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History and Traditions

When Thomas Jefferson founded the University of Virginia in 1819, he wished the publicly supported school to have a national character and stature. Jefferson envisioned a new kind of university, one dedicated to educating leaders in practical affairs and public service rather than for professions in the classroom and pulpit exclusively. It was the first nonsectarian university in the United States and the first to use the elective course system.

Jefferson considered the founding of the University to be one of his greatest achievements. Undertaking the project toward the end of his life—after a long, illustrious career that included serving as a colonial revolutionary, political leader, writer, architect, inventor, and horticulturalist—he was closely involved in the University’s design. He planned the curriculum, recruited the first faculty, and designed the Academical Village, a terraced green space surrounded by residential and academic buildings, gardens, and the majestic center-point—the Rotunda. The most recognizable symbol of the University, the Rotunda stands at the north end of the Lawn and is half the height and width of the Pantheon in Rome, which was the primary inspiration for the building. The Lawn and the Rotunda have served as models for similar designs of “centralized green areas” at universities across the United States.

UVa Traditions

From the beginning, rituals, routines, clubs and societies became a lasting part of life on Grounds. Some traditions, like the Jefferson Society founded in 1825, and the Honor System established in 1842, survive to the present. Other traditions were succeeded by new ones over time. The original school colors of cardinal and gray became today’s orange and blue, more visible on a muddy athletic field. Through all the continuities and changes, one theme remains: abiding affection for the University—its Lawn, its traditions, its students and professors—continuing unbroken for over 190 years.

The Lawn

Despite the lack of conveniences and creature comforts, students annually vie for the honor of a room on the University’s Lawn. Originally only Virginians were eligible to reside in the coveted Lawn and Range rooms, but this changed in 1949 when it was announced that the rooms would be assigned to student leaders—geography notwithstanding. Today, a panel of students selects those peers whose academic performance and service to the University merits a coveted Lawn room, while a panel of current Range residents selects those graduate students who merit a residence on the Range. Academic deans, accomplished professors, University leaders and the Vice President and Chief Student Affairs Officer reside in the ten Pavilions on the Lawn.

Secret Societies

Many secret ribbon and ring societies have been established at the University of Virginia, including the Seven Society, IMPs, Zs, 21, Thirteen, P.U.M.P.K.I.N., T.I.L.K.A., Rotunda Burning, Purple Shadows, and Eli Banana. Members are selected or “tapped” based on the preference of current members of each society.

The UVa Ring and Ring Ceremony

Held in conjunction with Family Weekend and the awarding of Intermediate Honors, the Ring Ceremony brings together Third Year students and their families for a program celebrating their time at the University. At the conclusion of the event, participating Third Year students put on their UVa class rings. Another UVa tradition involves placement of the ring. While a student, one wears the ring with Minerva facing inward; upon conclusion of Final Exercises, the ring is worn with Minerva facing outward to the world.

First-Year, Second-Year, Third-Year, Fourth-Year

Instead of freshman, sophomore, junior, senior. Why? To be a “senior” implies that a person has reached the final phase of learning, a feat that Mr. Jefferson believed impossible, arguing instead that education is a life-long process.


The term used by students, faculty and alumni to refer to the University. “Campus” is never used.

Wahoos or Hoos

An alternative name for the Cavaliers or the students at the University of Virginia.

The Honor Code

The University of Virginia’s Honor System is one of the school’s most venerated traditions. Administered solely by students, the Honor System requires that an individual act honorably in all relations and phases of student life. More specifically, the system rests on the premise that lying, cheating, and stealing are breaches of the spirit of honor and mutual trust and are not to be tolerated within the University community. Students found guilty by a jury of their peers are permanently dismissed from the University. Although a subject of regular discussion among students, expulsion is, and has been, the only sanction for an honor violation.

“On my honor, I pledge that I have neither given nor received help on this assignment.”

Today students at the University make a commitment not to lie, cheat, or steal within Charlottesville, Albemarle County, or where they represent themselves as University students in order to gain the trust of others. Because of this commitment, there’s a strong degree of trust among the various members of the University community. Students are also expected to conduct themselves with integrity and are presumed honorable until proven otherwise.

For more information about the Honor System, visit www.virginia.edu/honor

Statue of Thomas Jefferson at UVa.