You could excuse UNC-Chapel Hill’s newly minted graduates who strolled out of Kenan Stadium on Sunday if they were dilated with a sense of world-conquering purpose and importance.
Commencement speakers and university dignitaries celebrated the mostly 22-year-old graduating millennials as innovators, entrepreneurs, creatives and leaders. Most are headed for their first real jobs or graduate school.
“In a few years you’ll be working in fields that don’t even exist today,” Chancellor Carol Folt told the students seated in folding chairs on the football field. “And you’ll be creating them.”
You could also commend UNC’s latest batch of grads for their princely good behavior. Tomorrow’s potential social disruptors sat attentively, applauded politely and cheered like true sports on a breezy sun-drenched morning that was as short on clouds as it was lacking in graduation day pranks and hijinks.
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By the numbers
UNC-Chapel Hill has 6,029 members of the class of 2016. On Sunday, the university awarded 3,721 bachelor’s degrees, 1,383 master’s, 651 professional and 251 doctoral.
Caring is key
In the commencement address, author and think tank executive Anne-Marie Slaughter urged the graduates to embrace an ethos of caring as much as they focus on advancing their careers.
Slaughter is an international policy intellectual perhaps best known publicly for her 2012 Atlantic magazine article, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” that went viral with its analysis of the unfulfilled promise of gender equality.
Slaughter happens to be a glaring exception to her own theory. A graduate of Princeton, Oxford and Harvard, Slaughter is a former dean of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School, and a former U.S. State Department director of policy and planning in President Barack Obama’s first term.
She said society’s unmet challenge is to create an infrastructure of care, a system in which Americans have access to affordable daycare and eldercare, and the caretakers are treated as well-compensated professionals.
She noted that caretakers today are paid on par with bartenders and dog walkers.
The final hurdle to clear in this future social reformation will be to create a society in which men experience no stigma from becoming primary caretakers. Currently, she noted, men are still defined by their job titles and salaries.
“Why should that be,” Slaughter asked, “if they would rather provide care than cash?”
Thereupon Slaughter encouraged her youthful audience to go forth, strive, struggle, and “work really, really hard.” And: “Invest in others as much as you invest in yourselves.”
A number of UNC grads appear to be headed for bright futures, or at least gainful employment.
Sydney Hanes, 22, is moving to South Carolina this summer to work as an operations assistant for the Southern Conference. The public relations major applied for several jobs and landed the job of her choice, and said her friends had similar experiences.
“Most of my friends do know what they’re doing,” she said. “I didn’t expect it to be so smooth.”
Tucker Morgan, 21, is deferring his career for a few months because he plans to spend the summer working as a counselor at a camp for kids whose parents have cancer. An economics major with a minor in mathematical decision sciences, Morgan is flooding the zone with more than a dozen job applications.
He said he’s not worried about his job prospects. “It’ll happen eventually.”
John Larson, 22, graduated with a degree in biomedical engineering. He’s “just relaxing” this summer at home in Asheville before he starts medical school in July at Wake Forest University.
Zachary Del Conte, 22, will work as an emergency medical technician and drive an ambulance in Orange County. A biology major, he plans to become a physician assistant, a career option he finds more appealing than becoming a doctor.
“A little less responsibility than a doctor, and not as much debt,” he said. “And more free time.”
Sean Van Gurp, 22, is headed to St. Louis to work as a strategy and investment analyst for Wells Fargo. An economics major, Van Gurp’s ambition is to become a hedge fund manager.
“That would be the top of where I want to be.”
Shaw University in Raleigh hosted a graduation ceremony Sunday at the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts.
Number of graduates: 235
Speaker: Fred Whitfield, Charlotte Hornets president and chief operating officer