UNC Chapel Hill commencement speaker's health challenge inspires Class of 2022

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) -- The in-person commencement for UNC-Chapel Hill's Class of 2022 brought smiles to many faces inside Kenan Stadium. The keynote speaker Frank Bruni made everyone laugh.

"You have survived years of torment as well as triumph of panic in addition to celebration of knotted stomachs and racing hearts and fingernails bitten to the quick, but we're not here to talk about Carolina basketball," Bruni said.

Bruni is a New York Times columnist who graduated from Carolina in 1986. He shared anecdotes about his undergraduate experience, including work on the Daily Tar Heel, before discussing a serious health challenge four years ago, when he woke up with blurred vision that concerned him enough to see a doctor. Bruni had a stroke that could eventually lead to blindness. But the illness made him reassess a cynical attitude he's had since his college days, especially after he struggled to read and write after the stroke.

"Why me? I asked the two stupidest words in the English language," he said. "I did a mental survey of the people around me. And I realized that every one of them had suffered great loss or overcome great pain or was dealing with great hardship."

"I saw that the clarity of the objects around me has no connection to the sharpness of the ideas in my mind. Yes, it was more difficult to work. But editors still wanted that. So did readers. That was the relevant reality," Bruni added.

Bruni's message linking positive thinking to his ability to recover and continue his career was echoed by the 2022 class president, Julian Castro, Jr.

"Today and always, reflect on your accomplishments, celebrate with those who are and always remember our home away from home Carolina," Castro said.
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