UNC graduates hark the sound of encouragement by AOL's Case

CorrespondentMay 12, 2013 

— UNC-Chapel Hill graduates gathered Sunday morning at Kenan Stadium to celebrate their degrees under a Carolina blue sky.

By the numbers: There were 6,027 students graduating Sunday: 3,731 with a bachelor’s degree, 1,445 with a master’s, 235 with a doctorate and 616 with a professional degree, the last from the schools of dentistry, law, medicine, nursing and pharmacy.

The weather: 60, sunny and breezy at the start of the ceremony at 9:30.

The ceremony: Students in light blue-and-white robes took about 20 minutes to file into the Tar Pit section on the west side of the stadium. After several addresses, the graduates of each school were asked to stand in the order of their school’s founding.

A cappella group The Clef Hangers closed the ceremony with a rendition of James Taylor’s “Carolina in my Mind” and the UNC alma mater “Hark the Sound.” The graduates swayed along to the rhythm before the band picked up the familiar riff.

Still on the job: Although Carol Folt has been selected the next UNC chancellor, she doesn’t officially take over until July, and outgoing Chancellor Holden Thorp presided over the ceremonies.

Commencement speaker: Steve Case, co-founder of America Online. Since his retirement from AOL in 2003, Case has, through his investment firm Revolution, helped two dozen new companies get started, including LivingSocial and Zipcar.

Also a philanthropist, in 1997, Case and his wife, Jean, created the Case Foundation, which attempts to use the principles of entrepreneurship and technology to make philanthropy more effective. The Cases also have joined The Giving Pledge, an effort started by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett to get the wealthiest of the world to give away the majority of their wealth.

What he said: In his 20-minute address, Case stressed the importance of his three Ps: people, passion and perseverance.

He told the graduates that the people with whom they surround themselves will influence who they become, and that they should try to work with people they enjoy. “What you do is less important than who you do it with,” Case said.

Case also urged the graduates to focus on what they are passionate about. It worked for him when he read about the Internet 30 years ago. Though he worked various jobs that had nothing to do with the Internet, he maintained his interest in the possibilities of the technology, and this led him to a startup in 1983 – which failed.

Despite that failure, Case didn’t give up on his passion, a lesson he used to illustrate the value of perseverance. He moved on to AOL in 1985, and though the going was not easy, the company became a pioneer of the concept of social media. He would go on to negotiate what remains the largest merger in business history, between AOL and Time Warner, and served as chairman of the combined company.

Case also stressed that the United States has become the envy of the world because of its spirit of entrepreneurship. But other countries have recognized the importance of entrepreneurship, so U.S. must continue to lead on that front.

“We can’t get complacent,” Case said. “We have to stay on offense.”

The big picture: Case concluded his speech by taking a panoramic photo of the stadium with his phone and posting it on Twitter with the hashtag “#UNC2013.”

Honorary degrees: In addition to Case, four people were conferred with honorary doctorates Sunday: Bernard Flatow, a pioneer in international relations with Latin America; Joel Fleishman, founder of the what is now known as the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke; Freeman Hrabowski, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County; and Mary Pope Osborne, author of the “Magic Tree House” series of children’s books.

The graduates: Lydia Neal of Raleigh, a biology major, will spend the summer at her parents’ house but then hopes to get a job with a marine biology lab to carry out coastal biology research.

Michel Faasii of Kinston, an English and philosophy major, will spend the summer in Chapel Hill looking for a job, although he’s not sure yet what career path he will pursue.

Faasii said he enjoyed Case’s commencement address. “I thought it was a very pertinent message about the Internet,” Faasii said.

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