UNC Asheville Celebrates the Class of 2019 with May 11 Commencement

Students walking at the 2019 commencement.
May 13, 2019

The largest UNC Asheville class graduated on May 11, 2019, with more than 550 candidates for degrees. The celebration filled Kimmel Arena with a crowd of more than 3,000 friends and family. The full ceremony was available via livestream and can be viewed at unca.edu/commencement.

UNC Asheville Chancellor Nancy J. Cable, who joined the university in August and was installed in April, presided over her first May Commencement at the university.

“You will leave this remarkable university ready to make your mark on the world as global citizens, as lifelong learners, as educated problem solvers, as change makers, and most important as graduates and representatives of the University,” Chancellor Cable said. “You will carry the vitality of this place with you, the work ethic you’ve gained here, our culture of fair play, honesty, and authenticity. You will go forth knowing what it means to keep others doing their best because you are doing your best. You will make your way in this world having learned that true achievement and hard work matters and that doing well by doing right adds value to your heart and your mind. You will make us proud. You already have. We are counting on each one of you to make this world a better place.”

In addition to individual degrees and honors, several students and faculty were recognized.

Associate Professor of Health and Wellness Ameena Batada earned the Board of Governors Award for Excellence in Teaching, selected by the campus Teaching Awards Committee and bestowed by the UNC System Board of Governors, recognizing her work in course-based service learning projects and collaboration with community partners to guide students in community-engaged data collection and analysis and community-engaged action.

Associate Professor of Psychology Evelyn Chiang was named the 2019 Distinguished Teacher of the Year for her work to create experiential learning opportunities, implement learning circles and advocate for students.

Michael Davis ’19 received the William and Ida Friday Award honoring outstanding in service to the community. Davis was recognized for his work as student body president during his senior year, where he utilized his position to advocate for the needs of students in meaningful ways, as well as his continued work over his four years as a student at UNC Asheville.

James Smith ’19 received the A.C. Reynolds Award and Thomas D. Reynolds Prize for his service to the campus, including continued work and leadership with the UNCA Divestment Coalition.

Blanton Gillespie ’19 received the Manly E. Wright Award for Scholarship. This valedictory award is presented to the graduate who ranks first in scholarship. A chemistry major and neuroscience minor, and member of the cross country and track and field teams, Gillespie graduates with a 3.996 GPA. He is a four-time Big South Scholar Athlete of the Year, and in 2018 he was awarded a Goldwater Scholarship, one of the most prestigious undergraduate scholarships in the natural sciences. He has published three papers in the Journal of Physical Chemistry, completed NASA fellowships, and plans to study medicine, then practice rural medicine in underserved Western North Carolina communities.

PBS President & CEO Paula A. Kerger received the Chancellor’s Medallion, the university’s highest distinction, given to recognize individuals who demonstrate the highest commitment to community service, national leadership and enhancement of the university. She also was the commencement speaker for the May 2019 ceremony.

In her speech, Kerger recounted her college experience, a path that started in the sciences, dove in to the humanities and literature and led to business.

“It was the science and humanities courses that taught me the most of what I later found out to be the core for whatever success I have managed in both my profession and also in my life,” she said. “In hindsight, I could see that my college experience helped to prepare me for the twists and turns of my career because it exposed me to different perspectives and expanded my world view, which is exactly what the liberal arts do so beautifully.”

Standing on the stage at North Carolina’s public liberal arts and sciences university, she said, “UNC Asheville has provided the conditions, training you to ask the right questions and to question the status quo, showing you that it’s ok to turn left when everyone else is turning right, demonstrating the power of making a leap when the easiest choice is to stand still, and affirming that learning is not a four-year commitment but rather a lifelong endeavor. This is perhaps the greatest gift of the liberal arts experience, knowing that your education does not end here; rather, it begins here.”

For Kerger, that beginning took her through careers in nonprofit organizations, television and public television. She joined PBS in 2006 and is the longest-serving president and CEO in PBS history and led the historic launch of the PBS KIDS 24/7 broadcast and streaming channel, as well as the development of PBS LearningMedia. She noted how a world of constant change requires adaptation, points of connections and communities.

“The jobs of tomorrow, whether in technology or business, medicine or education, will require people who think critically and creatively, problem solvers who tackle the unknown opportunities and challenges that lie ahead. These are the skills that you’ve been honing right here. The graduates here today have a solid foundation from which to forge your own paths. You’ve proven that you’re smart and creative and resilient. And you’ve been given extraordinary tools that will help you find your success in life as well as in your career,” Kerger said.

One of those exceptional grads, Gillespie, echoed this sentiment in his remarks, “If I can leave you all here with anything useful today, I implore you to thank all of those around you who have offered you support. Along with that, I think the other thing all of us have learned here is that we have the ability to make a difference in the world. And one of the best ways we can do that is by making a difference in our own communities.”

For more information about student and faculty awards, see https://www.unca.edu/events-and-news/stories/unc-asheville-honors-students-and-faculty-with-spring-2019-leadership-awards/ and https://www.unca.edu/events-and-news/stories/unc-board-of-governors-2019-awards-excellence-in-teaching-ameena-batada-honored/. To read more about athlete-graduates, see https://uncabulldogs.com/news/2019/5/11/athletics-news-unc-asheville-athletics-graduates-42-student-athletes.aspx.