In October, we celebrated the launch of Honor the Future, the University of Virginia’s campaign. The title is a nod to the values of honor and trust that have been embraced here for generations. It’s also a call to action. But how, exactly, are we supposed to honor the future?
That question comes at a time when the public is surprisingly skeptical about the value of a college degree and the contributions of higher education to human progress. I say “surprisingly” because our system of higher education has been the envy of the world for generations, the creator of vast new bodies of knowledge and an engine of social mobility. And college remains a wise investment. Those with a college degree enjoy higher salaries and are more civically engaged than those without. Yet because of escalating tuition bills, the resulting student debt and a perception that universities are monolithically liberal, the value of universities and college education are no longer taken for granted.
Our world is also facing enormous challenges. Democracy faces pressure both at home and abroad. Political polarization is rampant. Climate change presents a genuine existential threat. Income inequality is staggeringly high. Rates of anxiety and depression are at record-high levels. Trust in established institutions continues to dwindle. Data and technology remain a blessing and a curse, at once connecting and separating us.
I believe the best way for higher education to meet its own challenges is to meet the challenges facing our world. Higher education, at its best, helps solve the world’s problems, not create them.
UVA aspires to represent the very best in higher education. We aspire to cultivate the most vibrant community in higher education, to enable discoveries that enrich and improve lives, and to be a university synonymous with service. A university that works to protect and promote democracy through teaching and research, and a university that does the same to help the world address climate change.
A university that helps unlock the mysteries of the brain and harnesses the power of data to make medicine more precise and education more personalized. One that is a model for treating students holistically, and one that is a place of opportunity—one of the best for first-generation students. A university that prepares students to be ethical leaders in an increasingly diverse and connected world. A university that reimagines how faculty and students work together. A university with a thriving arts scene, and one that wins championships and continues to do so in the right way. A university with a health system that supports world-class research, innovative teaching, and excellent, compassionate patient care. A university that attracts outstanding faculty, students and staff who want to make a difference in the world. A university that is not just more diverse but also more inclusive. A university that lives its values daily and helps make our region a great place—for everyone—to live. A university that is excellent, but excellent for the purpose of serving the public.
I believe that if UVA can do these things—be not just great, but also good—we will represent the very best in higher education.
That commitment to being our very best is what the Honor the Future campaign is all about. Our $5 billion goal, as you know, is ambitious. But as I announced at our public launch in October, we are already more than halfway there because of the generous support of alumni and friends. As you may have also heard, I had the privilege to announce an extraordinary $100 million gift from alumnus David Walentas (Engr ’61, Darden ’64) and his wife, Jane, the bulk of which will fund scholarships and fellowships for first-generation students through the Jefferson Scholars Foundation and the Darden School of Business. At bottom, education is about opportunity, and campaigns like this one are about creating opportunities for generations
of faculty and students to come, which is exactly what David and Jane Walentas have done. I cannot imagine a better way to honor the future or a better way to begin the public phase of our campaign.
I am encouraged by what we have achieved so far, but we still have much work to do to ensure that UVA’s future will be everything that we imagine it to be. I look forward to doing that work together with all of you.