2018 Winter Commencement

“Let empathy and compassion be your first and your second reaction.”

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill celebrates the graduation of over 2,300 students at the annual Winter Commencement on Dec. 16, 2018 at the Dean E. Smith Center. Chancellor Carol L. Folt presided over the ceremony. Winston B. Crisp, former University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill vice chancellor for student affairs, delivered the University’s Commencement address. (Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)


Good afternoon everyone. Welcome to the December 2018 Commencement ceremony of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It’s a great privilege to be standing here looking out at this sea of Carolina blue and celebrating your hard work and accomplishment, with people who have cared for, challenged and supported you.

Just last night, right here, I saw another sea of blue and an amazing game – As Coach Williams says, everyone is happy when the ball is going through the basket.  And I agree! But what I am grateful for right now, are the amazing people who worked here all night, to make sure this place, our entire campus, would be beautiful and welcoming to you and your families for your special ceremony.

You have now written at least a chapter in your Carolina story. Michelle Obama said –“Your story is what you have, what you will always have. It is something to own.” And parts of your story are shared… Group projects, written and re-written, midnight coffee with your best friend, games fought hard, performances completed, organizations coming together to accomplish something big, eureka moments with a faculty mentor or graduate who have helped you when all becomes clear.

You’ve shared moments of difficulty. Hurricanes that put thousands of families at terrible risk, water outages, snow storms and shared moments when you reached out to help those in need. And I know how difficult and I am sorry that the past months, as we struggle to properly deal with Silent Sam, have been so trying and painful for many. This is your graduation and this is the time to focus on you. But I want to say that throughout this struggle over Silent Sam I’ve seen a community, many of you, that has never stopped learning, trying to understand … A community determined to work together and create lasting and positive change … A community doing its best to support one another … And you share, and we must build upon, those positive moments too.

Now, here today, all of us share another paragraph of your story – your graduation. And while you will each do things differently in the days and years ahead, it is easy to predict much that you will continue to share.

You’ll be innovators and change leaders. You’re all entering the world of fast change, certain uncertainty, and nearly unlimited scope for using your imagination to expand what’s possible.

Famed theoretic biologist and doctor, Stuart Kaufman, introduced the theory of the adjacent possible. It’s “a kind of shadow future, hovering on the edges of the present state of things, a map of all the ways in which the present can reinvent itself.

You’ll share the beauty, the capacity to stretch the adjacent possible – and what is so wonderful, is that the more time you spend imagining the unimagined possibility, the more time you spend stretching the boundaries, the more your ideas will become possible and the world will become a better place.

You’ll work hard and be persistent. We’ve all have seen that about you already. And the world needs you to do that… For the third year in a row, your generation identified Climate Change in the World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers Survey as the most serious issue affecting our world. By 2050, researchers say that five billion of the world’s projected nearly 10 billion people could live in water-stressed areas. Jobs are being made obsolete at incredible rates, leaving entire communities behind in the search for happiness, health and well-being.

You, me, all of us, owe it to others to help improve our world. We’re all recipients of the hard-earned dollars of people from across the state, and of the investment in each of us by generations of generous philanthropists. And they’ve given us an incredible set of opportunities to become innovators, educators, entrepreneurs, business leaders, professionals in all fields. So we must get moving to build economies and social services of the future that don’t leave people behind. What you have learned here, what you already have been given, the character of who you are, and so much that you share, is what is needed. Louis Pasteur said, “Chance favors the prepared mind” and you are prepared.

I’m sure many of us share a love of Stan Lee – who passed this year – whose wild imagination created Marvel characters ranging from Spider-Man to Black Panther to Captain Marvel. He said, “That person who helps others simply because it should or must be done, and because it is the right thing to do, is without a doubt, a real superhero.”

In a few moments your will hear from Carolina’s own superhero, commencement speaker Winston Crisp, whose life exemplifies hard work, excellence, service to others, generosity and a heart that is a mile wide. I know Winston Crisp will be someone so many of you will cherish when you think of your time here – along with other wonderful friends, coaches, staff, housekeepers, advisors, faculty mentors and so many others.

