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Winter commencement
Social distancing has prevented gathering for celebrations like this Commencement ceremony, giving way to a virtual model for Spring 2020.

Usually, May is peppered with a series of commencement ceremonies, including the University-wide and various affinity-related celebrations. However, the University’s COVID-19 closure has forced departments and offices across campus to be creative about how they will honor Carolina’s students while remaining socially distanced.

The University’s official Commencement Ceremony has been postponed and a survey was sent out to all members of the Class of 2020 to determine how best to proceed. Some events, like Umoja (which celebrates Black undergraduates and graduate students) and the Red, White and Caroline Blue Ceremony (which honors graduating military students) have had to be cancelled altogether. Yet, there are other events that will still be acknowledged, albeit virtually.

The University Office for Diversity and Inclusion’s Student Recognition Ceremony, which traditionally occurs around LDOC each spring, has been an occasion greeted by students and staff alike with great anticipation and excitement. The annual event is marked by ceremonial presentation of diploma frames for the Office’s graduating students, special recognition of D&I’s graduate assistant, pinning of Student Ambassadors and warm, sincere speeches that are often met with tears of joy.

This year, the event has morphed into an at-home celebration. Diploma frames were mailed to graduating students, along with an encouraging message. Student Ambassadors and Work Study students received specially chosen care packages of snacks and small items and the graduate student received a spa package – tokens that reflect the D&I staff’s appreciation of the hard work demonstrated by these outstanding and diligent student workers over the past year.

“We are so proud of our students. They bring so much enthusiasm and passion to their work. Their contribution to the mission of our department is vital,” says Gretchen C. Bellamy, Senior Director of Education, Operations and Initiatives. “We will miss our graduates – and all the hugs,” she adds, “but we are confident that, through their involvement in our programs – from Project Uplift to the MLK Banquet and Lecture…and all the other initiatives we lead throughout the year – they are prepared to go out into the world and make a positive impact. As always, we remain invested in them not just during their on-campus time at Carolina but as they share their skills and talents beyond.”

Elsewhere across campus, the Carolina Latinx Center’s ¡Exitos! Graduation Ceremony, which celebrates the work and dedication that students have devoted to the Latinx community, will send the traditional sarape-designed stoles to graduating students for them to wear as they participate digitally in a commemorative video. “Working in this strange moment in time, the only way to get through is by the strength of our community,” says CLC Director Josmell Perez. “For our students, the message that has been passed down through their families is that no matter what obstacles they face, no challenge is too great. With this version of ¡Exitos!, their families still have the opportunity to share in their accomplishments.” (Updated: view highlights of the ¡Exitos! Graduation Ceremony HERE).

Dr. Terri Phoenix, director of the LGBTQ Center, shared similar thoughts about the importance of acknowledging our graduates, saying, “Now, more than ever, we need to take time to celebrate and honor the resiliency and success of LGBTQ graduates – undergraduates, graduates and professional students.” The LGBTQ Center’s Lavender Graduation, which honors graduating LGBTIQA+ identified students and their allies, will be held via Zoom on May 17 at 2 p.m. The ceremony will feature keynote speaker (and self-described “Queer Black Troublemaker and Black Feminist Love Evangelist”) Alexis Pauline Gumbs. Attendance by invitation to registrants and their families/friends only. Registration is open until May 3. Register here.

Although 2020 has proven to be one of the most unusual for our graduating students – and, indeed, all of us – it is a testament to the resiliency of Tar Heels to rebound from challenges and emerge successfully and with confidence.

Congratulations to the class of 2020!


Written by Adrianne Gibilisco


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