UNC Asheville Bestows 243 Diplomas at Kimmel Arena Ceremony
Some 2,000 family and friends gathered in UNC Asheville's Kimmel Arena on Saturday, Dec. 15, to celebrate the university's newest graduates. Included among the 243 who earned diplomas in December are 12 graduates of UNC Asheville's growing Master of Liberal Arts program.
UNC Asheville Chancellor Anne Ponder, after welcoming and congratulating the graduates and their families, paused to reflect upon the tragic killings the prior day at a school in Connecticut. Echoing words spoken by President Obama, Chancellor Ponder said, "Our hearts are broken today ... We've endured too many of these tragedies in the past few years, and each time I learn the news, I react ... as anyone else, as a parent, and that is especially true today. I know that there is not a parent in America who does not feel the same overwhelming grief that I do." She then asked everyone to rise for a moment of silence.
The national anthem was then performed by graduating senior David Waters, a member of the UNC Asheville Singers who had just yesterday performed at the White House and met President Obama. Waters was accompanied by Jacqueline Lowe.
The commencement address was delivered by Thomas "Ted" Meigs, GlaxoismithKline Professor of Molecular Biology, who this year became the first faculty member to receive two of UNC Asheville's most prestigious awards in the same year – the UNC Asheville Distinguished Teaching Award and the UNC Asheville Alumni Distinguished Faculty Award. Meigs, who joined the faculty in 2003, involves his students in research on specialized molecular interactions within and among cells, which could ultimately lead to development of new drugs that inhibit cancer growth.
Meigs advised the graduates to enjoy the accolades and feeling of accomplishment that come with graduation, but just for a short while. "Do not stay comfortable," said Meigs. "Allow yourself to be uncomfortable. Embrace the fact that you are uncomfortable and use this feeling to propel yourself forward ... the trick is to be uncomfortable but always confident."
"I have never seen a university more invested than UNC Asheville in equipping its undergraduate students to go forth into the workforce and graduate programs and professional schools," said Meigs. "I assure you of this: you have the right to feel a level of confidence that allows you to never sit comfortably for very long, because your education at this institution has provided you the analytical tools, the mental acuity, the communication skills, the ability to look at a problem from multiple angles, that will allow you to meet challenges and continually push yourself to new goals."
Profiles of some noteworthy December 2012 UNC Asheville graduates:
- Avery Artman earned her Bachelor of Science degree in only 3-1/2 years, and expects to enter a master's in public health program in the fall. While competition for those graduate school positions is fierce, Artman has a leg up – she was part of a UNC Asheville faculty/student research team and presented the group's findings this fall at the American Public Health Association conference. There, she met faculty at universities where she is applying. One professor who heard Artman's presentation expressed interest in implementing those ideas in her own courses.
Artman embodies the participatory and interdisciplinary nature of UNC Asheville's academic approach. She came to the university expecting to major in art, but started to focus on health and wellness after readings in a language and literature course. That interest solidified through an internship with ASAP, involvement with the Asheville-Buncombe Food Policy Council, and research through the university's health and wellness department. Artman's goal is to promote health policies that increase access to healthy foods through health communications.
- Amarra Ghani, a New York City native who earned a bachelor's degree in mass communication with a concentration in journalism, is already working in her field as a media specialist for the U.S. Forest Service. Ghani's involvement at the Forest Service began with an internship and turned into a job writing articles, doing community outreach, and fielding calls from the news media.
Ghani hopes eventually to become a broadcast journalist on the national or international level. She has already attracted media attention for her role in founding and leading UNC Asheville's Muslim Student Association. She also received the 2011 N.C. Campus Compact Community Impact Student Award, and last spring received UNC Asheville's Carolyn Briggs Diversity Award, while the Muslim Student Association, under Ghani's leadership, was named the university's Outstanding Student Organization.
- Phil Kwarta, a graduate in mass communication from Buffalo, N.Y., who selected UNC Asheville for its film program, has already launched his own business, First Roll Productions, specializing in video production, graphic design and website work. As an undergraduate, Kwarta completed projects for Outback Steak House and the U.K.-based Hardy Fly Fishing, as well as local bands.
"Every job changes you a little bit," said Kwarta reflecting upon his growth as a videographer. "It's awesome to look back at your entire reel of work and see how you've evolved ... You have to work your way up and gain technical skills. It's all about becoming comfortable with yourself, your style and the equipment." Kwarta expects to remain in Asheville at least through the spring, while seeking to build his client base and pursue professional opportunities.
- Andrea McClure, who has lived in Asheville all her life, was able to earn a master's as well as a bachelor's degree without leaving home. After earning a B.A. in sociology at UNC Asheville in 2009, she joined the university's Master of Liberal Arts program, and will be one of 12 students receiving MLA degrees at the December commencement.
During a class in environmental consumerism, McClure became interested in the idea of "green burials" and for her master's thesis, researched the environmental impact of the funeral industry. "There's no need to put a $7,000 box into the ground and use embalming fluid," said McClure, who is now training to be a doula for death care, through the Center for End of Life Transitions. "In learning about life cycles, birth and death are really similar," she said. McClure is hoping to help develop awareness of green burial alternatives in Asheville and nationally.
- Jesse Rice-Evans, a creative writer who transferred to UNC Asheville from UNC-Chapel Hill, has carved a place for herself in Asheville's literary community both on and off-campus. A Wilmington native who earned a bachelor's degree in literature with a minor in Africana studies, Rice-Evans has edited Metabolism, UNC Asheville's student art magazine, served as a consultant to other students in the university's Writing Center, and co-taught an upper-level literature course with a member of the faculty. She also produces Downtown Books & News' reading series, Juniper Bends.
After graduation, Rice-Evans plans to continue her work with Juniper Bends, her involvement with other local writers, and her "day job" at Greenlife, while working on her portfolio. If you encounter her poetry, you'll find narrative elements and strong images, and a call to your own imagination – "I like to create a 'feel' for the poem, rather than directly telling you where the poem is set or what is happening," says Rice-Evans, "so the reader can respond to it by creating a vision for themselves through the words."
- Sara Russell of Asheville, like many December graduates, will be applying to graduate programs this spring. Russell, who earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in mathematics, has her sights set on either N.C. State University or UNC-Chapel Hill. “I’m interested in genomics and bio-statistics, but I haven’t quite settled on a specific field,” said Russell. “I do want to go into statistics.” Russell got a head start in that direction through two different undergraduate research projects, and with her leadership in campus honors societies and the UNC Asheville math club, her prospects are bright. Russell will spend the spring tutoring high school students while preparing her graduate school applications.
- Drew Sovilla, a post-baccalaureate student from Cincinnati who earned a Bachelor of Science degree in environmental studies, will leave Asheville and his job as a Blue Ridge Parkway ranger after commencement. "I've done a lot of environmental education geared toward the general public, and I'm hoping to use this degree, perhaps getting a master's as well, to get into hard science – the research side of environmental work," said Sovilla.
He now has research experience to show prospective employers, having worked at UNC Asheville's National Environmental Modeling and Analysis Center analyzing the changing balance of native and invasive plant species on islands around the world. Sovilla is headed west, optimistic about finding work with one of the environmental organizations working to preserve the northern Rockies.
- Kelsey Viscount, a religious studies major who is passionate about the connection between faith and food, won the award for best undergraduate paper, "Produce and Provision: Agrarian Revivalism among Protestants in the South," at the recent meeting of the N.C. Religious Studies Association. Her analysis and research – she spent nine months traveling the state to interview pastors, farmers and congregants – is also gaining attention beyond North Carolina. She has been invited to present the paper next spring at the Southeast Commission for Study of Religion conference.