UNC Asheville Celebrates Class Of 2022 Graduates At May 7 Commencement Ceremony

May 7, 2022

This morning at the University of North Carolina Asheville, 470 spring graduates joined by dozens of recent graduates from 2021 and 2020, were celebrated during an outdoor commencement ceremony on the campus Quad. The ceremony was a welcome return to pre-pandemic pomp and circumstance, with graduates in attendance ranging in age from 19 to 51. For well-wishers who couldn’t make the event in person, the ceremony was viewed by livestream on unca.edu and the University YouTube channel.

UNC Asheville’s Class of 2022 included graduates from 25 states plus six countries, with 84% of the class hailing from North Carolina. Their majors span the liberal arts and sciences as 20% majored in the Humanities, 33% majored in the Natural Sciences, and 47% majored in the Social Sciences.

This year’s commencement speaker, former Congresswoman Eva M. Clayton, was presented the Chancellor’s Medallion and an Honorary Doctorate of Laws by UNC Asheville Chancellor Nancy J. Cable. Clayton, the first African American woman elected to represent North Carolina in the United States Congress, received the honorary degree for significant contributions in her profession, community, and beyond. Also honored was Dr. Jeffery Heck, a physician and a retired director of the MAHEC Division of Family Medicine, who received an Honorary Doctorate of Science. For more information on the honorary degree recipients, see our news release announcement.

Read on for select excerpts from UNC Asheville 2022 Commencement Speakers and a list of additional award recipients.

Commencement Speaker Former Congresswoman Eva M. Clayton

Eva M. Clayton was the first African American woman elected to represent North Carolina in the United States Congress. Clayton’s historic appointment to the United States House of Representatives made her the state’s first Black representing member since 1901 and the second woman to hold this position. In Congress, she was a recognized leader; elected the president of her Democratic freshman class; served on the Agriculture Committee; and was the Ranking Member of the Sub-Committee – Nutrition and Operations. Clayton fought for Black farmers’ equality, and was influential in writing the passage of the 2002 Farm Bill, which provided additional assistance to Small Farmers; she increased resources for SNAP (Food Stamps), and expanded the school lunch programs across the country. In retirement, Clayton remains committed to ending hunger and malnutrition.  She advocates for rural communities, encourages young persons to be engaged, and serves on boards dedicated to those missions.

Clayton, proud of her 87-years and matriarch status as grandmother, reflected on her rise in public service and offered words of encouragement in regards to embarking on a new career during her address. She sagely offered that the path taken to arrive at a career is inconsequential; what matters is that the recent graduates “choose a career that you have passion for” and explained that when choosing a career, “not only is knowledge important but [so is] having a heart for what you do.”

Clayton lovingly spoke of her late husband of 63 years, recalling his journey into law and how their marriage impacted her post-graduate career. Although her own career path was altered, she found ways to pivot and “[enjoy] each new journey.” In her closing remarks to the new UNC Asheville grads, Clayton offered words of encouragement and resilience, “Have the courage to choose peace over war… have the courage to listen to people of different races, nationalities, and opinions – you may learn something, and they in return. Let your generation be the ambassadors for peace… The world awaits your boldness and your hope, to act, to think critically to solve problems. Respect others, and accept opportunities to serve and to grow in your career.” She closed, “Keep hope alive and dare to be the hope that you are.”

Student Speaker Grace Volk

Grace Volk, a chemistry major and University Research Scholar, was selected as student commencement speaker; she received UNC Asheville’s top academic honor, the Manly E. Wright Award for ranking first in academic accomplishment.

Volk’s research in drug development with particular attention paid to the isolation of novel antibiotics produced by a bacteria co-culture under the tutelage of professor Amanda Wolfe led her to receive the Goldwater Scholarship in the spring of 2021 and earned her the distinction of being a GlaxoSmithKline Foundation Scholar for the past three years. Along with her academic accomplishments and maintaining a cumulative grade point average of 4.0, Volk also excelled in athletics during her tenure at UNC Asheville. Her performance on the volleyball court, where she has competed at the Division-I level, earned her honors of “Freshman of the Week” at the Big South Conference twice in 2018, being named to the Big South All Freshman Team, and being named the 2021 Big South Scholar Athlete of the year. 

In her remarks, Volk reflected on the evolution of becoming a graduating college student.“I like to think that college is where we find our pack. We transition from high school–where we do not really know who we are–to college, where we learn what we are passionate about, we find confidence in ourselves, and we realize that procrastination may not be the best way to finish a semester-long project, but you know what, maybe we will learn that lesson tomorrow. We stop comparing ourselves to others because we know that is a losing battle. The only person you should compare yourself to is a previous version of yourself from a year ago, months ago, or even just last week. We find our pack that helps us be the best versions of ourselves and continue to evolve.”

Volk also made reference to pop-culture icons in her poignant commencement speech.  To open, she referenced celebrity Meryl Streep, a film star she said is often described as “[m]ega-talented, versatile, the GOAT, so amazing it’s annoying” and likened these words to her classmates as well. She reflected, “We have lived through such a rare group of circumstances. None of us did that alone, and we continue to rely on each other with each new curveball thrown at us. We continue to prosper in times surrounded by fear.” Volk then recited a quote from musician Taylor Swift, recalling “‘Fearless is not the absence of fear. It’s not being completely unafraid. Fearless is having fears and having doubts but living in spite of those things that scare you to death.’ We are a fearless group. Even though I am still afraid of the dark, I am not afraid for our futures. We have all the tools to live in a world of uncertainty, use our knowledge to make it a better place, and continue to evolve into better people along the way… To all the graduates, continue to show the world your greatness. I have seen it, and I know you all are prepared for whatever comes at you. Continue to be fearless, and continue to evolve. Continue to build your pack and surround yourself with people who make you a better version of yourself.”

Chancellor Nancy J. Cable Charge to the Graduates

“Graduates, you will now leave this remarkable University, but remember you are always welcome home here…. You are ready to make your mark on the world, in a myriad of different ways – as global citizens, as lifelong learners, as educated problem solvers, change-makers, and most important, you represent UNC Asheville as graduates who know what it means to make an impact, to be resilient, and to persevere.

Take your liberal arts and sciences education with you wherever you go, putting your ambition into action, rising to meet any challenge as you did here over these last two years, knowing that your education from UNCA will offer you what matters deeply to you and to the world: making contributions with your smarts, with your hearts and with hard solid effort.

You have charted your own course here at UNC Asheville and you will now continue those traditions as a global citizen in an ever more complicated world.

You will every day, carry the vitality, energy and goodwill of this place with you, your work ethic you gained here, and our UNCA culture of fair play and mutual respect.

You now leave UNC Asheville knowing what it means to have a sense of community, how to create community, because you have come from one – one you can be proud of.

You make us proud. You already have, and you will in the decades to come.”

Additional Awards Conferred

Professor of Religious Studies Studies Katherine Zubko was presented with the Board of Governors Award for Excellence in Teaching. Learn more from this news release.

Chair and Professor of Computer Science Marietta Cameron received the 2022 Distinguished Teacher of the Year Award.

Grace Sloan received the A.C. Reynolds Award and Thomas D. Reynolds Prize for her outstanding service to the campus community.

Ron Dumas received The William and Ida Friday Award for his outstanding service to the community at large.