Guskiewicz: Carolina ‘will always be here for you’

Advocate for yourself, defer gratification and surround yourself with good people, Carolina’s Kevin Guskiewicz told graduates on Sunday.

“Knowing how to advocate for yourself is so important,” Guskiewicz said. “Advocate for yourself, but do it tactfully and methodically, without boasting or promoting. Learn how to build a case for yourself and your mission and you will capture the attention of the people who can take you places.”

Guskiewicz, the Kenan Distinguished Professor of Exercise and Sport Science and senior associate dean in the College of Arts and Sciences, delivered the December Commencement address in the Dean E. Smith Center. Chancellor Carol Folt presided at the ceremony.

“Students, you are topmost in our hearts and minds today,” Folt told the graduates. “You worked hard, you learned from talented faculty and staff who rejoiced in your accomplishments and you were supported by a community that wanted you to succeed.”

Before the ceremony, 1,104 students had applied to graduate. Campus administrators anticipated awarding 542 bachelor’s, 408 master’s, 144 doctoral and 10 professional degrees. In August, 964 students were awarded with degrees as well.

Guskiewicz’s selection as speaker continues a tradition of highlighting faculty speakers at December Commencement. His research has largely focused on improving safety in football. His speech to the graduates combined tales from his career, starting from when he served on the medical staff for the Pittsburgh Steelers as a graduate assistant while he earned his master’s degree. Guskiewicz said two life-long mentors advised him to immediately start work in a doctoral program right after finishing his master’s degree. The decision wasn’t easy, he said, because he turned down three job opportunities, including one to continue with the Steelers. The decision to continue his education was the right one though, he said.

The decision “allowed me to chase a dream of becoming a sports medicine researcher, something I still cherish today,” Guskiewicz said. “Deferred gratification certainly paid off.”

Guskiewicz said as a professor and administrator, one of the biggest challenges he faces usually involves conflicts among people who don’t trust each other. He said he often wonders how different the situation would be if there was more trust in those situations and he encouraged the graduates to get to know people before signing on for anything that will consume personal time, energy and money.

“Regardless of the endeavor, make sure you are surrounded with people whose values match yours and for whom you trust, but those who also trust you,” he said. “Good people are those who you trust and who will challenge you to be the best person that you can be.”

In his closing, Guskiewicz told graduates to trust what they have been trained to do at UNC-Chapel Hill, and they will make a difference. “Let go of Carolina and Chapel Hill for now, but trust that we will always be here for you.”

Guskiewicz leads the NFL’s subcommittee on safety equipment and playing rules and has been working with the league over the last decade to develop safer ways to play the game. His long-term epidemiological study on hundreds of retired football players uncovered a correlation between the number of concussions a player suffered and the appearance of dementia, depression and other brain dysfunction later in life. In August, Time magazine called Guskiewicz an “impact investigator” worthy of inclusion on its list of “Game Changers – America’s top innovators and problem-solvers.” Guskiewicz’s work earned him the MacArthur Foundation award in 2011.

By Natalie Vizuete, University Relations.

Published December 15, 2013.