David Baldacci tells VCU’s newest graduates to embrace the challenges ahead

Speaker at podium.
Bestselling novelist and VCU alumnus David Baldacci challenged new graduates to be engaged citizens at Saturday's commencement ceremony. (Thomas Kojcsich, University Marketing)

Bestselling novelist David Baldacci championed the virtues of passion and engagement at Virginia Commonwealth University’s fall commencement ceremony at the Stuart C. Siegel Center on Saturday.

In his remarks, Baldacci, a VCU alumnus, recalled his years working as a lawyer while writing stories at night. That hard work led to his career as a novelist whose work has been published in more than 45 languages and in more than 80 countries.

“Make no mistake about it, passion in one’s work is rare,” Baldacci said. “Most people never find it unfortunately. And thus if you do happen upon it be loath to part with it. Odds are very good it won’t come around again. And don’t settle for something in life when you can reach for something else. You don’t get a do-over with your time on Earth.” 

Baldacci has published 40 novels for adults. All have been national and international bestsellers, and several have been adapted for film and television. He also has written seven books for young readers. Baldacci, who received a bachelor’s degree in political science from VCU in 1983, also challenged the new graduates to be engaged citizens.  

“I find many people of all ages and backgrounds disengaging from public discourse because it all seems so negative,” Baldacci said. “However, if you do disengage when times are uncertain, you will ensure that America will turn into a country that none of you would want to live in. Thus, your democratic freedom comes with a responsibility, and that responsibility is to be active participants in your own governance.”  

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Saturday’s commencement ceremony honored more than 2,900 graduates for August and December. VCU awarded professional, graduate and undergraduate degrees at the universitywide ceremony and unit-level ceremonies.

VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D., told graduates, “We are in awe of what you’ve done — and what you will do.

“You are your ancestors’ wildest dream,” Rao said. “And we are grateful for you because you always make clear what you expect from yourself and others. You actively participate in a society that needs you, and you will make changes in yourself and in all of us that will elevate the human experience forever.”

Edward A. Wayne Medals were awarded to Ramona S. Neifeld and James P. Neifeld, M.D. The Edward A. Wayne Medal was established in 1971 to honor individuals who have made outstanding contributions or provided exemplary services to VCU.

James Neifeld joined the faculty of the VCU School of Medicine as an assistant professor in surgical oncology in 1978 and later served as chair of the Department of Surgery for more than 10 years. As a registered nurse, Ramona Neifeld worked in oncology and volunteered at St. James the Less Free Clinic. The Neifelds are longtime donors to the Massey Cancer Center and the School of Medicine. In 2011, they established the Herbert S. and Elinor C. Neifeld Scholarship in Medicine in honor of James’ parents. Passionate supporters of VCU Athletics, the Neifelds created the Neifeld Family Scholarship for Golf and supported construction of VCU Athletics’ Basketball Development Center and the VCU golf practice facility at First Tee. For years, James hosted the annual Janney Invitational College-Am golf tournament benefiting the VCU golf program.

About VCU and VCU Health

Virginia Commonwealth University is a major, urban public research university with national and international rankings in sponsored research. Located in downtown Richmond, VCU enrolls more than 31,000 students in 217 degree and certificate programs in the arts, sciences and humanities. Thirty-eight of the programs are unique in Virginia, many of them crossing the disciplines of VCU’s 11 schools and three colleges. The VCU Health brand represents the VCU health sciences academic programs, the VCU Massey Cancer Center and the VCU Health System, which comprises VCU Medical Center (the only academic medical center in the region), Community Memorial Hospital, Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, MCV Physicians and Virginia Premier Health Plan. For more, please visit www.vcu.edu and vcuhealth.org.