Exclusive: UNC Chancellor talks commencement ahead of weekend ceremony

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) -- Thousands of Tar Heels will be turning their tassels inside Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill on Sunday.

UNC Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz gave ABC11 an exclusive preview of the weekend's commencement that will feel almost like a return to normal.

This year, tickets will not be required for friends and family to attend. About 40,000 guests are expected to fill the stands as about 5,000 graduates take their seats on the field.

"I am so excited to celebrate the Class of 2022," said Guskiewicz. "They've been through a lot. They've been resilient and persevered through the most challenging time certainly the university has seen in over a hundred years."

On the eve of their first day of classes in 2018, the university was forced to face a long-running controversy as protesters toppled the Confederate monument on campus known as Silent Sam. Then, in 2020, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic would disrupt and redefine these students' undergraduate experience.

"That was definitely hard for everyone, but I'm really thankful because we did get to have a wonderful senior year," said London Graham, a member of UNC's Class of 2022.

Graham and her twin sister, Lauren, were among several lining up at the Old Well with their caps and gowns for graduation photos.

Their friend and fellow graduating Tar Heel, Davonte Anthony, was behind the camera.

"I just feel so much gratitude that even in all of that, we're still coming out in four years," he said. "All the things we went through, they're right behind us and Carolina was a great place to launch us into our future."

Guskiewicz would agree and he plans to address how this graduating class is uniquely prepared for the uncertainty that awaits them.

"What I want to talk about is how we never shut down the university," he said. "We, in many ways this university, despite the challenges of the pandemic, we thrived in many ways and never closed down and yes, it wasn't easy, I don't want to even pretend to think that it was easy, but I am going to talk about the way we've come together as a community and I'll talk a little bit about that Final Four run that our men's basketball team had and how that was in some ways analogous to the experience that our students had and will continue to have as they leave Carolina."

Amidst adversity and the unknown, Guskiewicz said he expects these soon-to-be alumni will thrive.

"I know that they're going to go out and do all the great things that we expect of our graduates," he said. "It's a sense of responsibility that comes with holding that Carolina degree."

Sunday's commencement ceremony, featuring Frank Bruni, a 1986 graduate of North Carolina and a New York Times columnist and bestselling author, will begin at 9 a.m. with gates opening at 7:30 a.m.
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