This year marks an important milestone. It is the 35th anniversary of the Ridley Scholarship Program, dedicated to attracting Black students of the highest academic caliber to UVA and to building a community anchored on learning, leadership and legacy. Since Ridley’s inception, the size of its endowment, the number of Ridley Scholars supported, the breadth of program support and the impact to the University of Virginia have grown exponentially.

Lily West Sarah Cramer Shields

Two factors have powered this success. The first is the perseverance of talented and engaged alumni. What is now the Ridley Scholarship Program started when a group of alumni came together in 1987 for a special reunion the Alumni Association held for Black alumni. There, distinguished alumnus John F. Merchant led the charge to establish a scholarship in honor of Walter N. Ridley, who in 1953 became UVA’s first Black graduate, receiving his doctorate from the School of Education. (Merchant, who graduated five years after Ridley, was the UVA School of Law’s first Black graduate.)

Alumni have been answering that call ever since. They have made the Ridley Scholarship Program a difference-maker in an increasing number of lives, including the life of the University. With an endowment of nearly $20 million, Ridley now provides full tuition, fees, mentoring and programmatic support to nearly 20 Scholars. This dynamic and comprehensive package is regarded as best-in-class in the nation.

The second key to the Ridley Scholarship Program’s success is the Alumni Association’s independence. Founded shortly after the University, the Association shares a history and a kindred Wahoo spirit with UVA; however, we are self-governed and independently managed. This structure gives us the latitude that a public institution does not have, particularly in the area of customized, identity-based scholarships. 

Ridley Scholars are among the more than 400 recipients of scholarships the Alumni Association administers and helps manage. Each of these in their distinct ways help attract the best and the brightest to Grounds and build a strong, vibrant UVA community.

So, happy 35th anniversary to generations of Ridley Scholars, and happy 70th anniversary to Dr. Ridley’s breaking barriers for them. Here’s to many more decades of celebrating the Ridley Scholarship Program’s learning, leadership and legacy.

Signature of Lily West

Lily West (Darden ’12)
President & CEO