Occupy UNC holds 'alternative' commencement

CorrespondentMay 13, 2012 

— While Michael Bloomberg was speaking to tens of thousands of graduates and parents Sunday, a smaller celebration held by members of Occupy UNC-Chapel Hill sought to provide a different graduation experience – one they said was more real and less pretentious.

About 100 graduates, professors, parents and children turned out for the “Alternative Commencement” at Forest Theatre. Speakers shared their experiences with Occupy Wall Street and as life-long activists, and sought to provide courage to the graduates to live alternative lives.

Charles Eisenstein, a teacher of health arts and sciences at Goddard College and author of “Sacred Economics,” criticized Bloomberg and other corporate and political leaders.

“Their version of success that is held up as normal is one that says life is a struggle of everybody against everybody else, and you have to sacrifice what makes your heart sing,” Eisenstein said. “But everything is changing. ... We need to devote ourselves ... to the service of the planet, to other beings, to give of our gifts in whatever way feels right.”

Organizers gave out programs and bottles of bubble water. Bubbles floated through the air during the event, which also featured the band Morning Brigade. Some of the graduates wore home-made caps and gowns, one with blue floral patterns, one bundled up and clasped, and displaying a single white rose in the back.

As the ceremony ended, the 21 graduates in attendance went on stage and sang the UNC alma mater together.

Johnny Reis, 21, who is not part of Occupy UNC, attended because he sympathized with the movement. Reis studied math and physics and is moving to Montreal to work as a software engineer. But while he and some of his friends support the movement, Reis added, others believe it’s “futile.”

“Most of the people I interact with realize it’s difficult to live outside the system because our infrastructure is the system,” Reis said. “If they could, they would live and give of their gifts outside the system, but they have to live.”

Kari Dahlgren, 22, one of the chief organizers of the event, is heading to graduate school at Oxford University for African Studies. “Occupy is a consciousness. When you declare your solidarity with the movement, you are a part of it,” she said.

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