The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill celebrates the graduation of more than 6,000 students at the annual Spring Commencement May 12, 2019 at Kenan Memorial Stadium. Interim Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz presided over the ceremony, which marked the graduation of 3,944 undergraduates, 1,244 master’s students, 258 doctoral students and 588 professional students. Jonathan Reckford, 1984 Carolina alumnus and CEO of Habitat for Humanity, delivered the keynote address. (Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)A graduate smiles in a sea of Carolina blue at the 2019 Commencement ceremonies on May 12. (photo by Jon Gardiner)
A graduate smiles in a sea of Carolina blue at the 2019 Commencement ceremonies on May 12. (photo by Jon Gardiner)

“Godspeed, Class of 2019, and go Heels.” – Jonathan Reckford, 1984 Carolina alumnus and CEO of Habitat for Humanity.

As more than 6,000 Tar Heels participated in Carolina’s graduation ceremony on Sunday, they were challenged to find not just their careers, but their callings, and to ask themselves what they are uniquely wired to do.

Jonathan Reckford, a Carolina alumnus and CEO of Habitat for Humanity, delivered the Commencement address for the Class of 2019. He spoke to a crowd of more than 33,000 graduates, family members, professors and friends at Kenan Stadium.

Commencement speaker Jonathan Reckford (CEO of Habitat for Humanity). photo by Jon Gardiner
Commencement speaker Jonathan Reckford (CEO of Habitat for Humanity). photo by Jon Gardiner

“I’m asking you to think about how you will find your purpose — how you will discover, as theologian Frederick Buechner describes it, where the deep gladness of your heart and the world’s great need meet,” he said.

Interim Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz presided over the ceremony, which marked the graduation of 3,944 undergraduates, 1,244 master’s students, 258 doctoral students and 588 professional students.

Guskiewicz recalled a Carolina graduation speech that alumnus Charles Kuralt delivered in 1985. Kuralt, he said, urged graduates to join a “conspiracy of good people.”

“I love that. A conspiracy of good people,” Guskiewicz said. “The conspiracy of good people are those who care, whose intrinsic reward and recognition is their belief in serving others… Today you graduate from an amazing institution that is not only the leading global public research University but is, at its best, the global headquarters for the conspiracy of good people — the home to students, faculty and staff who gather together to make positive change in our world.”

In his charge to the graduates, Guskiewicz urged them to collaborate; to be patient and deliberate; and to let integrity “illuminate your path and be your impulse for good.”

Reckford imparted lessons from his own experience as a pastor, a world traveler and now as the top executive at Habitat for Humanity. He encouraged graduates to reflect on how their Carolina experience has prepared them to take action and successfully address the world’s challenges.

“I would urge you to pay attention to the things that gnaw at you over and over,” he said. “Those are the things that will move you to take action — that will motivate you to make this world a better place.”

Reckford told the audience that Chapel Hill will always be his home. The son of a longtime classics professor at Carolina, Reckford grew up in a house on Franklin Street. His wife and son both graduated from Carolina and his daughter will start at UNC-Chapel Hill in the fall.

“I’m pretty sure our blood is really Carolina blue,” he said. “So, I get to congratulate you not just as some guy making the Commencement remarks, but as a proud fellow Tar Heel.”

Reckford noted that around the country, Commencement speakers are likely telling graduates to follow their passion. He joked that if he had followed his, he would have attempted a basketball career.

“Living in the dorm my sophomore year with two guys named Jordan and Worthy clearly reinforced the idea that talents and abilities don’t always match our passions,” he said.

Instead, he said, perhaps the right equation for finding your purpose, or what you are “uniquely wired to do,” is passion plus ability and a worthy cause.

He told the graduates that the next season of their lives is the time to learn as much about the world as they can, to get experience and “to struggle with the things that you can’t get out of your mind.”

“This is also a time for making decisions about who you will become. I am an adamant believer in strength of character,” Reckford said. “Ultimately, your success will be measured not by what you have achieved, but by who you are. Who before what.”

Story by Emilie Poplett, video by Aaron Moger and Rob Holliday, University Communications

Watch the livestream of the ceremony.

Enjoy a Thank-You Video from the Class of 2019

Read more about the doctoral hooding ceremony.

A closeup of a student's hat at commencement reads: "Thanks, Mom, Dad and Jack for Supporting Me."

Read a story about students’ colorful messages on their commencement hats.

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