusion of a 20-year tenure as president. In 1990, outgoing President Robert M. O’Neil delivered the graduation address. Other University presidents delivering Final Exercises addresses as their tenures concluded were Frank L. Hereford Jr. in 1985, Edgar F. Shannon Jr. in 1974, and Colgate W. Darden in 1959.
In her time here, Sullivan has broadened the diversity of the student population, implemented a new strategic plan, grown UVA’s research portfolio, prioritized efforts to address generational turnover among faculty, and guided the successful conclusion of a $3 billion capital campaign. She has championed safety and quality as hallmarks of patient care at the UVA Health System.
As the University neared its bicentennial, Sullivan launched the President’s Commission on Slavery and the University to explore and report on UVA’s historical relationship with slavery. That effort has significantly increased the University’s understanding of the legacy of slavery, with research and instruction ongoing. It also led to the recommendation to establish a Memorial to Enslaved Laborers, which will be constructed on Grounds east of Brooks Hall across from The Corner. The Board of Visitors approved the memorial design in June.
Sullivan also led preparations for the University’s bicentennial celebration, which began in October. In anticipation of its 200th anniversary, the University re-opened its centerpiece Rotunda in 2016 after a two-year, $58 million renovation that included significant repairs and upgrades to the interior, exterior and landscaping. The project expanded classroom space in the building, and included installation of new marble capitals above the Rotunda’s famous columns, as well as a new dome and oculus.
President Sullivan is a scholar in labor force demography and the author or coauthor of six books and many scholarly articles. She is a graduate of Michigan State University’s James Madison College, and earned her doctoral degree in sociology from the University of Chicago. She came to UVA from the University of Michigan, where she had served as provost and executive vice president for academic affairs. Prior to that, she was executive vice chancellor for academic affairs for the University of Texas System and a faculty member at the University of Texas at Austin.
She is married to Douglas Laycock, the Robert E. Scott Distinguished Professor of Law at UVA. They have two adult sons.