Winter wonderland: graduates don blue and white in the Smith Center

James McCann, environmental sciences and engineering master's student (far right) cheers with fellow students at winter commencement.
James McCann, environmental sciences and engineering master’s student (far right) cheers with fellow students at winter commencement.

Winter commencement

Hard to believe it was time for another commencement. Over the years since becoming dean, I’ve gone from a commencement cynic to an enthusiast.

Family cheer on the graduates.
Family cheer on the graduates.

There’s nothing stuffy about Carolina commencements. Sure, there is the ever-present “Pomp and Circumstance,” national anthem, a speech and “Hark the Sound.” But there also are lots of families cheering, impromptu audience yells, undergraduates’ and master’s students’ broad grins and doctoral graduates’ intense, joyful, proud smiles as they cross the stage to get their diplomas. Seeing the pride on the faces of family members is worth a lot.

It’s great to be part of the platform party, in the company of fellow deans, the chancellor, provost and other leaders I like a great deal. If someone had told me that at this point in my life, I’d be standing on a stage, arms locked with other deans and singing “Hark the Sound,” I’d have said, “No way.” I’d have been dead wrong. I’m grateful for it all.

Kevin Guskiewicz addresses students.
Kevin Guskiewicz addresses students.

Kevin Guskiewicz, PhD, ATC, Kenan Distinguished Professor of exercise and sport science and the College of Arts and Sciences’ senior associate dean for natural sciences, gave an excellent graduation speech. It was inspiring to hear him talk about the early days of his research on traumatic brain injury (TBI), when the NFL loudly opposed his early findings on the cumulative effects of these injuries in football players. Today, now that we recognize those injuries as potentially devastating, Guskiewicz’s team manages data for the NFL! I’m proud that Steve Marshall, PhD, professor of epidemiology in the Gillings School and director of UNC’s Injury Prevention Research Center,is a collaborator on some of this work. It is so cool that the TBI research has had real practical impact—first, on changing the starting line for NFL games, which resulted in a 40 percent decrease in head injuries. (Kudos also to alumna Nancy Dreyer, PhD, for her role.) That’s a huge effect. Now, parents are asking more questions about whether their sons (or daughters) should play football. Carolina research matters.

Chancellor Carol Folt at Commencement.
Chancellor Carol Folt at Commencement.

Chancellor Folt’s first Carolina commencement was a success. I was pleased that she recalled the time when the first women and the first black students at UNC-Chapel Hill were not recognized at commencement. She quoted Nelson Mandela: Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.

Students at 2013 Winter Commencement.
Students at 2013 Winter Commencement.

Good luck, Carolina graduates – especially to our School of Public Health graduates. You are amazing! What you accomplished while here is truly awesome. Come back and visit from time to time.

Happy Monday! Barbara

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