Virginia athletic director Carla Williams delivered the keynote commencement address during graduation ceremonies Saturday on a day when the university and football program also remembered three players killed in an on-campus shooting last November.
The families of Devin Chandler, Lavel Davis Jr. and D’Sean Perry had previously been awarded posthumous degrees. But Perry was scheduled to graduate Saturday, and his mother, Happy, asked to attend the ceremony in his place. When Williams told her she would be allowed to do so, Williams asked, “Are you sure you can do it? She paused and said, ‘Yes. He would be very proud of me, and I will power through to do it for him.”
Chandler, Davis and Perry were shot and killed on Nov. 13 after returning home from a class trip to Washington, D.C. Running back Mike Hollins, who was shot and wounded, returned to school and football, earned his degree in American studies and African American and African studies in December, and participated in graduation ceremonies Saturday.
Congratulations to D’Sean Perry and the Class of 2023. On a day of celebration, we would like to honor Lavel, Devin, and D’Sean
1.15.41🕊#UVAStrong | #GoHoos⚔️ pic.twitter.com/EovOOQ7ERN
— Virginia Football (@UVAFootball) May 20, 2023
As part of her remarks, Williams described the empathy shown in the wake of the tragedy across the entire university community.
“I don’t have the words to explain the pain of this past November or the last six months, but I do know this to be an absolute truth: Every kind word, every kind gesture matters,” Williams said. “On the night of Nov. 14, 2022, in this very space we occupy this morning, thousands of students, faculty, staff and community members came together in a show of empathy I have never seen before in person and will probably never see again.
“Without one spoken word, the people of this community said in unison, in their movement and their spirit, we care about each other. Please do not forget what we’ve been through together, and may it compel you to show you care about the suffering and the experiences of others. You are the ones responsible for that vigil. You. Students. You are bright and shining examples of the best we have to offer. We need your courageous spirit.”
In addition, football coach Tony Elliott narrated a video posted on social media ahead of the graduation ceremonies, thanking the university community for “the unbelievable strength and support you all have offered in the face of unspeakable tragedy.”
Christopher Darnell Jones Jr., a UVA student and former member of the football team who was on the trip, has been charged with three counts of second-degree murder and the use of a firearm in the commission of a felony. Prosecutors have also charged him with two counts of malicious wounding and additional gun-related charges related to shooting Hollins and another student, Marlee Morgan.