Carolina’s Class of 2023 graduates

Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz presided over the ceremony at Kenan Stadium that celebrated the roughly 3,930 undergraduates, 1,690 master’s degree students and 307 doctoral students.

Students throwing graduation caps into the air.
Students throwing their caps at the conclusion of Commencement on May 14. (Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

Press the play button above to see highlights from the ceremony


The Tar Heel community celebrated nearly 6,500 Carolina graduates at Spring Commencement on Sunday as keynote speaker Bryan Stevenson urged them to speak the truth, get uncomfortable when it means making a positive change and stay hopeful.

“Your hope is your superpower. Believe things you haven’t seen. Believe you can do things that haven’t been done before,” said Stevenson, the renowned public interest lawyer and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative.

Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz presided over the ceremony at Kenan Stadium that celebrated the roughly 3,930 undergraduates, 1,690 master’s degree students and 307 doctoral students. Among this year’s class, more than 5,000 are North Carolina residents, 761 are first-generation students and 510 are Carolina Covenant Scholars.

Not lost on the graduates was what they endured to get to this day. Senior Class President Kartik Tyagi reminded his peers that they are the last group of college students to have experienced college before COVID-19. Many of the undergraduates at Kenan Stadium on Sunday started college on campus in 2019 and went on spring break later that academic year as planned, only to be told not to return to campus because of the pandemic.

“I am proud of you – proud of us – proud of our ability as a class to rise to each and every moment, to rise to the challenges we faced, to rise to the opportunities we had, to rise up, especially when the alternative may have been much easier,” Tyagi told the graduates.

A person speaking at the podium.

Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz presided over the ceremony on May 14. (Johnny Andrews/UNC-Chapel Hill)

Jordan Year

The ceremony started with a video of graduating students proclaiming the year “our Jordan Year.”

That video ended with a congratulatory message from the beloved alumnus himself.

“Jordan Year, huh? I like that. Congratulations to the Carolina Class of 2023. Much success,” said Michael Jordan, who famously wore No. 23 when he played basketball at Carolina and during his professional career.

Pay it forward

During his speech, Guskiewicz challenged the graduates to think deeply about what their Carolina degree will mean to them.“It should remind you of everything you have learned and everything left undiscovered,” he told them.

Guskiewicz said that the graduates’ degree means that people believe in them and in the possibility for them to do worthy and important things in the world. He said their degrees represent the teachers and family who cheered them on, the friends and classmates who steadied them and celebrated alongside them, and the generations of North Carolinians who have worked and sacrificed to build and support Carolina.

“Always remember the people who have invested in your future. How will you do right by them? How will you show your gratitude and meet your obligation to pay it forward?” he asked the graduates.

Guskiewicz told the graduates he looks forward to seeing them in the years to come so he could hear about the unexpected and fascinating ways their stories have unfolded.

“Let this degree fuel you to do great things. Never forget who you are as Tar Heels: ambassadors of the nation’s first public and most public university and the leaders who will make a difference in this world,” Guskiewicz said.

Students in gap and gown.

Graduates sitting on the field of Kenan Stadium during Commencement. (Johnny Andrews/UNC-Chapel Hill)

Public trust

In his message to the graduates, Stevenson focused on what he said could contribute to the public trust and the well-being of our country.

Stevenson founded the Alabama-based Equal Justice Initiative, a human rights organization that has won major legal challenges eliminating excessive and unfair sentencing, exonerating innocent death row inmates, confronting abuse of the incarcerated and the mentally ill and aiding children who were prosecuted as adults. Stevenson himself has argued and won multiples cases at the U.S. Supreme Court, including the landmark 2012 ruling that banned mandatory life-imprisonment-without-parole sentences for children 17 and younger.

He urged the graduates to be the people who wrap their arms around those who are suffering and affirm their humanity and dignity. He also told the graduates that they will sometimes need to do things that are uncomfortable and inconvenient if they are going to change the world and be the stewards of the University that they are called to be.

“It is important that we all commit to contributing something that is healthy, contributing something that increases the justice quotient in our nation. I want you to change the world, graduates. I want you to believe that we can do something better than what we have seen in this country,” Stevenson said.

Students throwing caps

Graduates throw their caps into the air at the end of Commencement. (Johnny Andrews/UNC-Chapel Hill)