To commence means to begin. And after weathering a worldwide pandemic, commencement for the Class of 2021 indeed felt like a new beginning for thousands of UNC System graduates.
AT UNC-CHAPEL HILL, Dr. Anthony Fauci and UNC alum Kizzmekia Corbett spoke to graduates and received honorary degrees.
Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), became a trusted, guiding hand to the country through the coronavirus pandemic.
Yet he lamented how the simple act of wearing a mask took on political connotations during the pandemic and said he is frightened by the countryâs continued divisiveness, despite the reality of almost 600,000 deaths from COVID-19.
âAs you leave this extraordinary institution, whether you are a Democrat, Republican or Independent, please do not allow differences of opinion that you might have lead to outright hostility,â Fauci told graduates.
âWe will not fare well as a nation through the current challenge of a pandemic and the inevitable future challenges that our country will face if we do not pull together for the singular purpose of the common good.â
Corbett, who grew up in Hillsborough, earned her doctorate in viral immunology from Carolina in 2014 and was instrumental in developing the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at NIAIDâs Vaccine Research Center. Despite global acclaim, she spoke about UNC â and her grandmotherâs Thanksgiving table â as home.
âEveryone in that stadium is now a Tar Heel. But your being â the pieces of you that are unparallel to anything that anyone else has to offer â will come from remembering from where you came, from where you conquered, here at UNC and every other step along the way,â Corbett told graduates.
W. Lowry Caudill â a Higher Ed Works supporter and Advisory Board member â was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree. Described by the University as âthe Tar Heel version of a Renaissance man,â he was recognized for his contributions in science, business and philanthropy.
Caudill earned his undergraduate degree in chemistry at Chapel Hill in 1979. After earning his doctorate, he returned to North Carolina to work for Glaxo Inc. In 1991, he and a colleague started Magellan Laboratories, a pharmaceutical development company that later sold to Cardinal Health, where Caudill became worldwide president of pharmaceutical development.
Caudill served on the Universityâs Board of Trustees from 2011-19, including a term as Chair. He served on the steering committee for the Carolina First Campaign and currently is Co-Chair of the Universityâs Campaign for Carolina. The university named its chemistry building for Caudill and his wife, Susan Self Caudill, in 2007.
UNC-Chapel Hill also awarded honorary degrees to Donald Curtis, Anne Cates, Bernadette Gray-Little, Carla Hayden, William Leuchtenburg and posthumously to I. Beverly Lake, Jr.
AT NC STATE UNIVERSITYâS Carter-Finley Stadium, Seattle Seahawks quarterback and NC State alumnus Russell Wilson told graduates May 14 to live with vision.
âGraduates, NC State has given you the tools youâll need for success. Youâll always be part of the Wolfpack,â Wilson said.
âSo now, as you prepare to go out into the world and live with vision, hereâs my challenge for you: Donât just think about the life youâll lead â think about the lives youâll change. You all have someone who believes in you. The question is, do you believe in you?â
AT UNC ASHEVILLE, Higher Ed Works Board Member N. King Prather was awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Law and Public Policy.
Prather is a retired Senior Vice President and General Counsel at Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina. He is also a former Chair of the UNC Asheville Board of Trustees â he and his wife, Pam, are the parents of three UNC Asheville graduates.
Prather is a strong advocate for training public school teachers. The Prathers endowed a scholarship for first-generation students pursuing teacher licenses at UNCA. He also serves on Gov. Roy Cooperâs DRIVE Task Force, which aims to increase the number of minority teachers in North Carolina.
âYou are societyâs reward â youâre our reward,â Prather told UNCA graduates, âfor believing in the investment of public education. You are the public good that society has bargained for.â
âAs a product of public education, I hope you advocate for public education and for rewarding our public teachers appropriately.â
AT N.C. CENTRAL UNIVERSITY, Higher Ed Works contributing writer James H. Johnson Jr. spoke to graduate and professional school graduates May 8. Johnson, an alumnus of NCCU, is the William R. Kenan Jr. Distinguished Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School.
âWe are all living in, and you are about to enter the next phase of your professional careers in, a global business environment that is incredibly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguousâŚ,â Johnson said. ââCertain Uncertaintyâ is the new normal in global business and in our lives.â
In such an environment, corporate CEOs are looking for graduates that âgroove on ambiguityâ and can see through the fog, Johnson said.
AND AT EAST CAROLINA UNIVERSITY, UNC System President Peter Hans told graduates May 7 that âas we gather here today, with vaccines rolling out and the summer stretching before us, I donât think thereâs ever been a better moment to celebrate new beginnings.â
âThe key thing about the future is that it doesnât just happen to you; you get to shape it. And because of what youâve just been through, I would argue you are better prepared to shape it. Strength comes from resilience.â