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May 2006

Carolina Commencement 2006

Teach for America founder Wendy Kopp brought an inspiring message about public service to Chapel Hill while speaking passionately about the potential of the Class of 2006 during her May 14 Commencement remarks. See below for excerpts, a link to the entire speech and photos. Carolina awarded honorary degrees to Joyce Conseen Dugan, past principal chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians; Thomas Stephen Kenan III, who has been integral to furthering the great Kenan family tradition at Carolina over the past several decades; Robert Ray Morgan, Kappa Alpha Professor of English at Cornell University; and John Shelby Spong, who served the Episcopal Church's Diocese of Newark for 24 years. About 29,000 graduates, family members and friends attended the annual Kenan Stadium ceremony. Commencement weekend also includes a Graduate School doctoral hooding ceremony.

Selected Excerpts -- Wendy Kopp’s Commencement Speech

"… During my senior fall, I helped organize a conference about education reform, where one of the topics was the shortage of qualified teachers in urban and rural communities. It was at that conference that I thought of an idea: Why doesn't our country have a national teacher corps that recruits us to teach in low-income communities the same way we're being recruited to work on Wall Street? From that moment, I was possessed by this idea - I thought it would make a huge difference in kids' lives, and that ultimately it could change the very consciousness of our country, by influencing the thinking and career paths of a generation of leaders.


"My very greatest asset in reaching this point was that I simply did not understand what was impossible. I would soon learn the value of experience, but Teach For America would not exist today were it not for my naïveté.

"I see this same phenomenon every day as I watch 23-year-olds walking into classrooms and setting goals for themselves and their students that most people believe to be entirely unrealistic. The conventional wisdom is that there is only so much schools can do to overcome the challenges of poverty and the lack of student motivation and parental involvement that is perceived to come with it. But then there's Liam Honigsberg, a Teach For America corps member in Phoenix whom I met a couple of weeks ago. His school's vice principal saw that he had a degree in cognitive neuroscience and, naturally, called him the day before school started to ask him to teach a math class wholly comprised of seniors who were in danger of not graduating because they had not been able to pass the math portion of the state's exit exam. … But Liam determined that they could and would gain the skills to graduate. The Arizona Republic estimated last year that 5,000 students didn't graduate in Arizona because they didn't pass that exit exam, and yet thanks to Liam's idealism, all of his students will walk across the stage this spring."


"We live in a time when it is rare to meet people in their 20s and 30s who have stayed with something for more than a few years. And certainly, in some cases the right thing is to experiment and move on. But in other cases, the right thing is to stay with something, internalize tough lessons, and push yourself to new levels of knowledge and responsibility. Your idealism can enable you to pursue noble aims, but it takes hard work and personal growth and a kind of determined patience to see them actually come to be.

"My third thought, with which I will leave you, is about the importance of searching until you find your passion - a purpose greater than yourself, in pursuit of which you will brave asking the naïve questions, pick yourself up after the failures, and push on despite formidable obstacles."

For the full text of Kopp's speech, click here.

Photos from Carolina Commencement 2006
Chancellor Moeser

Wendy Kopp, founder of Teach for America, delivers the commencement address.
Chancellor Moeser

A graduate holds a message for her mother. This year's ceremony was held on Mother's Day.
Chancellor Moeser

Graduates cheer amid a sea of Carolina blue robes.
Chancellor Moeser

Chancellor James Moeser, right, presents an honorary doctor of laws degree to Thomas Kenan III in the stadium bearing his family name.

Photos by University Photographer Dan Sears
For more information about Commencement,