No one ever forgets his or her first Vice Crispy hug. I was honored to work with him and even more honored to call him friend. And so today, you join the ranks of Carolina graduates, with Winston Crisp, with so many other incredible leaders and people.

Today, we applaud the service, determination and accomplishments of YOU, the 834 undergraduates, 1,194 master’s students, 13 professional students, and 269 doctoral students who receive their degrees today. While not all of the more than 2,300 winter commencement graduates can be with us in person, as many are already off in their new jobs and programs, we celebrate you all.

It is a privilege to recognize and thank for their service among our graduates today, military affiliated graduates, including brand-new ensigns and second lieutenants, in the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines. You were honored Friday at our Red, White & Carolina Blue graduation ceremony. Will you please stand and be recognized?

We also celebrate 253 Carolina Firsts, graduates who are the first in their families to attend a university. Will you please stand to be recognized? Will all the degree candidates please rise?


By virtue of the authority vested in the University of North Carolina by the State of North Carolina, and by the University entrusted to me,

I hereby confer upon you the degree for which the faculty has certified you, together with all the rights and privileges there unto pertaining, effective December 31, 2018, and I offer you my warmest congratulations. 

Congratulations Graduates! Please be seated. Welcome to the ranks of the nearly 330,000 alumni of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. You join an illustrious group of graduates who bring to life the adjacent possible… One day, one discovery, one act of service and kindness at a time.

While each day will pose a different set of issues and chances, don’t stumble by looking at your feet. Don’t only walk the path you’ve already taken. Don’t live boxed in by ideas you’ve already had. I know that what you will value most in your professional life will not be the easy things, it will be the toughest of them. It will be the times you failed, got back up and tried again. It will come from finding common purpose across the gaps of understanding. It will come from the moments that may seem tiny at the time, moments of respect, new insight and a completely new sense of direction, that you learn when you least expect it.

So always be open to that, open to difference, open to learning. If you are, you will be the people who help our society advance. You are ready, and, to paraphrase what Winston [Crisp] just said, Remember that it is the journey, not the destination that will be the true story of your lives.

 My charge to you is simple:

First – Find your true North, listen to your inner voice. And even if you fail or disappoint yourself, it is never too late to try again.

Second – Let empathy and compassion be your first and your second reaction.

Third – Keep your incredible dedication to service alive. Looking to the holidays, every one of us knows that the gifts we give others always mean the most to us.

Every student I have talked with at Carolina has expressed the heartfelt desire to serve something bigger, more meaningful than themselves.  This is a very special quality, a true mark of humanity, and a deep aspect of the Carolina community we love. Keep this as a part of your lives.

Finally, be grateful, and use the experiences and talents you have to repay the faith bestowed in you. Use your skills to help create some of the three of five new jobs that don’t exist today. To create jobs that nearly 14 percent of the global workforce will need by 2030… many of you will only be in your 30’s then.

Use your skills and talents to continue the progress already being made by people right here against deadly diseases like AIDS and cancer… to join with our teachers and social workers to close educational, economic and health gaps… and to emulate our business leaders and incredible faculty to advance economies and knowledge for the public good.

Your Tar Heel Family, who stretch from Chapel Hill to locations across the globe will be cheering you on. Your families, your friends, your professors believe in you. We can’t wait to see what you will achieve. You’re carrying the best of us with you, and it’s a privilege to be part of your life.

Now, before we close, I will follow another Carolina tradition. Will all the families and friends please rise – the parents, spouses, children, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and brothers and sisters? Graduates, now it is your turn to say thank you. Let’s also thank Director of University Band, Jeffrey Fuchs and your fellow student musicians for their music today. And our student marshals for their work and the Carolina staff who made today possible.

It is now my pleasure to call on Dawn Locklear to lead us in singing together “Hark the Sound.”