CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA—Saying that the speech remained as vibrant and important to them now as it was 15 years ago, members of University of Virginia’s class of 1998 reported this week that they continue to regularly draw inspiration, reassurance, and inner strength from the commencement address delivered by Governor Jim Gilmore.
Class members told reporters that they still become awestruck and overcome with emotion whenever they reflect on Gov. Gilmore’s stirring message of responsibility, resourcefulness, and charity. According to the UVA alumni, the lessons they gleaned from the speech continue to inform each decision they make, with all unanimously agreeing that Gilmore’s words have, every single day since graduation, motivated them to lead better lives.
“I still get chills thinking of all the things Jim Gilmore said to us that day,” said class of ’98 graduate Michael Kellogg, stating that he typically recalls Gilmore’s exhortation to become an active, well-rounded member of society between 10 and 20 times per day. “Whenever I’m facing a difficulty in my life or just feeling down, I simply close my eyes and think back to Jim Gilmore standing up on that podium and telling us, ‘In a world filled with limitations of one kind or another at every turn, it is very important for all of us to seek and find better and better ways to define excellence and then to achieve it.’ When you hear words as eloquent, original, and profoundly moving as those, it changes your life forever.”
“Everything I’ve done—everything I am—is because of Jim Gilmore’s speech,” Kellogg added.
The 1998 UVA graduates told reporters that they consider the onetime Virginia attorney general’s address on the values of self-reliance and public service among the greatest moments in their lives. Saying they would never forget Gilmore’s indelible words, the former students asserted that such maxims as “success comes from hard work and mental discipline” and “do not become self-absorbed and interested only in gaining wealth” were undoubtedly the most cherished and influential pieces of counsel they had ever received.
Members of the 1998 class also confirmed that the former Henrico County prosecutor’s advice had only grown more valuable in the last decade and a half. According to the alumni, Gilmore’s calls to make the world a better place served as a profound awakening for all of them, opening their eyes for the first time to their own immense potential while also fostering deep personal growth—a growth that they acknowledged has only continued as they discover more nuance and insight in the speech with each passing year.
In addition, sources said they routinely reminisce with classmates about Gilmore’s lighthearted yet poignant stories concerning his own experiences as an undergraduate at UVA, with many admitting that they frequently quote entire sections of the speech verbatim in their daily lives and others acknowledging that they have adopted many of Gilmore’s inspirational phrases as their own personal credos.
“Once we learned that Jim Gilmore—Governor Jim Gilmore—would deliver our commencement speech, we had extremely high expectations, but he completely blew them out of the water,” said alumna Marsha Powell, noting that she and her fellow graduates still regularly encourage one another to continue striving for greatness, just as the one-term Virginia governor wanted of them. “Everyone in our class can point to his speech as the exact moment when we knew we could achieve our dreams, stand on our own two feet, and better mankind. That speech has become a part of who we are, not just as UVA alums, but as human beings.”
“Sometimes I’ll run into another ‘98 grad and we’ll just look at each other and say ‘Gilmore,’” Powell continued. “And that’s all we have to say. Just that name alone means everything.”
The roughly 3,600 class members agreed that they were tremendously fortunate to have heard the one-time Benedetti, Gilmore, Warthen and Dalton law partner speak that day, describing his address as a timeless fount of wisdom and proudly asserting that they would hand down Gilmore’s sage advice on civic involvement to their children and grandchildren.
“A friend of mine who graduated from Portland State University that same year had Bill Clinton at her commencement, but I can’t imagine anything could compare to the speech that Jim Gilmore gave,” said Eric Sheffield, who added that he rarely goes more than two or three days without rereading the transcript of Gilmore’s speech he keeps pinned above his desk as a source of inspiration and courage. “I honestly don’t know where I would be today if it weren’t for his advice that we work to make the world a better place. That’s a powerful, unforgettable message for which I am eternally grateful and indebted.”
“As Jim Gilmore himself said, ‘Your education, your liberty, and your duty all go hand in hand,’” Sheffield continued, his eyes welling up with tears. “And you know what? They do. They really, really do.”