Wednesday, July 17, 2013

A Traditional Convocation

Hi everyone, my name is Zoey Dorman!! I just made it through my first year at UVA and I'm planning to major in English and Cognitive Science. Technically, we’re all at UVA to go to classes, get degrees, and go off into the terrifying great unknown of the Real World after four years of preparation. Being in the middle of the college experience, though, they are a few factors besides academics that feel pretty important. Namely, traditions, which all starts with Convocation. Convocation is one of the first but also one of the most important days in any student’s UVA experience because it’s the ceremony that officially welcomes new students into the school. Here are my hall mates and I, dressed up all spiffy in our dorm before we headed out.
We definitely took the school tradition of “Girls in Pearls, Guys in Ties” seriously. Usually reserved for football means, it means everyone dresses up (preferably in UVA colors).
Once everyone parades over from their dorms, all of the new students sit on the Lawn, facing the Rotunda and thus looking into the education they are about to begin. Our Dean of Students, Allen Groves, and President Theresa Sullivan speak to the students about the importance of our honor system. 
(Here’s me with President Sullivan, post-speech, when we all hung out in her house after Convocation.)
UVA has the oldest student run honor system in the country, established in 1842. It means that all students pledge not to lie, cheat, or steal, plus they are responsible for upholding the ideals of the Honor System. Honor trials are run by students; decisions are made by student juries. I served on a jury last semester, and it made me respect the honor system even more than I already did. I had started to take living in the “Community of Trust” for granted, but having a frank conversation with other students, of different years and at different schools within the University, I realized all over again how important it is to go to a school where I can leave my laptop in the library, take an exam in my dorm room, and know that every other student respects the ideals of the honor system as much as I do. Listening to speakers discuss the importance of the Honor System made me sure once again that I had picked the right school.

Serving on a randomly selected jury, like the one pictured here, reminded me of that rush of school spirit I felt at Convocation when I first signed the pledge.
Those are not the only unique quirks that illustrated once again how special UVA is. One of our more exciting traditions is that of secret societies, one of which made an appearance at Convocation. When President Sullivan stood to give her speech, she paused before beginning to tell us that she had a message asking her to find the seventh student in the seventh row, who needed to look under his or her chair. There was automatically mass confusion, but finally the right student held up an envelope from under his seat. President Sullivan called him up in front everyone, and he served as a messenger from one of our most secret societies, the 7’s, who welcomed us to the school by promising our class a whopping $1,777.77 to use however we deemed fit. As he read the letter telling us this, we were all perched on the edges of our seats, absolutely enthralled. We could hardly believe we’d all just shared in a brush with the top secret society at our school. All of our secret societies exist to give back to the community in different ways, but the 7’s certainly have the most style in their philanthropic activities. They certainly succeeded in getting us even more excited about UVA with their mysterious message. At that point, I thought I could not be more proud to be a cavalier. That changed just a few minutes later, as the ceremony culminated in our school anthem.
This is a picture of one of our buildings, decorated with a banner from the 7 Society and a tag from the Z Society.
Our anthem is The Good Old Song, and we will sing it at a moment’s notice. Arguably the best part about going to UVA is that our school anthem is played to ring in every New Year. While other people are stumbling through the words of Auld Lang Syne, you can count on any UVA student or alum to be swaying arm in arm and belting out the lyrics that live so close to our hearts:

The Good Old Song of Wahoowa
We’ll sing it o’er and o’er
It cheers our hearts and warms our blood
To hear them shout and roar
We come from Old Virginia
Where all is bright and gay
Let’s all join hands and give a yell
For dear old UVA

I learned every word (including the intimidating chant at the end: Wahoowa, wahoowa, Univ-V Virginia, Hoorah-ray, Hoorah-ray, ray, ray, UVA!) before I moved in as a first year and it came in handy. We all stood on the lawn, threw our arms around each other, and swayed back and forth in dreamy school spirit as we belted out the song we were so proud to now be able to call our own. As I stood with the people who would become my best friends, at what I firmly believe to be one of the most beautiful places on earth, I was filled with so much cheesy school spirit that I can’t possibly express exactly how perfect the moment was. UVA’s traditions may not be most important aspect of the school, but I think they’re what bond all of together. They’re what remind me why I would not want to be anywhere else.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Humble Beginnings

