Due to inclement weather, UVa-Wise is closed on Thursday, March 5.

Dominion Resources CEO Farrell addresses UVa-Wise Class of 2011


Thomas F. Farrell II, chairman, president and chief executive officer for Dominion Resources, urged the 305 graduates of The University of Virginia’s College at Wise to protect democracy by becoming informed and active citizens.

Many citizens take citizenship for granted, but the quality of citizenship determines the quality of the nation, Farrell explained.

“We live in an era when more information is available to more people than ever before,” he said. “Yet never has it seemed harder to get the public issues resolved.”

America is a nation of diverse people, but its shared set of values binds the country together, he said.

“We believe that in America, anyone can work hard and get ahead, that there are fewer limits on human potential here than in any other country in the world, and for that matter, in the history of the world,” he said.

Americans individually are not exceptional, but America, because of its governing philosophy and its culture, is exceptional, Farrell said.

“America is exceptional, and the world is better for it,” he said. “These are big words, but I believe them fervently. As Americans, we are bound by a commitment to the tenets of freedom and liberty and the institutions that preserve them.”

But today it seems that Americans do not appear to like these institutions very much, he told the crowd. There is a low level of confidence in government and, as a consequence, a low level of confidence in the capacity for self-governing, he said. That situation can lead to public frustration, stagnation and the belief that the country is not headed in the right direction, he added.

“This is where you come in,” Farrell said to the graduates. “I agree with the idea that democracy is hard work. I do not think, as citizens of this republic, that we ought to take very much for granted at all. It really is up to us and to you. The quality of our citizenship shapes our future-for better or for worse.”

The nation and its citizens have differences, Farrell said, but all must work hard to reason through the differences.

“Join the conversation,” he said. “Make a difference. Take the knowledge you have acquired at the college and build upon it. Make yourself an informed, active citizen. Do it for yourselves. Do it for your families. Do it for your country.”

UVa-Wise Chancellor David J. Prior reminded the Class of 2011 that they are joining other alumni who are engaged in successful careers and are making a difference in their communities and the world.

“UVa-Wise alumni are leaders in medicine, business, law, politics, education, public service, military service, science…essentially every walk of life,” Prior said. “You, the Class of 2011, are well prepared to join them.”

The Class of 2011 has the opportunity and responsibility to be leaders, and the complexities of today’s world should not discourage, but drive them to build a better society, Prior said.

Marvin W. Gilliam, Jr., a member of the University of Virginia Board of Visitors, reminded the crowd that UVa-Wise is an essential part of the University of Virginia.

“It is the task of this class to continue the tradition of excellence,” Gilliam said.

Marcia A. Gilliam, a 1982 graduate of the college and vice chair of the UVa-Wise Board, said the graduates are prepared for future challenges.

“You will meet the future with confidence, strength and success,” she said.

Rachel Belcher, the honorary speaker for the Class of 2011, reminded her fellow graduates that many people helped them reach this moment.

“Find yourselves happy on the path you follow without needing awards and praise to get you there,” Belcher said.

Stephanie L. Lawson, president of the UVa-Wise Student Government Association, urged her fellow graduates to remember their time at UVa-Wise.

“Take with you what you’ve learned,” Lawson said. “Hard work pays off in the end.”