Good afternoon students, faculty, and staff. And welcome class of 2020! Woo! I hope everyone had a good weekend and that UVA is starting to feel a bit like home. I was thinking back on my first memory at UVA, and I think it was actually one of panic. As I pulled up on Move-In Day, it seemed like everyone at UVA was outside running. Now there is no activity I dislike more than running, so naturally I thought this was a sign that I had picked the wrong school. But my parents made me get out of the car, and everything ended up being OK because no matter how many people at UVA love running, I refuse to give into peer pressure.
Anyways, I am here today to talk to you all about student self-governance. And I would like to do so by telling you what it means to me, and giving you three pieces of advice that will hopefully help you to make the most of it during your time here.
Student self-governance has a simple definition. The Parent Handbook says that it is that “students have significant freedom to develop their talents and make decisions that matter to University life.” Now, what student self-governance will mean to you during your time here is a little bit more complicated, and I personally struggled putting it in words. Because what comes to mind when I think of it is not the talents I have developed or the decisions I was entrusted with, but the bizarre situations I find myself in...and one of them happened this summer during Orientation.
I was it Newcomb and had a meeting for Student Council in Gibson. Now, most people would take the bus to get there...but since I don’t exactly go to the gym (for reasons I have already mentioned), I decided to walk. I soon found that the shortcut behind old dorms was closed off because of construction, so I had to walk through the cemetery. That exit was also closed off and because I was almost late, I started to jog. So, there I was, running through a cemetery, in a dress and flip flops, climbing a wall to get out...and, by golly, I made it to that meeting on time. And for me, this incident is what student self-governance is all about. It is about caring. It is caring about something so much that you put it before yourself. Student self-governance is the Cavalier Daily editor up at 3 a.m. printing. It is the students who sleep outside of JPJ for College Game Day.
And UVA gives you thousands of opportunities to find what you care about. UVA has thousands of classes and hundreds of clubs. Go to the activities fair on Monday and find an organization that interests you. Take a random class. Find something you are passionate about. Because with every passion we develop and each door of possibilities we open, we have the opportunity to become the best versions of ourselves. So my first piece of advice for you all is to find something you care about. And if you need guidance to find that something, I would love to help, so feel free to reach out.
Now, as student self-governance is the act of caring, it is also an art...the art of failing. No one here is perfect, and if you are trying to reach your full potential, you are going to get knocked down every now and again. I have lost elections. Been rejected from internships, organizations, the Lawn. I did not even get a J. Cole ticket. And during these lows, I often call my grandma, and she calls these moments my "little pieces of humble pie." And let me tell you...humble pie does not have a good taste. But those pieces of pie do not mean that I am a failure. It means that I tried. And if you went through your entire UVA experience without struggling with something, then you are selling yourself short, because that means you are not reaching your potential. So, my second piece of advice for you all is do not let the fear of failure prevent you from seeing what you are made of.
Now, as you develop new talents and use them for things you care about, I want you all to remember that the most important thing you can care about at this University is one another. Because it is only through a culture of kindness that this University becomes more than a student body but a family. Our family is not built with grand chivalrous displays, but rather through small acts of kindness that are done with a lot of love. So, this year, tell your RAs you care about them, because they sure care about you. Make sure no one walks home alone at night. We are a family, and that means sometimes putting the needs of others above our own. So, my last piece of advice for you all is to take care of one another.
I hope you leave UVA with a head full of dreams and an education that can make those dreams a reality, and with lifelong friendships built from timeless memories. And I hope that you leave having established a culture of compassion and kindness that will define this University and classes to come. Thank you.
Emily Lodge ('17)
Student Council President