Commencement 2015: so much joy!

Gillings commences

John Herrington, Patsy Polston and Anna Maria Siega-Riz,  associate dean for academic affairs
John Herrington, Patsy Polston and Anna Maria Siega-Riz,
associate dean for academic affairs

I loved our commencement and hope our graduates and their families and friends did also. As I looked over the sea of intently-focused faces, and out to the people who had come to celebrate the graduates, I was struck by how much joy, pride, love and happiness there was in Carmichael Arena. Positive emotions filled the space completely. Even 20 years ago, I wouldn’t have grasped the intensity of those feelings. We work to make our commencement experience authentic, honest, joyous, inspirational, serious but not dreary, diverse and brisk. It takes a lot of people working together to bring it off each year, but we all take pride in the event. Everyone present is part of the moment, and we aim for everyone to feel included. As I said Saturday, public health training is not a solitary experience.

John and Jim Herrington
John and Jim Herrington

Student government co-president Patsy Polston, who is completing her doctorate in environmental sciences and engineering, did a fabulous introduction of our speaker, John Herrington, PhD, who was the first Native American astronaut. His brother Jim Herrington, PhD, leads the Gillings Global Gateway™. John Herrington gave graduates a sense of the unlimited possibilities that they can achieve and what a difference they can make for the world. He also shared some of his own challenges. As he pointed out, and as I truly believe, careers often don’t move in straight lines. Sometimes, there are failures along the way. If we can learn from them, we’re even stronger. I sat next to him at a dinner Saturday night, and it was so fascinating to hear what it was like to be an astronaut. Fewer than 350 people in the entire history of humankind ever have flown in space. That makes him even more special.

It’s so wonderful to shake each student’s hand as he or she crosses the stage. I only wish I’d gotten to know every single graduate during his or her time here.

We invited everyone back to the School for food and more celebration. It was a wonderful day, and I felt so proud of our truly awe-inspiring students. See the photos on Facebook and Flickr. Congratulations, Gillings Carolina graduates! Barbara

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