Hey folks, my name is Beth Wagner. I am a rising third year double majoring in Political Philosophy & Law and History. Many of you all probably spent your Fourth of July cooking out, relaxing by the pool, and watching fireworks. I know I certainly did. After whiling away the day eating ribs and catching up with friends who had come in for the weekend, I headed up to Monticello for a mountaintop view of the fireworks exploding all over Albemarle County. When we arrived at the visitor’s center, school buses shuttled us over to where friends and family of the Monticello staff had gathered on top of Montalto, Monticello’s neighboring mountain. As we sat there, watching dusk gather over the blue ridge mountains, I could not help but think about how differently the atmosphere must have been on the day that has inspired almost 250 years of celebration.

When the founding fathers put their pens to Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, the mood must have been anything but carefree. By signing the declaration, they were committing the highest form of treason, literally signing their lives over to the cause. Patrick Henry was not exaggerating when he said, “Give me liberty or give me death.” Remembering the bravery and sacrifices that gave birth to this country reminds me that I often take what we have for granted. I never think twice about voicing my political opinions. I have never hidden my religion. I have never been denied the right to vote. When I watch brave men and women in other countries risking their lives for a vote, I’m appalled that less than 60% of Americans choose to use theirs.
Obviously our country is not perfect, but it’s easy to forget to appreciate our circumstances when they seem so fundamental. It’s crazy to think that the American democracy started out largely as an experiment. No one had any idea if democracy could work on such a large scale. Case and point: the failure of the Articles of Confederation. Thomas Jefferson founded the University of Virginia largely because he felt that the way to ensure the preservation of this country was to cultivate its citizens. Jefferson’s neo-classical style of architecture serves as a tribute to the first successful democracies of Greece and Rome. Jefferson centered his university around a library rather than a chapel to mirror the fundamental American value of separation of church and state. I walk around the lawn and I am reminded that I’m not here just to make friends and take tests. Thomas Jefferson imbued his university with the same responsibility that he carried on his own shoulders: the responsibility of citizenship.
So as I sat on the mountain, watching fireworks glinting off the copper dome of the Rotunda below, I felt more than just pride. I love my country, I’m proud to be an American, but, more than anything, I feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude for those Americans who came before me. And I won’t let them down.

Friday, July 5, 2013

"We Come from Old Virginia..."

Hi guys! I am Trisha and this is a picture of Newcomb Hall, our Student Activities Building. It is actually one of my favorite buildings to hang out in, because it has a game room, food court, nice study spaces, and perfect couches for napping. It also houses a lot of our minority resources like the LGBTQ Center, Hispanic/Latino, Asian/Asian Pacific American, Native American, and Middle Eastern Student Services and Programs. Outside of Newcomb, UVA has tons of resources in other areas, for example, the Office of African-American Affairs, the Women Center, the Brody Jewish Center, and on and on. I think it is great how many resources are available for minority students like me. 

I have personally gotten really involved in the LGBTQ community here. I spend a lot of my time volunteering in the LGBTQ Center. (My scrubs are irrelevant to the picture.) 
The LGBTQ Center provides free HIV testing, enthralling company, safe sex materials, a comprehensive library, and just a great hang out place with comfy couches. We also do this cool campaign on Valentine’s Day called “Love is Love” where we wear t-shirts promoting all kinds of love. 

I was asked to perform in Live Homosexual Acts (pardon the poor name choice) where we presented spoken word pieces, music, and monologues about different experiences concerning the LGBTQ community. My favorite one was probably “Coming Out Straight,” because it talked about how hard it was to be a straight ally. Here I am spitting out some mad lyrics about coming out to my dad. Let’s just all enjoy my intense face for a second.

Here I am with the fabulous Scott Rheinheimer, our LGBTQ Center Coordinator. He hails from Birmingham, New York and is ethnically ambiguous. I was also introduced to drag. That is me with Anita Numan on the left at one of the biggest events the Queer Student Union puts on: Drag Bingo. Five rounds of bingo and performances by drag queens and kings and dance-offs and skittles?? That's an incredible experience. On the right, is a picture of me and the phenomenal Pearl Harbor, who just finished performing at Fellini’s #9 Sunday Drag Brunch. Through the LGBTQ center, I have gotten the attention I need and I have been introduced to a whole new community of majestic people who are now some of my best friends.