Rector James Murray’s Address to the Class of 2020

Editor’s note: UVA Rector James B. Murray Jr. addressed the Class of 2020 during Sunday’s Final Exercises celebration before introducing the day’s keynote speaker, Melody Barnes. Here are his remarks as prepared.

Good morning.

I am Jim Murray, Rector of the University.

Congratulations.

Above all else, first and foremost, and for everlasting time, congratulations.

Grand for you. Grand for your parents. Grand for your grandparents.

Big Day. BIG day. Day of your life.

You don’t get a cake with this day each year, but it’s important. This is the day when life got seriously interesting.

Interesting, that is, in the sense that all unknowable things are interesting. You’ve had some interesting experience already. March, 2020 – and the world tells you to go inside, put on a mask and don’t mingle. Whatever you do, don’t mingle.

Things got interesting around my graduation day, too, but in different ways. We were bracketed in 1968. April 4. Dr. King. Shot in Memphis. Two months later. Four days before my graduation. June 5. Bobby Kennedy. Shot in Los Angeles. 

Fifty years ago, we had our own version of this pandemic. A war in Vietnam – a war in which many UVA graduates participated, whether they wanted to or not.

So, yes, life throws many curves. You’ve learned that already.

But it’s all relative.

On my graduation day, what did I have in my pocket? My car keys and my pocket-knife, I think.

What do you have?

The world. It’s in that little computer you’re clutching. The whole messy world. Right there. And try not to look at it while I’m talking. You don’t need to text your aunt right now.

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That machine, that phone, that technology – like cars first appearing on dusty, unpaved roads and planes suddenly crossing the sky – has fundamentally changed the world. You and the world, communicating, continuously.

Well, pass this message on: Time goes quick – quicker than ever – and you best manage it well.

Years ago, there was a film with some dialogue written by Truman Capote and one of the characters says, “Time. Time. What is time? I say time is a crook.”

Well, if time is a crook, technology has become an accessory to the crime.

Make sound choices with your time. That’s my best advice. I have more. Fix a portion of your time for more learning.  UVA helped get you to this point, but you really cannot stop anymore. There’s no walking away – not anymore – no walking away from new things you’ll need to know, to learn, to understand.

The mobile/digital world of social media, on-demand entertainment, and non-stop anxiety driven news will continuously vie for your attention for the rest of your lives.

Which of you will succeed?

Who will struggle?

My prediction: Those of you who manage your time – those of you with time-discipline – you will come out ahead.

Discipline? you ask. Why not declare victory now? Today.

But that would also rob you of opportunities – unprecedented opportunities.

You will also be tempted to stop what you’ve been doing here, learning. Mistake.

Don’t do it. Don’t ever stop. Use the technical power you are inheriting; use technology for good. 

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Seek new knowledge always.

Then seek some more. For the rest of your life.

And come back. To Charlottesville. You will be welcome here forever.

Circle back. You must. And tell us what things you’ve seen, the glories of your life. Bring us new lessons, new knowledge. Tell us stories.

And good luck with it all. Like war tripped up our classes of fifty years ago, COVID tripped you up a bit. No question. But we prevailed.

More accurately, you have already prevailed. Given the strength you’ve gained, no UVA class has ever been promised a richer future.

Spend your time wisely and you may well come to own it.


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