University News

Campus ceremonies celebrate graduates

Ahead of Spring Commencement, Carolina graduates celebrated their achievements at ceremonies around campus.

Graduates waving hands in the hair
The Carolina Latinx Center held their annual Exitos celebration to recognize graduating members of their community on May 9. (Johnny Andrews/UNC-Chapel Hill)

Carolina’s main celebration for the Class of 2024 may be in Kenan Stadium on Saturday evening, but graduates, joined by their loved ones and University leaders, spent the last few days leading up to graduation weekend celebrating at ceremonies hosted by campus organizations.  

Carolina’s LGBTQ Center celebrated their graduates on May 5. Graduates received a small gift. The center also presented the LGBTIQA+ Advocacy awards at the event, highlighting students, faculty and staff who helped to advance LGBTQ+ inclusion on campus. 

Woman dancing in front of lines of graduates

The Black Student Movement and the Carolina Black Caucus host Umoja, a graduation ceremony in celebration of Black undergraduate and graduate students held at the Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History. (Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

On May 8, the Black Student Movement and Carolina Black Caucus hosted a ceremony to recognize graduating Black students’ achievements at UNC-Chapel Hill. The ceremony, held at the Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Research in Black Culture and History, is named Umoja, the Swahili word for “unity.” The graduates received red, green and yellow stoles to wear to Commencement. 

The ceremony included remarks from Vice Provost for Equity and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer Leah Cox and keynote speaker Donovan Livingston ’09, a Carolina graduate who returned to the University to become the director of College Thriving and a professor in the College of Arts and Sciences’ music department. 

“Education is our passport to the future, where tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today,” Cox said. “Please remember, you are not only the future. You are the present. You are succeeding, you are making us proud, and you are changing the world. So keep changing the world and keep making us proud.” 

Livingston, who earned two master’s degrees and a doctorate, recounted the story of overcoming his disappointing first year as an undergraduate, in which he earned a 1.6 GPA. 

Livingston specializes in the study of hip-hop and spoken-word poetry and is known for his performance of his spoken-word poem “Lift Off” at his 2016 Harvard commencement. As he delivered his speech to the graduates in a similar style, he drew on lyrics from the song “Count Me Out” by Kendrick Lamar, encouraging the graduates to freely forgive themselves for their mistakes.  

“How many times will you undermine your magnificence because you were unsure if you’re worthy of the blessings that lay in your feet?” Livingston said. “Don’t ever count yourself out. There are a lot of things that we’ll regret in this life. Rather than obsessing about those things, you can take action. Take a giant step toward healing by forgiving yourself.”

Graduates talking in front of an AIC sign

The American Indian Center held a Commencement ceremony for the graduating members of their community on May 9, 2024, at The Friday Center.
(Johnny Andrews/UNC-Chapel Hill)

The American Indian Center celebrated its graduates on May 9 at the Friday Center. Graduates were welcomed by the American Indian Center Director Danielle Hiraldo, Associate Dean Marcus Collins and Provost J. Christopher Clemens, who all congratulated the Tar Heels for their work at Carolina. Each graduate was individually recognized and received an honor cord, sage bundle, tobacco bundle and a handcrafted clay turtle from renowned American Indian artist Senora Lynch.  

Collins reminded graduates that they each have what is necessary to continue the next step of their journey. “You have the teaching and the values of our ancestors and elders, who paved the way for all of us to be here today. So dig deep into those, because we are living proof that they are still relevant and sustain us.”   

The address was given by Sarah Lindsey Barfield ’19. Barfield received a bachelor’s degree in biology and minors in American Indian studies and anthropology. While at Carolina, she was active in the Carolina Indian Circle and was a Buckley Public Service Scholar. She graduated from Winston-Salem State University with a doctorate in physical therapy with academic honors. As she delivered her speech, Barfield drew on her love of Disney and provided iconic quotes from several movies.  

Barfield reminded students that at some point, they may be the only Indigenous person in a space, but to view it as an opportunity to educate others. “At the end of the day, you don’t have to do big things to make a change,” she said. “Simply existing makes a big difference.”  

“You will face adversity, but your response to that adversity will matter more than that adversity,” Barfield said. “Your challenges have a purpose. Your response to them matters because people are watching you.”

Student celebrates with faculty mentor

Herrison Chicas (left), who will be receiving his doctorate degree in organizational behavior from the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, celebrates with Josmel Perez, the director of the Carolina Latinx Center following the ceremony.
(Johnny Andrews/UNC-Chapel Hill)

At the Carolina Latinx Center Éxitos ceremony on May 9, about 80 graduates received colorful striped stoles with the motto “Soy El Futuro” (“I Am the Future”) as they strode across the front of the Genome Science Building auditorium. 

