James E. Ryan (Law ’92), the University of Virginia’s next president, checks a lot of boxes. Alumni wanted an alumnus, and Ryan took his law degree here. Academics wanted an academic, and Ryan taught here 15 years, plus he now guides the nation’s top-ranked education school. Leadership wanted a leader who could inspire, and Ryan is an internet celebrity.
Actually, it’s italics—Wait, What?—since it’s the title of Ryan’s best-selling book. He spun it off from the viral video of a commencement address he gave last year. In the book and in the speech, “Wait, what?” is the first of the essential questions he says we should ask in life. His seemingly casual construct allows him to explore heavy issues without making heavy weather of them. And it provides a glimpse into Ryan himself—his unpretentious yet penetrating intellect, the way he can get to the marrow of “what truly matters,” his Question No. 5.
Our profile of Ryan uses the framework from his essential-questions book to get an early read on the University’s next president—what drives him and how he’s likely to approach his new assignment. A narrative theme that threads throughout Ryan’s career choices, the most recent included, is a sense of mission and calling. That happens to key off his Question No. 4: “How can I help?”
Great hearts think alike. When Houston oncologist Jennifer McQuade (Col ’98) donated socks to an emergency shelter during August’s Hurricane Harvey, she asked the staff there a similar question: Do you need medical help?
It changed her life, but not only hers. In the race to keep pace with the human need, she recruited a health care team, rounded up supplies and tapped into a powerful support network. Within days, McQuade had created a makeshift medical center—and a natural-disaster response template that would help victims of two hurricanes that rapidly followed, Irma and Maria.
We also report on the UVA Hospital’s emergency response to a most unnatural disaster in Charlottesville, the August 11 and 12 hate storm. The story begins with nurse Jane Muir’s using yoga to prepare for the day that awaits her. But, really, the story begins several weeks before, as hospital security chief Tom Berry makes cool-headed preparations of his own. It helped that Berry was part of the medical response at the Pentagon on 9/11.
Contributing to our Charlottesville aftermath coverage, UVA Law professor Frederick Schauer offers his point-by-point analysis of the ways the First Amendment came into play on the streets of downtown and during that neo-Nuremberg march up the Lawn Colonnade.
When Ryan came to Grounds a month after those searing images, a reporter asked him if the events made him hesitate to take the job. His answer: Just the opposite. Once you’ve gotten a read on Ryan, you’ll understand why.
S. Richard Gard Jr.