A lot has changed since I wrote my last letter to all of you this past summer.

Some of that change has been personal. In October, I was officially sworn in as the ninth president of UVA, which also happened to be the first time my birth family met my adoptive family. There’s a longer story there, but suffice it to say it was a meaningful day for many reasons. And after celebrating a birthday, I have also gone from a youthful 51 to a grizzled 52—a fact I am reminded of living in a Pavilion on the Lawn, surrounded by students.

More broadly, and more seriously, the past few months have also been important ones for the University, with milestones that speak to both our past and our future.

In August, for example, the President’s Commission on Slavery released its final report examining the role and treatment of slaves who built and sustained the University. In October, professor Jonathan Kipnis received the prestigious Director’s Pioneer Award from the National Institutes of Health for his work connecting the brain and immune system. And by the time you read this, we will be halfway through the academic year, with a first-year class that is the most diverse in UVA history.

It’s a fitting set of accomplishments as we look back at two centuries of UVA history and begin to think about our third.

In my inaugural address, I talked about how UVA is, in a sense, Mr. Jefferson’s university. But it is also—even more so—our university. And it is our responsibility to preserve what is best about this place and to shape its future with boldness and creativity.

To that end, I’ve spent the past year since my selection as president listening to as many people as I can about their hopes for the future of UVA, both in person and through a website titled “Ours to Shape,” which invited members of our community to share their ideas online.

Your answers to these questions have left me bursting with ideas and great optimism about what lies ahead.

These conversations have largely converged around three broad themes—community, discovery and service—that I believe form the core of who we are and hold the key to our future. And that future depends on our ability to answer some basic questions related to those themes: What kind of community would we like to be? How can we best promote the discovery of new knowledge, whether in the lab or the classroom? How can we best serve the Commonwealth and beyond, and how can we best prepare our students for a life of service, regardless of their chosen careers?

Your answers to these questions have left me bursting with ideas and great optimism about what lies ahead. And while I don’t yet know exactly what the future will look like, I am beginning to see an outline of it, which rests on what I have learned from all of you.

I see, for example, a university that not only states its values but lives them, that is as vibrant as it is diverse, and that is known as one of the best, if not the best, for first-generation and low-income students. I see a faculty committed to the highest standards of teaching and research, and able to work across traditional boundaries to tackle our most pressing challenges. I see a university that is a strong partner and good neighbor with the surrounding communities, bound by a sense of fair treatment of all, including our lowest-paid workers. And I see a community of alumni whose connection with this place begins during their time on Grounds but continues to blossom over time.

More generally, I see a university that, in 2030, is considered not just Virginia’s flagship university, but the nation’s. And whether you see exactly the same picture, or only parts of it, I hope you share my faith in the future and my commitment to making this University what we know it can be. Because if we are able to realize all or part of the vision I have sketched, we will be an even stronger university than we are today.

The future truly is ours to shape, and we can only do it together. Let’s get to work.

James E. Ryan
President of the University of Virginia