The UVA Issue: Students in the spotlight

Jerry Reid. Photo: Elli Williams Jerry Reid. Photo: Elli Williams

It’s been a year of achievement and change at UVA, and as another class prepares to become alumni, we’re taking a look back.

In this piece, we’ve gathered stories of students who stuck out in the last year—particularly those whose achievements were outside the classroom.

So read on (and don’t miss the other part of this feature, which takes a look at change and advancement at the University), and join us in saluting the class of 2014—our happiness for you, soon-to-be-grads, is only partly due to our gleeful anticipation of less Corner traffic. Congrats!

Long time coming: 70-year-old student Jerry Reid prepares for graduation

It’s been a big year for Jerry Reid. He and his wife celebrated their 45th wedding anniversary, his flag football team just won its second championship game, and he blew out 70 candles on his birthday cake in March. Oh, and on Sunday, May 18, he’ll receive his bachelor’s degree from UVA.

“I’m not trying to relive my glory days,” Reid said, gazing up at the Rotunda from a bench near the Lawn. “These are my glory days.”

Reid, who was born in Clifton Forge and spent most of his life in Richmond, flunked two classes during his senior year of high school, and didn’t receive his diploma until two years of night classes later. When he was 19, his buddy William Sturman, a UVA student at the time, told him he was the “biggest screw-up he ever knew,” and that UVA was where he belonged.

“That’s what a lot of people told me back in the day, ‘You gotta make something out of yourself,’” Reid said. “When he told me that, I started on the path of many things that were aimed toward me becoming something. And what I’m becoming is the man I always wanted to be.”

A self-proclaimed rebel without a cause, he spent his weekends as a young adult schlepping up and down I-64 every chance he got, using the cash he earned from multiple jobs to hang out in Charlottesville with Sturman, who brought him along to fraternity parties and other college events without ever again pushing Reid to register. For years, Reid lived the life of a Wahoo—he even met his future wife, Susan, at a Chi Phi party in 1996—but the idea of applying as a student never crossed his mind.

“I audited classes, I bought the right clothes, I became preppy,” he said. “And I was always with Bill, but he never asked me when I was going to apply.”

Life and multiple careers as a journalist and business consultant kept him busy and away from Charlottesville for decades. In 2009, when he found himself wandering around Grounds while in town for a business trip, everything changed.

“I was just unhappy, and there was a void,” he said. “So I sat down on that bench, and I realized, the only thing that was stopping me from doing this was me. I’d never committed to the idea that I’m worthy of a college education because I was so far from higher education when I left high school that I couldn’t see it with a telescope.”

He immediately contacted UVA’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies, and the self doubt that had been plaguing him for 50 years vanished.

“I was like a bulldozer,” he said with a laugh. “Full steam ahead.”

It’s been three years since Reid set foot on Grounds as a student for the first time, enrolled in the Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies (BIS) program, and he isn’t bashful about how emotional the ride hass been.

“I feel like I’m a bunch of rolling pins, and there’s a bowling ball that’s knocking all the pins over one at a time, and I can’t pick them back up,” he said, wiping his eyes and noting that everything he loves about being an undergrad, like fraternity events and flag football games, are coming to an end. “Like the Jefferson Society meetings? I just went to my last one.”

Not unlike his 18- to 22 year-old comrades, Reid said the friends he’s made are what stand out in his memory as an undergrad. He’s an initiated brother of Chi Phi—which he said “closes the circle” of him and Sturman, who died in a car accident before the two could officially become fraternity brothers—and he goes out of his way to reach out to everyone on Grounds, whether they’re his own age or young enough to be his grandchildren. He was welcomed into Hooville with open arms, he said, and he teared up again while he told a story about “gaining notice of a few societies on Grounds.” His frat brothers’ chests puffed out when they introduced him to fellow Greeks, he said, and the girls at socials and formals surrounded his wife, ushering her into the family as well. Not everybody was on board in the beginning with a professor-aged guy taking classes, though, and he said he’s been approached by students who accused him of stealing a spot that someone younger needed more.

As for his plan after he walks the Lawn? Reid just can’t get enough of Jefferson’s University; he hopes to work for UVA’s Department of Student Affairs, and ultimately return to Grounds as a graduate student in 2016.

“For now, I’m a graduate seeking employment,” he said with a laugh. “This is where I belong. I feel like I was born here, and I would happily do any job I was asked to do at UVA.”—Laura Ingles

UVA hoops’ new era

If you hadn’t heard the term Bennett Ball before this year, chances are you’re well acquainted with the phrase by now after UVA’s young head coach Tony Bennett, in his fifth year of coaching at the school, led the team to its first Sweet Sixteen appearance since the mid-1990s.

