It was a searing hot day in August, and without any trees or awnings overhead, the sun beat down on the Lawn. Faculty and first years fanned themselves with their programs and rolled up their sleeves. Convocation was always sweltering, but events on the Lawn were a UVA tradition. In May, it would be the fourth years’ turn to suffer through the summer heat. In her folding chair, on the west side of the lawn, the first year student from Georgia cuffed her jeans, already regretting wearing pants. Her new hallmates sat around her, many of them on their phones, even as the president stepped up to the podium. “Welcome, class of 2035,” she declared. “You are the best of the best. You are the top twelve percent of the over seventy thousand applicants this year.” This was met with loud applause, and the first year and her hallmates looked up from their phones. This was to be expected, and had been the norm at convocations for years now. By graduation, the first years would learn to take the Internet for granted, but only a few days into their time at UVA, they hadn’t gotten used to it yet.

After 2007, overall college applications had shot up, especially to prestigious universities. More students were getting their Master’s, their PhD, than ever before. Across the country, schools of education dropped their five-year Master’s programs for lack of applicants. Private schools applied for public status or shut their doors completely, their applicants dwindling with every passing year- the Ivy League had lost its prestige. Laws were passed limiting international students after Americans protested that they were losing spots in public schools. New jobs in academia were created, and more and more college students grew up to be professors, all because of the government-sponsored Internet.

The first years of the class of 2035 were too young to remember the hotly contested election of 2000, where a few thousand votes in Florida awarded Al Gore the presidency, though they learned about it in their AP Government 2 classes. In their race to get top grades, they probably knew more about Gore’s presidency than their parents did. The slight increase in taxes to increase the bandwidth of the Internet, the promise to the American people that the Internet would never become commercialized and overpriced, and the investment of the highest-quality Internet in government-funded schools. The elementary, middle, and high school Internet was fine, slightly higher quality than the average Internet a person would have in their home, but it was limited in what sites were allowed. American college students were exposed to the highest-speed Internet in the world, and they could use it for anything.

“American education is well-known as the best in the world,” the president continued to a half-listening audience. “No other country can top the quality of American public colleges. And there is no public college better than the University of Virginia.” This elicited riotous applause, even from the distracted first years. Since private schools had lost their prestige, the new Harvard, Princeton, and Yale was Michigan, Berkeley, and UVA. Naval officers with teenagers submitted request after request to be stationed in Norfolk, and the value of Virginian real estate had increased after homeowners realized the real commodity was easier access to the University of Virginia. Even Charlottesville itself had experienced a boom in population, like all the other public college towns. New residents flocked there to take advantage of the open-to-the-public university libraries.

“In the year 2000, at the end of Bill Clinton’s presidency, UVA was one of the top colleges in America. The top public colleges.” The president paused for effect. “But of course, public education was seen as sub-par. And American education was seen as subpar.” Another pause. “But since 2000, no one can make that claim. We have revolutionized the way we educate our students. Lecture halls have given way as the place of education- given way to the world.” More applause. “This revolutionary change began in the nineteen-seventies, with the advent of the Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium. Clearly, we’ve moved on from time-sharing and words on screens,” the president said, angling for a joke, and got a few laughs. Two seats down from the first-year, a guy leaned in and whispered “You think they use the same speech every year?”

“But those pioneering first years led us to where we are today. Now, in the wake of pixelated games like Oregon Trail, SUMER, and MANAG, we have the real thing. Students of history can experience the real Oregon Trail, and students of our School of Commerce can simulate their business ideas before they get to the real world. This advance in technology has swept across not only America, but the whole world, and UVA alums have led the way in developing virtual reality.” This brought cheers from the crowd. Virtual reality, after all, is what made American education the best in the world.

Every incoming UVA student was required to buy a pair of virtual reality goggles. They were expensive, but with all the other college costs they were already paying, most students could make it work. They worked alone, or in conjunction with a smartphone, and were how most students attended class. They could do it from home, from the library, or from another state if they had to, even though that meant their connections would be slower. Students could visit the places and time periods they were learning about, and run simulations of practical concepts. The humanities and the sciences benefited equally from the use of VR in the classroom. There was an IT service on Grounds just for fixing broken VR, and there was a club dedicated to raising money to send goggles to kids in developing nations. The goggles, and the Internet they ran on, were a golden ticket. The first years, with their degrees from UVA, would be assured a cushy job somewhere.

“So, class of 2035, welcome to UVA, and welcome to the rest of your life.” After the applause died down and the president stepped away from the podium, the first year and her hallmates followed their RA back to the dorm instead of stopping to sign the honor pledge. That would be done later, over VR.