Speeches

Winter Commencement 2022

Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz shaking the hand of a doctoral student as they walk across stage at winter commencement.

It’s wonderful to be here with you today. After the past few years, every large celebration like this one is a gift. One of the reasons we gather together for celebrations like this is to make visible the hard work and devotion you have shown in quiet, invisible moments over the last several years.

The times you chose to hunker down and study for another hour. The times you chose to finish that reading before opening Netflix on your laptop, or to review those class notes before heading out to Franklin Street. A thousand little moments have added up to this big one, and it’s those contributions and accomplishments we honor today.

My guess is that the last few years have felt both endless and too fast, like all of us have been caught in a little bit of a time warp. Some of it was the distorting effects of the pandemic to be sure, but it’s also the sense that history has been stuck on fast-forward for much of your lives.

Since you arrived at Carolina, the world shut down and reopened. The economy roared ahead, crashed to a halt, then rebounded so fast that it broke supply chains. Cryptocurrencies surged, then crashed back down again. The Cold War returned, then turned into a real war. Facebook sailed off into the Metaverse while many would argue TikTok ate our brains. Things are moving fast.  And that creates this overwhelming pressure for us to be fast, to have quick reactions, hot takes, clever responses and up-to-the-minute opinions on politics, culture, and our life plans.

That pressure consumes our time, fills our heads, and crowds out the space we need to think. It can feel overwhelming. But here’s the thing: you are, in a very real sense, built for this. You are built to do hard things, built to answer the challenges of your age, built to fight for what’s important and set aside what isn’t.

You’ve had to do this already at Carolina. You’ve tackled a calendar full of reading assignments, lab reports, and papers. You identified research questions challenging the status quo and defended your answer. You have learned things you never knew, came up with insights you never had before, made new friends and discovered new connections. You learned that sometimes — sometimes —class readings could wait until after you got back from Franklin Street. It wasn’t easy, but you are here today because you disciplined yourself to tackle hard things, and you are better for it.

People look to the University of North Carolina — to our brilliant faculty, our devoted students and alumni, to our dedicated staff — for insight and leadership in times of need.

They will look to you now, and trust that you have done the hard work, put in the hours and built the capacity to serve your fellow citizens and contribute to a more humane world.

How will you do this? I’ll offer two suggestions: First, fight the frantic pace I just described. In a world moving too fast, have the confidence to think slow. One of the things I hope college has taught you is that speed and wisdom often don’t run together. Embrace deliberation. Take the time for deep thought, leave room for changing your mind, and be humble enough to acknowledge what you don’t yet know.

This University was built on a deliberate, painstaking search for truth, a quest that is full of false starts and never fully completed. True knowledge takes patience, takes humility, and isn’t easily retweeted. All the most important things you’re going to do in life will take time, so don’t rush them. Relish them.

And second, you did not make it to this Commencement alone. You’ve had many friends and allies along the way. The most important work at Carolina happens through collaboration, when people share ideas and build trust. The relationships you have built here will define your experience and the rest of your life.

Cherish those ties to others and build community wherever you go. Relationships that challenge you and make you better are the greatest gift you can create for yourself and others, and the world needs more of them.


 

Welcome to the ranks of over 350,000 alumni of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Thank you Professor Wallace for that inspiring speech. Rest assured, you are not old. In a recent interview, Professor Wallace said that he dreamed of being a writer pretty much from the moment he graduated college but didn’t feel comfortable calling himself a writer for almost 15 years until his first book was published.

Now, I think that story of Brenda and Lee proves him wrong. But he is right, because all the most meaningful stuff in your life will take time and devotion. Personally, I didn’t feel like a real expert on sports-related concussions for many years, really until we saw the impact of our research out on the field. It takes time to make a difference, to create something important. Take that time. Don’t rush it. I know you will make that difference, because you are built for meaningful things. You are ready, and we believe in you.

Congratulations, Carolina Class of 2022!

Thank you all, and have a happy holiday season.