COVID-19 changed the format of graduation – the educational rite of passage – but couldn’t diminish its importance.
UNC Kenan-Flagler celebrated the achievements of 931 students in virtual graduation ceremonies for the Full-Time MBA, Evening MBA, Weekend Executive MBA and online MBA@UNC programs and the Master of Accounting Program, on-campus and online formats, on Oct. 17
Christopher Bailey (MBA ’20)
“There is no such thing as a bad graduation day, even under the most unusual circumstances,” says Dean Doug Shackelford (BSBA ’80). “In addition to their academic achievements, these graduates learned to deal with adversity and uncertainty. They battled through a global pandemic and balanced family, work and school amidst health, economic and social crises. Along the way they embraced and lived our core values: excellence, leadership, integrity, inclusion, community and teamwork. They are truly prepared for whatever they might face in their professional and personal lives.”
Graduates shared their reflections about their experiences and the lifetime relationships they formed.
- “This picture means everything to me,” wrote Kathryn Garaventa, a senior manager in customer and sales support at US Foods, about a photo of herself in front of the Old Well. “This is a woman who didn’t know if she would even get accepted. This woman did not know how life balance would be possible. This woman was doubtful of her own ability…. This woman crushed it. Don’t ever doubt yourself. Be your own cheerleader and surround yourself with people who encourage and lift you up. Have mustard seed faith. Whatever it is you want to do, do it!”
- “Starting from the first subject ‘Business Communication’ taught by Dr. Heidi Schultz to the last elective ‘Design and Delivery of Healthcare Systems’ taught by Vinayak Deshpande, all these classes provided a unique perspective for being more strategic, have an entrepreneurial mindset, and how to be more efficient in the business world,” says Rajik Mallik, a manager in integration architecture/development at Blue Cross NC in Durham. “I look forward to applying my new learnings in both in my personal life and at work.
- Jarrell Moten, a financial analyst for Fidelity Investments, already had an MBA when he decided to earn his MAC. “It was good to wake up and see my final grades, and that I have completed my Master of Accounting at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill,” he says. “This has been quite a journey. I took on a new role at work, plus studied and passed all four CPA exams during this timeframe.” He reflected on a high school teacher’s college recommendation letter which gave him a 50% chance of success. “My mom and dad always made it clear to me that it is not about where you are from or where you grew up, but where you mentally see yourself going. They always told me to create my own story and that I would have to work twice as hard as my peers to survive.”
- “After two years, thousands of hours doing homework, group meetings and attending class, grit, sacrifice and determination,” Kristi Huddy, a marketing manager at FMI, felt thankful to learn from talented classmates and faculty. “But the most important lesson I walked away with was learning just what I was capable of doing, handling and achieving. I’m so excited to leverage this experience in my professional and personal life, to see the leaders we grow into and the awesome things we do next,” she says.
- “It’s been two years of the incredible journey, laugh, pain, sleepless nights, hundreds of hours of classes on the UNC campus with the best professors and best cohort ever,” says Raya Sviridov, a services program manager at Lenovo in the Triangle. “Even though Covid-19 brought a different experience to our classes and our graduation ceremony, it was priceless no matter what. I am forever grateful for my family believing in me when I needed it most, for our professors for pushing us further to explore the potential, for my cohort for supporting each other, sharing the pain, and celebrating accomplishments.”
- “It was two years of late nights and weekends spent writing papers, learning and applying strategy frameworks, building discounted cash flow models, performing regression analyses,” says Rajan Merchant, a director at Perficient in Charlotte. “As much as I learned about the content in my courses, I learned more about myself – my strengths and weaknesses and what I was truly capable of achieving. I had to learn how to be a student again, all while juggling work and family and life (not to mention getting engaged and then married while in the program). I am so grateful for the staff, faculty and, most of all, the amazing students in my cohort. I made valuable friends and built relationships that will last a lifetime.”
- “Through all of the hardships, educational pivots during COVID, and welcoming the birth of my third son, I proved to myself that ‘I can do some really hard things’ (the unofficial tagline of the Class of 2020),” says Jason Brown, a solutions architect for Verizon Enterprise Solutions in Cary. “The future that this unbelievable university has prepared me for is, in and of itself, priceless! As a first-generation undergraduate, and now a first-generation graduate school alum, it is not lost on me how fortunate I am.” He credits his grandmother, who died just after he started the program, with inspiring his work ethic, his family for their support, and his professors and classmates for always pushing and supporting him. “I am thrilled and proud to be an alumnus of this amazing institution and I can’t wait to show the world what else I have in store.”
- David Butners, a manager in business development at Tergus Pharma in the Triangle,
learned how to juggle work conferences, homework deliverables and the family schedule of sports practices and games for his sons. “The program shows you how much you can truly accomplish in a 24-hour day as an employee, student and person/father. You always have time to accomplish at least one more thing in your day. The experiences the professors shared with us made us better decision-makers about the problems and situations we will encounter in the business world and in life,” he says. He thanks his classmates, too: “We came from every industry out there and all of us helped each other across the finish line right up until the last week of the program. We started as students and we’ve become life-long friends.”
- “I will cherish the lifelong friends I’ve made during this program and am grateful for every single soul who has supported me in reaching this milestone,” says Aleasha Kivett, a marketing manager for Hanesbrands Inc. based in Greensboro.
The graduates joined a passionate network of almost 40,000 Business School alumni in 50 states and 86 countries.
“We know the best is yet to come for our graduates – that their families, communities, companies and countries will be better because of what they will contribute,” says Shackelford. “As alumni, whatever they do, wherever they go – our University and UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School – will be with them. They will always have a home at Carolina.”