Graduation Speaker Will Shortz '77 Says UVA Law Students Smart Enough to Fill in Blanks

Will Shortz

Will Shortz '77 told the Class of 2016 they didn't need his advice: "You're smart. You're ridiculously educated. And as my career path shows, you can take your UVA law degree and do anything you want."

May 23, 2016

Will Shortz '77, the commencement speaker at the University of Virginia School of Law on Sunday, looked down over the rows of mortar boards, like the black blocks of the crossword puzzles he has become the master of. Each face beneath a tassel awaited his words of wisdom.

But instead of offering his most sage advice, Shortz, the New York Times crossword editor since 1993, made them laugh. He spoke briefly about his time in law school, administered a quiz he wrote featuring quotes by Thomas Jefferson and peppered his remarks with clever anagrams.

"In closing, I don't have a lot of advice for you," Shortz said. "You're smart. You are ridiculously educated. And as my career path shows, you can take your UVA law degree and do anything you want."

In addition to his work as the Times, Shortz has edited more than 500 books of puzzles, has been puzzlemaster for NPR's "Weekend Edition" since 1987, and was editor of Games magazine for 15 years. He has been featured often on screen as himself, including as the subject of the 2006 documentary "Wordplay." He is founder and director of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, which has been held annually since 1978. He founded the World Puzzle Championship in 1992, and he co-founded the World Puzzle Federation in 1999.

Shortz also holds the distinction of the being the first, and perhaps only, person in the world to earn a degree in enigmatology (he proposed the major while an undergraduate at Indiana University).

He said he went to UVA Law as a means to an end — to make enough money to support his love of games and puzzles. As it turned out, he lined up a job before graduation that allowed him to follow his bliss.

"In the spring of my third year, the placement office noticed that I had never had a single job interview," Shortz said. "The head of the office called me in and asked if I had any plans after graduation. I explained that I had a job lined up. Her face brightened, as this would help her department's statistics. She asked me who it was with. I said Penny Press, which was a publisher of crossword magazines. That's where I had worked during summers at law school. I saw the head of placement write down in her book 'Penny, comma, Press, comma,' waiting for the rest of the firm's name."

Lacking in legal accomplishments, Shortz said being asked to speak to the graduating class left him feeling a little … sheepish.

"I never expected to be here with you," he said. "I have never practiced or even taken a bar exam. In some ways I feel like a black sheep of the UVA family."

But Shortz said he wasn't the only member of his graduating class who went on to a distinguished career outside of traditional practice.

"My Class of 1977 produced two Virginia governors, Jim Gilmore and George Allen, and a congressman, Randy Forbes," he said. "Also numerous corporate leaders and judges, at least two professors at UVA Law School — Paul Stephan and J. Gordon Hylton. And Evan Thomas from my class was a reporter, writer and editor for Newsweek for 24 years. Really, the possibilities are endless."

Student Bar Association President Morgan Lingar introduced Shortz and announced the class gift. Outgoing UVA Law Dean Paul G. Mahoney provided welcoming remarks and announced awards, which were followed by the hooding ceremony and ceremonial scroll presentation. In total, 329 J.D. candidates and 49 LL.M. candidates will receive degrees in the Class of 2016.

"On a personal note, I have thoroughly enjoyed working with many of you who were part of student organizations, and teaching those 'tough enough' to take Securities Regulation," Mahoney said. "The Class of 2016 is the last class to which I will have the honor of presenting diplomas, and I can assure you I will always enjoy the memory."

Mahoney also served as the keynote speaker for undergraduate ceremonies on the Lawn, held earlier in the day. (Watch/read Mahoney's remarks)

Class of 2016 Graduation

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Awards Presented at Graduation

Margaret G. Hyde Award 
To the graduate whose scholarship, character, personality, activities in the affairs of the school, and promise of efficiency have entitled him or her to special recognition.
Reedy Charles Swanson

James C. Slaughter Honor Award 
To an outstanding member of the graduating class.
Andrew Phillip Lemens

Thomas Marshall Miller Prize 
To an outstanding and deserving member of the graduating class.
Zachary H. Ray

Z Society Shannon Award 
To the graduate with the highest academic record after five semesters.
Jared Michael Kelson

Law School Alumni Association Best Note Award 
To the member of the graduating class who wrote the best note in a current issue of a Law School publication.
Courtney Miller

Robert E. Goldsten Award for Distinction in the Classroom 
To the graduate who has contributed the most to classroom education by his or her outstanding recitation and discussion.
Elaine Rachel Singerman

Roger and Madeleine Traynor Prize 
To two graduates who have produced outstanding written work.
Monica L. Haymond
Ethan M. Scapellati

Herbert Kramer/Herbert Bangel Community Service Award 
To the graduate who has contributed the most to the community.
Reedy Charles Swanson

Mortimer Caplin Public Service Award 
To a graduate entering a career in the public service sector who demonstrates the qualities of leadership, integrity and service to others.
Peter Kye

Edwin S. Cohen Tax Prize 
To the graduate who has demonstrated superior scholarship in the tax area.
Neil Clausen

Earle K. Shawe Labor Relations Award 
To the graduate who shows the greatest promise in the field of labor relations.
Michelle Anne Barineau

John M. Olin Prize in Law and Economics 
To a graduate or graduates who have produced outstanding written work in the field of law and economics.
Arianna M. Caldwell

Eppa Hunton IV Memorial Book Award 
To a graduate who demonstrates unusual aptitude in courses in the field of litigation, and who shows a keen awareness and understanding of the lawyer’s ethical and professional responsibility.
Jean Y. Zhuang

Virginia Trial Lawyers Trial Advocacy Award 
To a graduate who shows particular promise in the field of trial advocacy.
Amelia Katherine Nemitz

Virginia State Bar Family Law Book Award
To the graduate who has demonstrated the most promise and potential for the practice of family law.
Christina Marie Albertson

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