UVA's Malcolm Brogdon. Photo: Matt Riley, UVA Athleticcs
UVA’s Malcolm Brogdon. Photo: Matt Riley, UVA Athleticcs

Charlottesville—and ’Hoos the nation over—went crazy as the team, which struggled in the early part of the 2013-2014 season and fell to Duke in early January, suddenly turned a corner and steamrolled 13 teams in a row, with a 19-point trouncing of Syracuse on March 1 to clinch the regular ACC title. The glory wasn’t over, though, as Bennett Ball—a selfless, team-playing style with relentless defense—helped the team topple Coastal Carolina and Memphis State before a nailbiting loss to Michigan State ended its chances at an NCAA Tournament title.

Even if UVA didn’t go all the way this year, fans’ love for Coach Bennett and for the team swelled, and the promise of great seasons to come is tantalizing to those who have watched the Cavs through ups and downs.

“I think Virginia will reload,” said longtime fan Todd Hawkins, soon after the team’s NCAA tournament loss. “They have enough of a foundation that they’ve turned a corner.”—Courteney Stuart

No student left behind: Diversity effort goes viral

UVA may sometimes be represented as a conservative bastion of Southern tradition, with women wearing pearls and men in seersucker suits, but that’s not the reality of the student body, the faculty, or the staff, and a new website aims to make that point.

The #WeAreAllUVA Tumblr celebrates diversity at the school and was inspired by a similar online effort at Harvard. It features photos and messages from students who don’t fit the stereotype, ranging from a Muslim woman holding a sign expressing support for her LBGTQ friends to African-American students describing racism, to a transgendered man expressing pride in his school because of the welcoming nature of the blog.

This photo of UVA Swimming & Diving team members went viral this spring after it was posted on, a blog devoted to celebrating diversity. The swimmers’ photo was shared thousands of times, posted on Facebook by Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert, and was picked up by Parade magazine. Photo: Tumblr
This photo of UVA Swimming & Diving team members went viral this spring after it was posted on, a blog devoted to celebrating diversity. The swimmers’ photo was shared thousands of times, posted on Facebook by Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert, and was picked up by Parade magazine. Photo: Tumblr

“The #WeAreAllUVa photo series was just the first step,” reads a message posted by the site’s founders. “We want to transform all that energy, love, and support into action to transform the formal and informal structures at UVA to be a more inclusive, accessible, and safe community.” —Courteney Stuart

Beyond the lecture hall: Student achievement that’s off the beaten path

One of the guys

Reserve Officer Training Corps Cadet Adria Penatzer was the sole female on UVA’s Ranger Challenge team, which won a division title at Fort Pickett last fall. The challenge is “ROTC’s sport,” Penatzer said, and the competition is a grueling test of physical and mental skill: crossing streams on ropes, getting through obstacle courses, assembling and firing weapons, and through it all, navigating with a 30-pound rucksack on your back.

Penatzer, a rising fourth-year who wasn’t sure about the ROTC route when she started college but has since decided to make the Army into her career, said being a part of the team was a valuable experience.

“I think it teaches you how to operate in a male-dominated environment,” she said. “It’s nice to know that it’s possible, if you put forth the effort, and it’s really not a problem. They treat you like one of the guys. That’s probably the biggest lesson I’ve learned.”

Upwardly mobile

In 2015, UVA student Patrick Carney will be one of a handful of people who will ride for free to sub-orbital heights on Space Expedition Corporation’s XCOR Lynx craft.

Patrick Carney. Photo: Dan Addison, UVA Media Relations
Patrick Carney. Photo: Dan Addison, UVA Media Relations

He was awarded the coveted spot in December in the finale of a contest sponsored by deodorant and fragrance company AXE, which sent him and several other winners to space camp. Carney, an Alexandria native, will be the only American on board—and he will be one of the youngest people ever to go to space.

Doing good for girls

For hundreds of millions of poor women in the developing world, a lack of access to inexpensive sanitary pads and tampons means missed school, missed work, and missed opportunities to move up. It can also lead to infections and long-term health problems as women turn to rags and even mud to deal with periods.

A team of UVA students—Ilgiz Saubanov, K. Bailey Morton, Jennifer Casto, Alex Dumitriu and Chris Palmer—won the University’s entrepreneurship cup last fall for their proposed fix: reusable pads that cost about $1.50 and last a year—about 36 times less than the cost of year’s supply of disposable pads. The $40,000 entrepreneurship prize will help the team launch “Chitenges 4 Change” in Zambia, where they hope to partner with tailoring schools who can manufacture the pads.—Graelyn Brashear