Going Out With a Bang: UNC Asheville’s First Class of 2019 Graduates

December 17, 2018

The first graduates in UNC Asheville’s Class of 2019 went out with a bang—several, actually.

At the Dec. 14, 2018 Commencement, the UNC Asheville community gathered with the family and friends of some 225 graduating Bulldogs to celebrate the completion of their college degrees. It was the first Commencement ceremony presided over by UNC Asheville’s Eighth Chancellor Nancy J. Cable.

“You will take your UNC Asheville liberal arts and sciences education with you wherever you go, putting your ambition now into action, rising to meet the challenges, knowing that you are armed with a great education that will take you to places you never could have imagined without it,” Cable said in her charge to the graduates. “You will make us proud. You already have.”

Student Government Association President Michael Davis, a senior management major, addressed his fellow students, congratulating them on all their accomplishments and urging them to face the challenges ahead with resolve and optimism.

“Whatever life throws your way, you are more than able to handle what it gives you,” Davis said. “You are equipped with tools to take on the world…. When you begin to take the next steps of this life, be who you are. That’s it, just be you…. You have an answer to a problem in this world. The world is waiting for you…. and you have the tools that you need to continue to do the great work.”

The keynote speech was given by Bert Holmes, Carson Distinguished Professor of Chemistry at UNC Asheville, and recipient of the 2018 Board of Governors Excellence in Teaching Award. Holmes admitted that although he had attended more than 90 commencement ceremonies during his 50 year career in academia, he could not remember a single commencement address. So he employed a few chemistry experiments to help make his address a bit more memorable.

Holmes came to his address prepared with three balloons, each carrying its own piece of advice. “Now, when I was your age in the sixties—that’s the 1960s not the 1860s—it was a decade of great activism.  Some of the significant movements were anti-war, civil rights, women’s liberation, environmental protection,” Holmes said. “It was a time of enormous change—much like today’s world.  You must find your passion for some social issue. When you do, here are three pieces of advice for you.”

With that, Holmes invited his former student, Mike Roach ‘02, to join him at the front of the stage. Roach is now the chair of the Alumni Association Board of Directors. With Roach holding the balloon at the end of a long string, Holmes lit the first balloon on fire with a great bang that reverberated around the arena.

The advice? “Don’t be a flash in the pan!”

“When you get involved, when you find your passion then commit to have sustainable success that will only improve with passage of time,” Holmes explained.

The next balloon, however, made only a soft pop when lit—don’t be a dud, Holmes instructed.

The final balloon went off with a loud bang—although not as loud as Holmes had expected. “When I do this in the classroom it’s a whole lot louder than that,” he explained to the laughter of the audience throughout the large arena. Regardless, Holmes drove his message home: make a lasting impression.

“Within an hour you will be alumni of a liberal arts institution and you will transition to a community that needs your ideas, your passion, your willingness to make a difference in the lives of those around you. So, make a lasting impression,” Holmes said. “There are many movements awaiting your assistance, your leadership and your drive.  Get involved, stay involved.”