“This is not the end of your Carolina journey but the beginning of it,” Josmell Pérez, director of the Carolina Latinx Center, told them. 

The event also marked the premiere of the Éxitos 2024 video on the theme of “the Latinxverse,” featuring dozens of students “breaking down barriers and expanding our understanding of what it means to be Latino,” as Pérez explained. 

In her remarks, Dr. Giselle Corbie, senior vice provost for faculty affairs, acknowledged the “unprecedented times” her audience has faced. “This is a graduating class filled with resilience, filled with all of the things that we need in leaders for the future,” she said. 

At this bilingual event, audience members could listen to a simultaneous Spanish translation of English remarks through headsets provided by the center. They didn’t need an interpreter, though, for professional storyteller Herrison Chicas ’13, ’24 (PhD), who will receive a doctorate in organizational communication from the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School.  

In Spanish, Chicas reminded the graduates that, whenever they faced an interview, exam or challenging time at school, their families were home saying prayers, lighting candles and ensuring that they were never alone. 

Then he switched to English for an exuberant shoutout: “You are more than good enough to do it! You freaking did it!”

Rameses fist-bumps a graduate

Rameses greets graduates at the Carolina Firsts graduation ceremony on May 10. (Johnny Andrews/UNC-Chapel Hill)

Raised in a trailer by a single mom, “growing up on powdered milk and government cheese,” Dana Griffin was the first in her family to graduate from college. Now she is an associate professor in the UNC School of Education. 

Her keynote message at the Carolina Firsts pinning ceremony on May 10? “Education was the key to me opening doors. Education was all I had, all I could control. I really believe in the power of education.”  

The ceremony, held at the Friday Center, honored the Carolina undergraduates who are first-generation college students. About 80 graduates received a distinctive Carolina Firsts pin, with a “1” replacing the “I” in the Carolina Blue “Firsts.” The pins were attached by the graduates’ sponsors — the family members, friends and loved ones who walked to the front of the room with them to give support, a hug and smiles for lots of celebratory selfies.

The event was sponsored by the UNC Center for Student Success in the College of Arts and Sciences, the First-Generation Student Association and New Student and Family Programs. 

Inspired by the lyrics of an Erykah Badu song, Griffin encouraged the graduates to “pack light” as they leave Carolina. They should take along their resilience, perseverance, laughter, grace and curiosity and leave behind the “wishes, should’ves and I can’ts.”  

As first-gen students, “you have accomplished something that research and data indicated that you had a low chance of doing. In essence, you all have defied the odds,” Griffin said. “Your adventures are just beginning, so pack light.” 

The Carolina Center for Public Service honored 115 graduates of the Buckley Public Service Scholars program at a ceremony in Memorial Hall on May 10. 

The class combined to contribute and log over 63,000 hours of service during their time in Chapel Hill. Five scholars shared stories from their service work and inspiration that ranged from raising awareness for pediatric cancer, teaching Spanish and organizing clothing drives to make formal wear more accessible for all. 

Lynn Blanchard, director of the CCPS, welcomed guests and dedicated the ceremony to Walter White Buckley, founder of the program, who died in fall 2023. Collins, the associate dean, also spoke. 

“The collective power of the individual can be seen in all of the ways each of you make a difference,” he said. “The work you engage in touches North Carolina’s counties, but also communities across our nation and around the world.”

Family poses for photo

The Red, White and Carolina Blue Graduation Ceremony was held at the Frank Porter Graham Student Union on May 10, 2024.
(Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

The University’s veterans and future military officers were recognized May 10 at the Red, White and Carolina Blue Graduation. Graduates received red, white and blue honor cords along with challenge coins to acknowledge their military service and academic success. Sponsored by the Dean of Students, Carolina Veterans Resource Center and the Carolina Veterans Alumni Network, the ceremony is in its 10th year.  

UNC System President Peter Hans spoke at the event, along with Vivian Redd ’05, a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army. “I hope you’re leaving here with a love of country that is deeper for being more honest, larger for being more knowledgeable, and stronger for having been tested against the ideas and arguments of your fellow citizens,” Hans said. “I hope, too, that you will leave here with the confidence to be translators across American cultures that desperately need more points of connection.” 

Interim Chancellor Lee H. Roberts also addressed the graduates. “The world needs leaders with character and compassion to take on the challenges we face,” Roberts said. “You are those leaders. It’s your turn to carry the University’s mission of service forward.”