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‘Another beginning’ at Hooding Ceremony

In addition to being a leading ocean researcher, Samantha Joye is also an introvert, a person naturally averse to the spotlight. But when her findings about the 2010 Deepwater Horizon well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico proved controversial, she knew she had to speak up.

“Being in the middle of a controversy during a national emergency made me uncomfortable and nervous to say the least,” the keynote speaker told more than 200 graduate students, their advisers, family and friends at the May 7 Hooding Ceremony at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “I had to muster every ounce of courage in my body to stand up and speak the truth, loudly and firmly, and to stand by it.”

Chancellor Carol L. Folt, another scientist who studied harmful effects on the environment, presided over the ceremony at which a faculty mentor places a hood over the degree candidate’s robe. The color of the hood corresponds to the regalia of the field of study.

“The hooding ceremony is derived from medieval university traditions. In the 12th and 13th centuries, when universities were taking form, they were under the jurisdiction of the church. Those studying wore a habit or cloak to which was attached a cowl or hood,” explained Steven Matson, dean of the Graduate School. “The presentation of the hood by the student’s mentor symbolizes the welcoming of a graduate as a full-fledged member in the community of scholars.”

Hooding is overall a more subdued ceremony than undergraduate Commencement, with mostly gentle waves and whistling when the degree candidates process down the aisles in their black or Carolina blue robes. One family did stand and cheer with blue pompoms at the sight of their student, but most waited until the video screen close-up of their loved one receiving the hood to whoop and shout congratulations.

Folt didn’t have a hooding ceremony, she told the degree candidates. “My completion was walking over to the admin building at Davis alone, dropping my dissertation off to someone at the entry desk, who literally took out a ruler and checked for margins,” she said. “It passed and that was it, I was finished.”

But completing her doctorate was still “a big deal,” Folt added, signifying “another beginning” with “a wonderful sense of freshness.”

Chairman Dwight Stone of the Board of Trustees thanked the graduate students for their contributions while at Carolina. “You have created new knowledge that benefits people across North Carolina and beyond,” he said.

Dylan Russell, president of the Graduate and Professional Student Federation, introduced Joye as the keynote speaker. Joye is the Georgia Athletic Association Professor in Arts and Sciences in the University of Georgia’s marine sciences department. She has spent 20 years studying the Gulf of Mexico, and her work has taken her twice to the site of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon platform blowout, during which an estimated 206 million gallons of oil spilled into the sea.

The courage it took to speak out about that event was one of the five qualities Joye focused on in her speech. The others were gratitude, imagination, resilience and reciprocity.

Joye received all three of her degrees – a bachelor’s in biology and a master’s and doctorate in marine science – from Carolina. She said she was grateful to her family for their support for her education, although Joye suspects her mother regrets that she went for a doctorate instead of a medical degree.

Her mother also finds it funny that her daughter gets paid for collecting mud, part of Joye’s imaginative play as a child.  “I’m still playing in the mud and I love it,” she told the students.

Her resilience sustained her during the Deepwater Horizon experience. Reciprocity is the attitude she encouraged the audience to have toward the environment. “Take two deep breaths,” she told the audience members, pausing while they did. “You can thank the plants on land for the oxygen in that first breath and the phytoplankton in the oceans for the oxygen in the second.”

And although public speaking, even in front of a welcoming audience at her alma mater, doesn’t top the list of favorite activities for the introvert, Joye is determined to advocate for the environment, especially the oceans.

“The Gulf of Mexico doesn’t have a voice, so I lent her mine,” she said. “I speak for those things that do not have a voice, but which are so vital in sustaining us all.”