The joy on the faces of graduates was contagious when UNC hosted its first in-person graduation since the start of the global pandemic May 14-16, 2021.
Carolina celebrated the graduation of 6,283 students in five separate, sun-splashed Carolina Blue ceremonies in Kenan Stadium. Undergraduate Business, MBA and PhD graduates participated in the ceremony with students from the School of Information and Library Science, School of Government and School of Law.
The Undergraduate Business Program also hosted a drive/walk-through event at the McColl Building on the morning of graduation and a virtual ceremony for its 412 graduates.
The Full-Time MBA and Online MBA programs held virtual ceremonies in advance of the in-person commencement for their 251 and 245 graduates, respectively. Shermon McMillian (BSBA ’99, MBA ’05), VP and general manager of the Clorox Company’s Better Health VMS business, gave the keynote address for the MBA ceremonies.
Nine PhD students defended their dissertations and have taken faculty positions at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Indiana University, Rice University, Santa Clara University and the University of Utah; research roles at Harvard and Imperial College London; and an operations role at Alibaba in Singapore.
The Master of Accounting Program will hold a virtual ceremony for 91 graduates on June 26. Udanda Clark (BA ’99, MAC ’00), a partner at Ernst & Young, will give the keynote address.
Commencement is often a time of firsts – first-generation college graduates and trailblazers.
Grace Yook (PharmD/MBA ’21) graduated as the first Asian woman and woman of color in UNC history to complete the dual-degree program of doctorate in pharmacy from the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy and an MBA from UNC Kenan-Flagler.
Calvin Blocker (MBA/MD ’21) became the first Black student at Carolina to earn both the MD from the UNC School of Medicine and MBA from UNC Kenan-Flagler in the dual-degree program. He and classmate Greeshma Somashekar (MBA/MD ’21), also a graduate of the MD/MBA dual-degree program, were honored by their classmates with the Core Value Award for Community.
Justin Pierce (MBA ’21) completed the second year of the full-time MBA program while playing his first professional basketball season abroad in Finland. While finishing classes and playing abroad, interned part-time at Courage Ventures Funds. Now that he’s graduated, he is joining the team at AIT Worldwide Logistics for a summer internship. In the fall, he will head back to Europe to play another season of professional basketball while continuing to work remotely.
Jasmine Terry (MBA ’21) was honored by her full-time MBA classmates with the Core Value Award for Inclusion. “What an amazing journey it was. I have experienced so much personal and professional growth, and am confident that I am a better leader now than I was before I started this program,” she wrote on LinkedIn. “I was also honored to receive the Core Value Award for Inclusion, something I am extremely proud of and do not take lightly. Although my experience was altered by the pandemic, I am grateful for the UNC community and the many lessons learned throughout these past two years!”
Jenny Suwanmanee (BSBA ’21) learned how to be “comfortable with being uncomfortable” as part of her global studies. She studied at the Copenhagen Business School, took classes from the Rotterdam School of Management, and worked with Sherri Carmichael, assistant director for UNC Kenan-Flagler’s GLOBE program, to launch the Global Topics Speakers Series.
MBA@UNC classmates honored Emily Fortner, manager of CX content and channel strategy for Twitter, with the Core Value Award for Community as she celebrated her second degree from UNC.
“This program has been the most challenging and fulfilling thing I’ve ever done; balancing school while working full-time was difficult, then finishing in a pandemic after a cross-country move took more grit and resilience than I knew I had,” she wrote on LinkedIn. “I’m so grateful to my classmates, my husband Kacy Fortner, my family, and the amazing program faculty and staff who supported me and made this experience so meaningful and valuable. I’m excited to take all of the knowledge, friendships, skills and perspective I’ve gained forward in my life and career.”
Jared Singleton (MBA ’21) received the Core Values Award for Inclusion from his MBA@UNC classmates. “This journey that started back in 2019 has certainly brought challenges and obstacles of balancing a full-time job, full school load and, most importantly, being a full-time dad,” he wrote on LinkedIn. “I’m thankful my son was able to witness this accomplishment, and I hope he uses my life as a standard for his own. Thank you to the countless people who have made this mission complete – student advisors, classmates, professors and the leadership of the MBA program. I hope to use this new platform to change lives, and impact communities around the world.”
Catherine Grizzle (MBA ’21) was on deployment when she applied to UNC Kenan-Flagler. “After two years, my degree is conferred and I’m an MBA!” writes Grizzle, a battery commander in the U.S. Army. She received the Core Value Award for Teamwork from her online MBA classmates, and gave special thanks to her classmates, “motivating professors” and the UNC Veterans Affairs team.
Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett (PhD ’14) virtually congratulated the graduates and shared advice as the Tar Heels entered a new chapter in their lives.
Both remarked on the difficulty of the past year and noted how those challenges had shaped graduates. “What you have experienced as a result of the profound upending of your lives by COVID-19 is truly unprecedented,” said Fauci, the director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “How you have responded to this pandemic thus far gives me confidence that you will adjust and you will thrive,” Fauci said.
Corbett, a research fellow and the scientific lead for the coronaviruses vaccines and immunopathogenesis team at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, reminded graduates of the power of home.
“Home just isn’t about the place you were raised. Home is … the culmination of places that amass experiences that shape who you are, that shape who you will be. Home is Carolina.”
Carolina indeed became a second home for Truman Mitchell (BSBA ’21). As a child he started attending Carolina basketball games with his dad, the late Owen Mitchell (MBA ’85), who died when Mitchell was a first-year student.
“Where I was when I was a freshman to where I am now is night and day, and the Business School has played a large part in that. The faculty members and everyone made me feel at home and gave me a community to be a part of where I could grow into myself,” he says.
“Though my accomplishments have been my own, I would not be here without my experiences at UNC,” he wrote on LinkedIn. “During my time, I was taught technical skills, which will help me in the many years ahead. However, even more significantly, I learned the importance of character. … The amazing faculty, staff, and Chapel Hill community are the reason this journey was so fulfilling. A special thank you to all my peers and family; you have played an integral part in my growth and trajectory to date. Walking out the door as a stronger professional, leader, and teammate, I am beyond excited for what lies ahead. To everyone who has supported me and invested in my journey, please know this is only the beginning – your investment will be returned 10-fold.”
Graduation marked “20-months of successfully overcoming academic rigor, challenges of managing school, job, and family life and finally completing my MBA with concentrations in marketing strategies and entrepreneurship. And all of this in the midst of a pandemic,” wrote Suranjeeta Choudhury (MBA ’21), a technology product marketing manager at Qualcomm.
“Thanks to my professors and classmates who made learning fun and brought to fore grit and perseverance when things got challenging. Special thanks to my family and my 5-year-old daughter who let me focus on my MBA even when they needed more of my attention and love.”