Class of 2020 returns to their second home to celebrate Commencement

The Class of 2020 was honored at a one-of-a-kind, three-day celebration that featured tailgates, Bell Tower Climbs, reunions, a special recognition at Saturday’s football game and Commencement in Kenan Stadium.

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The Carolina experience for members of the Class of 2020 has been anything but traditional. In the 228-year history of the nation’s first public university, no group of Tar Heels has had a senior year quite like this one.

When the pandemic cut their last semester short, the members of the class spent their final days as students on computers in childhood homes, missing their final moments and memories in Chapel Hill.

This weekend — 525 days since officially receiving their degrees — the Tar Heels got some of those memories back during a one-of-a-kind, three-day celebration that featured tailgates, Bell Tower Climbs, reunions and a special recognition at Saturday’s football game against Florida State.

The festivities culminated on Sunday afternoon when the Class of 2020 graduates celebrated their academic achievements and turned their tassels together during Commencement in Kenan Stadium.

A graduate hugs a person.

A graduate hugs a family member after the Class of 2020 Commencement. (Sarah Wood/UNC-Chapel Hill)

“This weekend is about taking that time back — for each one of you,” Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz said at Sunday’s graduation ceremony. “It’s about stopping and looking around, taking in the beauty of this magnificent campus, saying thank you to a professor who challenged you to see the world differently, cheering on the Tar Heels in Kenan Stadium again. … We don’t want you to miss this moment because we don’t want you to miss the traditions and the experiences that define your last semester.”

Nearly 3,000 members of the Class of 2020 — along with almost 14,000 of their friends and family — returned to campus for the graduation ceremony. It was a long-awaited homecoming for the Tar Heels.

“Our last chapter here was cut short, so now’s our chance to reflect on what we achieved together and even what we achieved when we were apart,” said Lenore Hango, the Class of 2020 senior class president.

The ceremony was an opportunity to reflect, but also a chance to make new memories and look toward the future. Among the new memories the Class of 2020 will leave Chapel Hill with this weekend is hearing from a legendary Tar Heel.

Two graduates in black robes standing up.

Students celebrate during the Class of 2020 Commencement in Kenan Stadium on Oct. 10. (Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

Roy Williams, who recently retired as the head coach of Carolina’s men’s basketball team after 18 seasons and three national championships, served as the Commencement speaker for the ceremony. In his remarks, the two-time Carolina graduate reflected on his years as a Carolina student and his own graduation day.

The University, Williams said, has been his second home since he first arrived. He hoped the Class of 2020 felt that same connection.

“The University of North Carolina will be your second home,” he said. “Your home will always be where your mom and dad and your closest friends [are] and where you grew up. But you grew up a different way here at the University of North Carolina. This will always be your second home. Always.”

Roy Williams and Kevin Guskiewicz sitting next to each other.

Roy Williams and Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz sit on stage during the Class of 2020 Commencement. (Johnny Andrews/UNC-Chapel Hill)

Their time at Carolina has prepared the Tar Heels for whatever comes next in their lives, even when it isn’t easy, he said.

“Be led by your dreams, not pushed by your problems,” he said. “You may have some adversity. You probably will. But you’re a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. You can do anything. I love you. I want you to love this place like I do.”

As the Tar Heels return to their professional lives, Guskiewicz urged the graduates never to forget all that they learned in Chapel Hill, to keep learning wherever they go and remember that the Carolina community believes in them and the great things they’ll do.

“You’re here today because somebody believed in you and in the possibility for you to do great things,” Guskiewicz said. “That belief hasn’t changed. We still believe in you. If there’s one thing you hear today, I want you to hear this: We — your family, your faculty, the administration and I — we all imagine incredible out-of-this-world, unbelievable possibilities.”