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Winter Commencement on Dec. 11 was an opportunity for graduating Tar Heels to relish in their achievements and celebrate all the work it took to earn a degree from Carolina.

A crowd of waving Carolina Winter graduates in their blue caps and gowns.
Graduates celebrate and wave to family and friends at the end of Winter Commencement. (Photo by Johnny Andrews/UNC-Chapel Hill)

Good things — such as becoming an expert in a field, achieving a major milestone or fully embracing a calling — take time and discipline.

Few could resonate with that sentiment more on Sunday afternoon than Carolina’s Class of 2022.

After years of dedication to their studies — full of reading assignments, lab reports, papers and long study sessions — Winter Commencement on Dec. 11 was an opportunity for graduating Tar Heels to relish in their achievements and celebrate all the work it took to earn a degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“One of the reasons we gather today for celebrations like this is to make visible the hard work and devotion that you have shown in quiet, invisible moments over the last several years,” said Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz. “A thousand little moments have added up to this big one, and it’s those contributions and accomplishments that we honor today.”

Guskiewicz presided over Winter Commencement, which celebrated Carolina’s nearly 1,500 August and December graduates, as family and friends cheered from the Dean E. Smith Center’s stands.

“Each of you have accomplished so much. I hope that you stand proud,” said Senior Class President Kartik Tyagi. “But at the end of the day, I hope that you know that today isn’t the end of your Tar Heel journey, only the end of the beginning. The best is always yet to be.”

In his remarks to graduates, Guskiewicz urged the Tar Heels to use their experiences at Carolina to contribute to the world in their new journey but not to get caught up in the frantic pace of society and succumb to pressures. As they learned as students, good things can’t be rushed.

“You are, in a very real sense, built for this,” he said. “You are built to do hard things, built to answer the challenges of your age, built to fight for what’s important and set aside what isn’t. You’ve had to do this already at Carolina. … It wasn’t easy, but you are here today because you disciplined yourself to tackle hard things, and you are better for it.”

Daniel Wallace, the J. Ross MacDonald Distinguished Professor of English in the College of Arts and Sciences, delivered the ceremony’s commencement address. Best known for his novel “Big Fish,” which was adapted into a movie and Broadway musical, Wallace is the author of five novels, two children’s books and dozens of short stories and essays. His illustrations have appeared in books, newspapers and magazines all over the world. His stories have been recognized in “Best American Short Stories” and “Best Stories from the South” and read by Levar Burton on his podcast, “Levar Burton Reads.”

Among all of his accolades, he confessed to the graduates Sunday that he hadn’t expected to add “commencement speaker” to that list just yet. Wallace didn’t think he had arrived at that point in his life already.

Asking himself, “How did this happen?” Wallace retraced his long path to becoming a writer and creating a contented life for himself.

“The story of our lives doesn’t make sense as we’re living it, really. It only makes sense when you look backwards,” he said. “That’s when you can see the themes and motifs, recognize the important supporting characters, understand which moments — and it might just be a single moment — when you were changed forever.”

One of those moments for Wallace came when he was 16 years old and started writing his first story as small notes for his mother to let her know he was home after a night out. His story developed night after night and slowly drew his mother into the fictional world of his two characters. Wallace considers the time his mother asked, “What happens next?” after he decided to bring the story to an end, the moment he officially became a writer.

The graduates, Wallace said, were likely pondering the same question of their own stories, and he offered some advice as they start a new phase in their lives.

“‘What’s next for me? How is it all going to turn out?’ That’s the mystery — no one knows. I can’t help you with that, but perhaps you want some advice,” he said. “Kindness and curiosity, thoughtfulness and creativity — attributes which may seem charming but childish in the dog-eat-dog world you imagine yourself about to enter — are, in fact, the not-so-secret weapons of all of us who are playing the long game.”

With the turn of their tassels at the end of the ceremony, the graduating Tar Heels joined a family of more than 356,000 Carolina alumni. Guskiewicz assured the graduates they were ready for whatever comes next — no matter how long it takes.

“As you step beyond the low stone walls of our great University, I hope that you carry the confidence of knowing this place believes in you and will always be a home when you need it,” he said. “It will take time to make a difference, to create something important. Take that time. Don’t rush it. I know you will make a difference because you are built for meaningful things. You are ready, and we believe in you.”

By University Communications

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