Valedictory Exercises: Thursday, May 20
Speaker: Jay Pharaoh
Jay Pharoah is an American actor, stand-up comedian, impressionist, and fellow Virginia native. From 2010 to 2016, Mr. Pharaoh was a prominent cast member of NBC’s Saturday Night Live. He is known for his various celebrity impressions, including Barack Obama, Will Smith, Jay-Z, 50 Cent, and Eddie Murphy. In addition to his tenure at SNL, Mr. Pharaoh has worked on over 25 films and television programs, including the blockbuster film Ride Along, as well as Family Guy and BoJack Horseman. You may even recognize him voicing one of the protagonists in the ever-popular Call of Duty franchise.
Final Exercises: Friday, May 21 - Sunday, May 23
Speaker: Alexis Ohanian
Reddit cofounder and venture fund Seven Seven Six founder Alexis Ohanian, a 2005 University of Virginia alumnus, will be the Final Exercises speakers for the University’s classes of 2021.
Ohanian earned two degrees from UVA in 2005, one in commerce and the other in history. He co-founded Reddit, the social news aggregation and content-rating platform that same year; it is now valued at $6 billion.
On his personal website, Ohanian describes himself as the son of an undocumented immigrant and as a “business dad.” That is also the name of his podcast, “Business Dad,” in which he interviews fellow fathers about what it means to be a dad in today’s world and how they balance their careers and families. He has also been an outspoken advocate in the push for federally mandated paid family leave and has candidly shared his own experiences in order to bring attention to the issue.
Following the murder of George Floyd in the custody of Minneapolis police officers in May 2020, Ohanian – the husband of tennis superstar Serena Williams – resigned from the board of Reddit after considering how he would answer “his Black daughter when she asks: ‘What did you do?’” to make the world a better place, he writes on his website.
In stepping down in 2020, Ohanian convinced Reddit to ban hate communities and fill his position with a Black candidate, Michael Seibel, who has deep expertise in the tech world.
After leaving Reddit’s day-to-day operations in 2016, Ohanian began a career in venture capital and co-founded Initialized Capital—a seed-stage venture fund with over $770 million under management and a portfolio with $100 billion in market value, with investments in companies like Coinbase and Instacart. In late 2020, Ohanian announced he would be departing Initialized Capital to launch his own venture, Seven Seven Six, a new firm focused on people, culture and community.
Ohanian said speaking at Final Exercises has been on his bucket list. “I’m so fired up,” he said.
“UVA is where it all started for me, and I mean that quite literally. I walked out of an LSAT on Grounds to visit the Waffle House on 29 and realized I shouldn't be a lawyer – I needed to start a startup. I went back to my apartment and convinced my first-year hallmate (Hancock House, left side of the first floor) to quit his job and join me. Professor Mark White of the McIntire School of Commerce was the first person I pitched while on a trip representing UVA at an entrepreneurship summit in Singapore.
“I came up with the name for Reddit in Alderman Library. But most importantly, UVA is where I learned about community – a principle which drove me to create Reddit and continues to influence the work I do every day through my venture firm Seven Seven Six. Even that, a reference to the year of the first Olympic Games, is due to professor J.E. Lendon’s ancient Greece class, which I enjoyed so much I declared my history major first year,” Ohanian said.
“I am grateful for the opportunity I got to attend UVA and all the life-changing people I met there; community has been the theme of my professional career and it all started in Charlottesville,” he said. “I’m honored to be invited to serve as this year’s commencement speaker and look forward to (virtually) going back to where it all started with the Class of 2021. Wahoowa!”
-UVA Today article announcing Alexis Ohanian as this year's speaker