At UNC and Duke commencements, students get advice to make the world a better place

Beating the heat to celebrate 2018 Graduates

Despite high temperatures, UNC-Chapel Hill's spring 2018 commencement ceremony, held on Mother's Day, was energetic and celebratory.
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Despite high temperatures, UNC-Chapel Hill's spring 2018 commencement ceremony, held on Mother's Day, was energetic and celebratory.

The best Mother’s Day gift thousands of moms received Sunday morning went to their children, as UNC and Duke conferred degrees on their 2018 graduates.

The two schools held commencements in their respective football stadiums — UNC at Kenan and Duke at Wallace Wade. The color of the day was blue: brilliant blue May skies and students hot as blue blazes as they sat in their Carolina- and Duke-blue caps and gowns.

The ceremonies wrapped up a weekend of Triangle-area college commencements.

UNC grads were sent on their way with words of advice from Rye Barcott, who attended Carolina on an ROTC scholarship and founded the non-profit Carolina for Kibera while he was a student there. After graduating in 2001, he served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps. He’s now the chief executive officer of With Honor, a Charlotte-based civic group that encourages post-9/11 veterans to run for Congress.

Barcott’s speech centered on the hardships that students already have survived and those they will endure, and what can be learned from them.

"Take the pain," Barcott told the students, quoting a line from "Platoon," his favorite movie. Pain is inevitable, he said, "So, how best to take the pain and make something useful, something positive out of it?"

Apple CEO Tim Cook talks about his friendship with Steve Jobs, data privacy, global warming and daring to think different while speaking at Duke's commencement in Durham, NC Sunday, May 13, 2018.

Doing so, he said, would require a positive attitude; a dedication to the service of others as a way to take the focus of their own pain; and a sense of perspective so they can always remember their good fortune.

Senior Class President Karli Krasnipol also spoke briefly, noting that every student’s UNC experience is unique but saying class members have something in common as well.

"Activism and advocacy are at the cornerstone of Carolina," she said, an apparent reference to student protests held on campus in recent years around race, immigration and other issues. "We are vocal, we stand up for what we believe in and we are undoubtedly passionate."

Now, she said, students can take that passion into the world.

At Duke, Apple CEO, university alumni and board of trustees member Tim Cook told students to "say goodbye to Act One of your life. Act two begins today."

Cook talked about big-picture problems: a deeply divided country, schools with wide inequality, and the warming of the planet. He told them not to feel powerless, and invoked both Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. in telling the students they could make the world a better place.

Cook called the students to action, saying, "Duke graduates, be fearless. Be the last people to accept things as they are and the first people to stand up and change them for the better."

Cook told the students they have been given the great gift of a world-class education that few people have the opportunity to pursue. As a result, he said, they are uniquely qualified and uniquely responsible for building a better way forward.