Persevere — it’s what Thomas Jefferson would have done, newswoman Katie Couric told the University of Virginia’s Class of 2012.
Sunday marked the 183rd Final Exercises at UVa, with all the attendant pomp, fanfare and giant balloons. The day matched the occasion with sunshine, a high temperature just around 80 degrees, a light breeze and just a bit of birdsong.
“What a glorious day it is for celebrating in the magical aura of the Academical Village,” UVa’s rector, Helen Dragas, said.
Dragas introduced Couric, but was interrupted several times by applause as she went through Couric’s background.
She told the approximately 6,400 graduates that Couric’s next project will be the daytime talk show “Katie,” adding a tongue-in-cheek admonishment for them to tune in.
Couric’s talk drew heavily on the legacy of the university’s founder.
“Thomas Jefferson was the ultimate optimist,” Couric said.
She told the class that despite the adversity they’ll face, they should take risks, overcome rejection and outlast setbacks.
She recounted the deaths of her husband and her sister, both of whom died of cancer.
“Life can deal you some crushing blows, and we all need a deep reserve of resilience to survive,” she said. “Losing someone is also a reminder that life is short, and fragile. We are all terminal. And that’s why we have to be grateful for the time we have and savor the joy that comes our way.”
UVa’s new cancer center is named for her sister, Emily Couric, who was a state senator.
Couric also recounted her career, rising from a gofer at ABC’s Washington bureau to host of the “Today” show and the first female solo anchor of a network’s nightly news program.
She recounted the criticism she faced on topics ranging from her clothes to the way she held her hands, but she wanted to show that a woman, on her own, could handle the task.
“Some said I lacked ‘gravitas,’ which I’ve since decided is Latin for ‘testicles,’” she quipped.
And the 1979 UVa graduate made plenty of references to her days at the school.
“I have such wonderful memories of my college experience: great professors, great friends, great hikes along Skyline Drive, great parties and great football games I can’t really remember thanks to a great guy I got to know named Jack Daniels.”
Max Gruenther, of Winchester, was among those who got their diplomas Sunday. He described graduating as “fantastic” and the ceremony as “pretty chill.”
Also in the crowd was House Majority Leader Eric I. Cantor, R-7th, on hand to watch his son graduate, with honors, with a bachelor’s in commerce.
“We’re really proud,” Cantor said. “Obviously, it’s a really special day in the lives of a lot of families.”
UVa President Teresa A. Sullivan gave the traditional hat-tip to parents, families, faculty and staff, calling Final Exercises a “celebration of shared accomplishments.”
She also gave recognition to the men of the university’s lacrosse, golf and tennis teams, who could not be at the ceremony because they were competing.
And she recognized Yoke San Reynolds, departing UVa vice president and chief financial officer.
“Her influence at UVa has been profound,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan told the graduates to use what they’ve learned to make the world a better place.
“Tomorrow, the knowledge and habits of mind that you acquired here become tools for understanding the world to which you go,” Sullivan told the graduates.
They got a similar message from Victoria Dux Harker, chairwoman of the UVa Alumni Association’s managing board.
“To the Class of 2012, we say, ‘Act now,’” Harker said.
Michael Krueger, of Palmyra, N.Y., graduated with a bachelor’s in commerce. He had never been on the Lawn for Final exercises before, he said.
“It was a really fun experience,” Krueger said.
Lee Stephenson finished her classes last June, but had to wait until Sunday to actually experience Final Exercises.
“It was really meaningful also to hear Katie Couric speak about things that I’ve [experienced since graduating],” she said.