UNC Asheville celebrated some 240 graduates with inspirational words and music at the December 2016 Commencement, a ceremony attended by 1,500 friends and family in Kimmel Arena on Friday, Dec. 16, 2016.
Chancellor Mary K. Grant began the ceremony, telling the graduates, “You leave here well prepared for the opportunities and challenges ahead of you. And, one thing that we know for sure is that there will be plenty of both.”
Student Government Association President Charlie White, a senior who will graduate in May, also noted the challenges ahead in his address, and looking out upon his classmates, said, “I count so many friendly faces among your class, who have helped me through presentations, given me advice, or just heard me out on a tough day. In a diverse society you endeavor to respect and listen to those with values and experiences vastly different from your own, even if that means admitting mistakes every now and then. And you take time to be compassionate, lend a hand, and even to put your own goals on standby when others need you there the most.”
Commencement speaker Dee James, professor of English, recipient of the 2016 Alumni Distinguished Faculty Award, and a UNC Asheville alumna, recalled the questions about the future she had when she graduated 43 years ago, and asked the graduates a very basic question: “How will you thoughtfully make a life? Making a living can be solved in a variety of ways — not necessarily easily nor without great effort on your part. But it is imperative that you purposefully and thoughtfully strive to make a life. Because the kind of life you make not only affects you; it affects the world. What kind of person you struggle to be, what virtues, what habits of heart and mind you work to embody has a direct impact on what kind of world we will construct together.
“There is so much work to do, so much that needs to be done. There is a mighty struggle going on. In the words of Margaret Walker, we all struggle ‘trying to fashion a better way from confusion, from hypocrisy and misunderstanding, trying to fashion a world that will hold all the people, all the faces, all the Adams and Eves and their countless generations.’ Today, the chancellor certifies that you have gathered your tools. Now you must decide if you will use them just to make a living or help us all make a life.”
UNC Asheville Associate Professor of Chemistry Sally Wasileski, recipient of the UNC Board of Governors 2016 Award for Excellence in Teaching, also addressed the graduates via pre-recorded message, as she is in Antarctica for research, which as she joked, includes “observing a rookery of penguins in their own graduation regalia and ready to celebrate with you.”
Antarctica, Wasileski noted, is remote from humans, but still “vulnerable to the human experience, especially through climate change. It is a signal and a symbol that the choices that you and I make as individuals have significant and far-reaching impacts. UNC Asheville is known for making an impact. I urge you to think critically about the impact you want to make.”
In closing, Chancellor Grant told the graduates, “My charge to you today is really quite simple: make a difference, be resilient, be hopeful, be courageous, be forgiving, be kind and be loving. … Find humor – that is essential – and share it with others. Open yourselves to new experiences. Leave the world a bit better.
“As Emerson wrote, ‘To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived … This is to have succeeded,’” said Chancellor Grant. “You have left this piece of the world better by having been here, and the world that you are about to enter will be enriched by your spirit, by your talents, by your humanity. … I offer you my deepest and most heartfelt congratulations and I wish you every success.”