For the second time in three years, I had the privilege of spending the summer photographing a hundred of the world’s finest scholars at the Universitas 21 summer conference. This year’s topic, “Leadership in a Global Society,” brought students from eleven countries to the University of Virginia for a unique opportunity to interact with some of America’s most insightful leaders. Along the way, students were treated to more Americana than they could have ever anticipated, ranging from their first baseball games to an Independence Day naturalization ceremony at the home of Thomas Jefferson.
Although this summer’s session didn’t come with a complimentary plane ticket to Sweden and Norway (like our illustrious trip to Lund back in 2005!), I was excited to spend an extended amount of time living on the grounds of UVA. If I weren’t so emotionally connected to the ocean, I would have moved to Charlottesville years ago. Additionally, I was excited to play local host to so many students from all over the world, many of whom were visiting the United States for the very first time.
And if the students came to the US without knowing much about American culture, we certainly went out of our way to hit them over the head with the red, white, and blue. Within the first couple days, we took them to the annual naturalization ceremony at Monticello with guest speaker Sam Watterson, and treated them to a down-home southern BBQ on grounds at UVA. We gave them an opportunity to interface with American governors, entrepreneurs, and even astronauts. And we set them loose on Washington D.C. for a weekend. One of my favourite experiences, however, was introducing many to their first baseball game, which ran late due to rain and extra innings. The game ended sometime around 2AM, at which time the management decided to go forward with the night’s fireworks display. It was one of the loudest shows I’ve seen, and drew the ire of neighbors in the next morning’s newspaper.
The session was overwhelmingly important to the lives and careers of these students, and it was an honor to document such a special time for them. We ended the session over dinner inside the rotunda, a rare opportunity I hope to experience again someday. Thanks to my fellow U21 staff, and all the students who made it possible.