Fourteen years after his own graduation, Dr. B. Cameron Webb held up a nickel in front of thousands of newly minted University of Virginia graduates.

The nickel, which honors Thomas Jefferson, reminds Webb both of UVa and of the commencement speaker at his graduation, Dr. Vivian Pinn, he said. At his own graduation, and when he called her up to get advice about his speech, Pinn encouraged Webb to keep track of his past and present, and to constantly press on to the future.

 “You can get a lot out of this moment and a lot out of this day if you think of it like that nickel you got at opening convocation,” Webb told graduates of the Graduate and College of Arts & Sciences at UVa’s Final Exercises on Saturday. “Today, in this moment, I want you guys to realize you are standing on the edge of a nickel, and there’s a lot of power and potential in that space.”

Webb graduated from UVa in 2005 and went on to receive a law degree from Loyola University and a medical degree from Wake Forest University. He is now an assistant professor of medicine and public health sciences at UVa’s School of Medicine and director of health policy and equity in the Department of Public Health Sciences.

 “We can learn from the past, we can learn from the present and we can keep an eye on the future,” he said, echoing Pinn’s remarks at his graduation.

The Class of 2019 entered UVa among lingering questions about student safety after the abductions and deaths of Morgan Harrington and Hannah Graham. Some saw white nationalists carry torches across the Lawn in 2017. They witnessed a transfer of power from former President Teresa A. Sullivan to President Jim Ryan and cheered the men’s basketball team to its first-ever NCAA Tournament championship in men’s basketball.

“You did these things not as individuals but as a collective body,” Webb said. “You proved the power of collective purpose and passion. So when you get your diploma in a few hours, remember all it truly stands for. Remember how you walked on these Grounds surrounded by complete strangers but you left with new family members and lifetime friends. Remember how you turned tragedy into triumph, showing the world time and again who we are and what we stand for.”

He encouraged graduates to use the social status and earnings that often come with a diploma to make the world better for others. He cited a Frederick Douglass quote that power concedes nothing without demand.

“If power concedes nothing without a demand, then power had better watch out, because there has never been a more demanding generation than y’all,” he said, to scattered laughter. “Take these demands and use it for something good.”

Annia Fountain received a bachelor’s in religious studies and in African-American and African studies. She’s proud of her work to maintain and grow student organizations on Grounds, she said, including as president of the Black Gospel Voices Choir.

“I really did it, and I’m the first to do it in my family,” she said. “It didn’t really hit me until [Ryan] said to pause and reflect, and I was like, wow — I feel like I didn’t do everything I wanted while I was here, but I did a lot.”

In all, UVa will award 7,090 undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees. They are sometimes called a “Bicentennial class,” marking the anniversary of UVa’s charter in 1819.

The weekend also closed Ryan’s first academic year as president, which has included controversy at the Miller Center of Public Affairs, an ambitious fundraising campaign, the announcement of a future School of Data Science and a new minimum wage for campus workers — and of course the men’s basketball championship.

“By far, this is the most outstanding graduate class I have seen as president,” Ryan said at the start of the ceremony. “But really, it has been a true joy and a sincere privilege to get to know many of you and to serve as your president.”

At 10 a.m. Sunday, the Lawn will again host Final Exercises for the remaining schools and programs: the School of Architecture, Frank D. Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, School of Continuing & Professional Studies, Curry School of Education and Human Development, Darden School of Graduate Business Administration, Data Science Institute, School of Engineering & Applied Science, School of Law, McIntire School of Commerce, School of Medicine and School of Nursing. Retiring Dean of Nursing Dorrie Fontaine will speak to graduates and their families.

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Ruth Serven Smith is a reporter for The Daily Progress. Contact her at (434) 978-7254, rserven@dailyprogress.com or @RuthServen on Twitter.

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