Senator Mark Warner told the nearly 280 UVa-Wise graduates Saturday to not fear failure as they make their way in the world, and he urged them to stay involved in the political process so they can hold elected leaders accountable for their promises.
Warner, the first in his family to graduate from college, told the hundreds who gathered in the David J. Prior Convocation Center about the time, fresh out of law school, he took his life savings of $5,000 and invested in a company that he drove to bankruptcy in six weeks.
“At age 26, I was flat broke and living out of my car and sleeping on my friends’ couches,” he told the crowd.
He recalled asking his college friends to invest in a new product called cell phones, but they declined and said nobody would want a mobile phone. A few years later, Warner co-founded the company that became Nextel and invested in hundreds of start-up technology companies that created tens of thousands of jobs.
“Only in America can you get not one chance, but two chances and three chances,” he said.
Warner reminded the graduates that he failed at politics when he first ran for office against the venerable Senator John Warner. He joked about the confusion a Warner verses Warner race was for Virginia, but he said the voters knew best.
“Virginia picked the right Warner,” he said of John Warner’s victory. John Warner later endorsed Mark Warner in another political race.
Warner, who has visited Southwest Virginia and UVa-Wise often during his political career, said he has seen changes in the region and on campus.
“It’s really remarkable,” he said of the College’s success, such as the software engineering program, cyber security initiatives, and the Prior Center to name a few. He said people touted the potential of the College to him from the days it was known as Clinch Valley College. “It makes me extremely optimistic about the future of Southwest Virginia.”
Warner said he realizes he was blessed to be in the technology field early on, but he cautioned that technology is changing lives in America.
“Social media has super charged our ability to share every single opinion you have with everybody in the world,” he said. However, that ability to share opinions in real time has created an echo chamber, he added.
The generation today can access more information on their phones in one hour than their grandparents could in their entire life, the senator said. Debating the big issues today is extremely important, Warner explained, but he said no one person or party has the monopoly on patriotism or the truth.
The senator told the graduates they have the responsibility to be engaged citizens and to be responsible for what they read, watch and tweet. Citizens must also hold those in political office accountable for the promises they make, he added. He said many Americans want to throw something at the television these days.
“I feel the same way, and I’m in the TV,” he said.
His last piece of advice for the UVa-Wise Class of 2018 was to call their mother and other family members who helped them successfully finish college.
“You didn’t get here alone,” he said. “Don’t tweet them, don’t post it on Facebook, don’t text them or send them a message…call them,” he said.”
Chancellor Donna Henry conferred the degrees for the Class of 2018, but she also had some encouraging words for the graduates. She said the College has alumni is every walk of life, and she said the graduates are well prepared to join those alumni in various career fields.
“You have a promising future ahead, choices to make, and much work to do,” Henry said. “So graduates . . . explore and endeavor to make sound choices. Shoulder the necessary responsibilities and lead yourself, your colleagues and your community in making a better world. Seek out and commit to the essentials in your life. Nurture your family, your friends and your spirit as you journey away from us out into the world. And remember you will always have a home here at The University of Virginia’s College at Wise.”
Teresa Sullivan, president of the University of Virginia, recounted various civic and community projects UVa-Wise students completed last year. Those efforts, she said, show the students are committed to serving others and to making the world a better place.
“Today, you embark on the great future that awaits you,” she said. “Today is a time of great joy and for you and your family, but you might also feel some anxiety and uncertainty as you contemplate the future that stands before you. I encourage you to enjoy this moment fully, and set aside any apprehension you might be feeling right now. Be proud of yourselves for what you’ve accomplished, but also be grateful to the people who made your experience here possible.”
Commencement exercises ended after UVa-Wise ROTC cadets Sarah Sanders and Sarrah Hulsey were commissioned as second lieutenants in the U.S. Army. They made College history as the first female ROTC graduates to be commissioned in combat ready posts.