Finals Weekend Speakers

A social entrepreneur, an athletic director, and an architectural historian will be the keynote speakers at this year’s Finals Weekend ceremonies:

  • Jacqueline Novogratz, Acumen founder and CEO, and a UVA alumna: Valedictory Exercises Speaker, Friday, May 19
  • Carla Williams, UVA Director of Athletics: Final Exercises Speaker, Saturday, May 20
  • Louis P. Nelson, UVA Architectural Historian: Final Exercises Speaker, Sunday, May 21
Jacqueline Novogratz

Valedictory Exercises: Friday, May 19

Speaker: Jacqueline Novogratz

A leader in the social impact space and a champion for moral leadership, Jacqueline Novogratz is the founder and CEO of Acumen, a global community that fights poverty and builds dignity by investing in companies and change-makers using both philanthropy-backed pioneer investing and for-profit impact funds. Novogratz’s two decades of work with Acumen have made an impact on nearly 443 million people across Africa, Latin America, South Asia and the United States.

To date, Acumen has invested more than $145 million of “patient capital” into 180 companies, and is also responsible for nearly $243 million in assets under management via its for-profit funds, which have affected 32 million people and offset 18 million tons of carbon.

Acumen also trains social entrepreneurs and innovators through Acumen Academy, which has cultivated 1,300 leaders in 61 countries whose collective work has reached tens of millions. Through its online courses, Acumen Academy has influenced more than a million individuals from 193 countries, unleashing a new generation of entrepreneurial builders grounded in the skills and attributes of moral leadership.

Novogratz is the author of two award-winning books: the best-selling “The Blue Sweater” (2010), and “Manifesto for a Moral Revolution: Practices to Build a Better World” (2020). She is a member of the B-Team, a global nonprofit that advocates for corporate leadership focused on future generations, and serves on numerous boards and advisory panels. She has been named one of the Top 100 Global Thinkers by Foreign Policy magazine, one of Insider’s Climate Action 30 leaders, one of the 25 Smartest People of the Decade by the Daily Beast, and one of the world’s 100 Greatest Living Business Minds by Forbes, which also honored her with the Forbes 400 Lifetime Achievement Award for Social Entrepreneurship. She holds an MBA from Stanford University and a B.A. in economics and international relations from UVA.

Carla Williams

Final Exercises: Saturday, May 20

Speaker: Carla Williams

Carla Williams has a background as a student-athlete, coach and administrator – experience she brings to leading UVA athletics.

When Williams was appointed director of athletics at Virginia in October 2017, she became the first female African American athletic director at a Power Five conference institution. At the time, she was the fifth active female athletic director at that level.

She has been involved in several key initiatives that have helped to shape the future of ACC and NCAA athletics. Williams has also witnessed many history-making moments for the Cavaliers, including multiple national championships. As a college student-athlete, she starred as a member of the University of Georgia basketball team, and later served in that university’s athletics administration in various roles.

Williams has said she was able to attend college thanks to her basketball skills, and that began her journey from the hardwood to coaching to athletic administration. To prepare UVA’s student-athletes for life away from competitions, Williams and her team are currently in the second phase of an ambitious Virginia Athletics Master Plan, which seeks to upgrade facilities and foster leadership, ethics, service, wellness, career development and academic achievement among student-athletes.

In the classroom, UVA student-athletes have set record numbers for spots on the ACC Academic Honor Roll, have achieved the highest-grade point average totals in program history, and have been recognized by the NCAA for outstanding achievement on academic progress reports.

Williams is part of the NCAA’s NIL Legislation Solutions Group examining student-athlete name, image and likeness rights, and is a member of the NCAA Federal and State Legislation Working Group. She was named to the executive committee of the Black AD Alliance, which was established to promote the growth, development and elevation of Black athletics administrators at the Division I level.

Louis Nelson

Final Exercises: Sunday, May 21

Speaker: Louis P. Nelson

Louis P. Nelson, a professor of architectural history and the vice provost for academic outreach at UVA, specializes in built environments of the early modern Atlantic world and has published works on the American South, the Caribbean and West Africa. He is a leading advocate for the reconstruction of place-based public history.

In his academic outreach role, Nelson serves as UVA’s primary advocate for community engagement, public service and academic outreach programs. Outreach includes community partnerships in Charlottesville and across Virginia, encouraging and facilitating student involvement in socially responsible, engaged citizenship and supporting faculty research programs that have measurable positive impacts on local communities.

Nelson also directs the Public Service Pathways program, which helps students connect to public service as a personal commitment, a lifelong practice and even a career. In this program, students discover opportunities to  serve  the community, take courses that focus on community engagement, and consider ways their academic learning can be directed toward the public good.  He also is a founding member of the President’s Council on UVA-Community Partnerships, and a close partner with Descendants of Enslaved Communities.

He oversees numerous related academic units, including the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service (which soon will transition into the Karsh Institute for Democracy), Virginia Humanities (the commonwealth’s humanities council), the Center for Liberal Arts, and the programs at Morven, UVA’s new Sustainability Lab.

A prolific scholar and celebrated teacher, Nelson is the author or editor of seven books and dozens of articles, and the winner of numerous book awards; he has been called a tour de force in his field. Outside of the classroom, Nelson has also extended his expertise to institutions and organizations in the Caribbean and the U.K. Nelson has been involved with the development of a new website for, and a narrative interpretation of, the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers; and co-editing both a digital series on “UVA and the History of Race” and “Educated in Tyranny: Slavery at Thomas Jefferson’s University.” He was also the lead author and co-principal investigator on Race, Place and Equity, a $5 million Andrew Mellon Foundation-funded grant.

In 2020, Nelson received funding for “Recovering Erased Histories,” a Mellon Foundation grant supporting three team-led and community-engaged field schools to document African American cultural landscapes.

As a teacher, he has received a University Teaching Award in 2007 and served as the 2008 UVA nominee for a statewide Outstanding Faculty Award. Nelson’s teaching and research focuses on the close examination of material and textual evidence as a means of examining how architectures and landscapes shape the human experience.

Interested in seeing who has been a keynote speaker during graduation weekend? If so, be sure to check out our complete list of Valedictory and Final Exercises Speakers.


Updated: April 10, 2023