University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: Virtual ceremony celebrates Carolina’s doctoral graduates

The Graduate School honored more than 1,000 doctoral degree recipients at UNC-Chapel Hill from August 2019 through May 2021 in a virtual hooding ceremony to celebrate scholars across many areas of study. More than 200 doctoral graduates earned their degrees in May 2021.

In an address to graduates, Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz acknowledged students’ service to North Carolina communities and beyond.

“You have faced tremendous challenges this last year,” Guskiewicz said. “And yet, you have overcome the unprecedented nature of this pandemic to continue our mission of teaching, research and service.”

Suzanne Barbour, dean of The Graduate School, said continued resiliency from students during the COVID-19 pandemic will endure at the University in many ways.

“You are our next generation of leaders — and you have showcased your leadership skills, dedication to our students, and commitment to our state during a year that required innovation and imagination,” Barbour said. “You have worked tirelessly to seize opportunities here at Carolina and have made remarkable contributions to our community, to the state, and beyond.”

Both Guskiewicz and Barbour reflected on doctoral degree recipients’ impact on communities.

Guskiewicz spoke about a recent trip to Alabama to meet with Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, which examines the criminal justice system.

“One of the things he told us that really stood out to me is this: ‘Courageous people are needed for extraordinary outcomes. These are the people who stand when they are being told to sit down,’” Guskiewicz encouraged doctoral degree recipients to recall the University’s first strategic initiative, Build our Community Together, and to foster a sense of belonging on campus and beyond.

“Here’s my advice to you: Surround yourself with good people. Build your community with people who make you better,” he said.

Mary Sue Coleman ’69 (Ph.D.), former president of the Association of American Universities, served as keynote speaker. In addition to her work with the AAU, Coleman served as associate provost and dean of research and as vice chancellor for graduate studies at UNC-Chapel Hill.

“You and I are bound by more than the academic hoods that signify our academic accomplishments,” Coleman said. She drew comparisons between the 1960s and the 2020s in terms of calls for equity, justice and notable advances in science, technology and the humanities.

“You and I have walked similar paths during our respective studies in Chapel Hill. We have shared a range of emotions and experiences. It is why I feel a strong affinity for this class of graduates.”

Coleman commended students’ resiliency during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In the best of times, doctoral studies can be a lonely pursuit. You accomplished your work during the most isolating, frightening time in our lives,” Coleman said. “We need the knowledge you are creating and the truths you are sharing.”

Ryan Collins ’11, ’21 (J.D.), the outgoing president of Graduate and Professional Student Government, called receiving a doctoral degree a tremendous accomplishment.

“Not only is it a great feat of academic and personal achievement, but it is also a sign of your contribution to a better understanding and appreciation of the world around us whether through your research, teaching, service or advocacy,” Collins said.

Coleman, Barbour and Guskiewicz encouraged doctoral graduates to take care of themselves and of those around them.

“Strive to strike a balance between the things you need to do and things you want to do,” Barbour said. “As Carolina doctorate holders, you will be asked to do and be many things to many people. You will be best positioned to help others if you take care of yourself first.”