Leading up to his graduation from Carolina in 1986, Frank Bruni says he worried about what path he should take in life. Now, 36 years later, the renowned journalist and bestselling author will return to campus and deliver the keynote address at the Class of 2022’s Spring Commencement, sending a new group of Tar Heels on their own paths.
“I definitely did not see myself becoming a Commencement speaker back then,” says Bruni. “I didn’t have that sense of self yet, but it’s kind of serendipitous.”
Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz had invited Bruni back to Carolina to speak at the Class of 2020 Commencement, but when the ceremony was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Bruni recorded a brief but very inspirational video message for the graduates for a virtual celebration that May. He will return in-person for the May 8 ceremony at Kenan Stadium to share with the Class of 2022 a fresh perspective on taking the next step in life.
“Frank Bruni is one of my favorite writers, and he also happens to be one of Carolina’s many esteemed and accomplished alumni. He’s written extensively on higher education, civic engagement and public service, and I believe he is uniquely suited to address our graduates at this critical time,” says Guskiewicz. “Since the pandemic prevented him from fulfilling this role as Commencement speaker in 2020, I’m glad he will finally be able to address our graduates as we had envisioned then.”
Bruni began his journalism career at Carolina as a Morehead-Cain Scholar, English major and student reporter at The Daily Tar Heel and went on to earn a master’s degree from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He was a reporter for the New York Post and then the Detroit Free Press, where he covered the first Persian Gulf War and was named a Pulitzer Prize finalist in feature writing.
From 1995 to 2021, Bruni wrote for The New York Times as a columnist, White House correspondent and chief restaurant critic. He now contributes opinion pieces and a weekly newsletter.
The Tar Heel recently moved back to North Carolina to become the Eugene C. Patterson Professor of the Practice of Journalism and Public Policy at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy, citing a desire to move to a quieter area, teach and have more time to reflect. Bruni is the author of three New York Times bestsellers, one cookbook and an upcoming memoir, “The Beauty of Dusk,” on finding optimism after partially losing his eyesight.
Bruni credits Carolina and faculty members who “were wonderful and engaged teachers and made learning a joy” for providing diverse experiences and preparing him for a career in journalism.
“I appreciate and believe in the mission of public education,” says Bruni. “The fact that Carolina is one of the country’s great universities and provides education at a reachable price for a lot of young Americans is important to me. Any of us who have been as well-served in our lives by our alma mater as I have want to return that favor.”
In addition to addressing the 2020 spring graduates, Bruni returned to Carolina to deliver the 2015 Eve Carson Memorial Lecture and was the keynote speaker for the 2021 Thomas Wolfe Prize and Lecture.
As members of the Class of 2022 approach graduation, Bruni encourages them not to linger on what they’ve missed during the COVID-19 pandemic, but instead focus on what they’ve learned during their years as Carolina students.
“The pandemic was an extraordinarily vivid illustration of the fundamental dynamics of life, which is that you have absolutely no idea what’s around the corner,” says Bruni. “When you can’t do something according to the idealized script, you can improvise with ingenuity and resilience. If the graduating class can look beyond what didn’t happen and focus on what they’ve learned about themselves, they’ll come to the conclusion that they had one of the most useful college educations imaginable.”