Seventeen years after his own graduation from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Rye Barcott will return to Kenan Stadium to deliver the Spring Commencement address on May 13.
Barcott started his career as an undergraduate at Carolina, when he co-founded Carolina for Kibera, a non-governmental organization that supports community-led development in the impoverished neighborhood of Kibera in Nairobi, Kenya. After graduating with the Class of 2001, Barcott served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps. He now serves as co-founder and CEO of the civic organization With Honor, which helps elect post-9/11 veterans to public office.
But Barcott remembers where it all began: in a sea of Carolina blue.
“It is a total thrill to be back at Carolina to give the commencement address,” he said. “I remember sitting in the stands and graduating 17 years ago, so it really is the opportunity of a lifetime.”
The inspiration for Barcott’s first venture came from Carolina anthropology professor Jim Peacock. As a first-year student unsure of his academic path, Barcott went to Peacock in search of direction. He ended up enrolling in Peacock’s graduate-level seminar on globalization.
“He told me to give the seminar a chance, to take a risk, and it was the best advice,” Barcott said. “It taught me to get out of your comfort zone, to push yourself. It truly does lead to tremendously rewarding experiences.”
It was Peacock who initially led Barcott to Kibera, first as a student and later as a social entrepreneur.
“He encouraged me to do something more, to apply my classroom knowledge and start Carolina for Kibera,” Barcott said.
The organization remains in Kibera today, operating under one of Peacock’s guiding principles: talent is universal, but opportunity is not. Barcott has applied this principle throughout his career, working to connect talented individuals with opportunities to develop and lead their communities.
This weekend, Barcott’s commencement address will draw from his experiences as a social entrepreneur and focus on persevering through adversity to lead a fulfilling life.
“What I’ve found throughout life is that one of the pivotal questions to getting anything done more effectively is how to take pain that is necessary in life and persevere through it,” he said. “I’m going to talk about things I learned from people I respect about how they deal with pain and what we can take away from that in order to lead more fulfilling lives.”
Commencement will begin at 9 a.m. Sunday in Kenan Memorial Stadium. For more information about the ceremony or to stream the event live, visit http://commencement.unc.edu.