MPA Graduates Celebrate in Two Ceremonies in May 2021

UNC MPA graduates in Kenan Stadium; photo courtesy of York Wilson

Master of Public Administration students at the UNC School of Government participated in two special graduation ceremonies this past weekend. These events, one held fully online, and one held in socially distanced Kenan Stadium, lauded the accomplishments of the late 2020 and May 2021 graduates.

An Intimate Online Gathering for MPAs

On Sunday, May 16, the UNC MPA program hosted a small online ceremony for August 2020, December 2020, and May 2021 graduates and their family members. View the online event here.

Staff took care to send each graduate a box in advance of the event, containing regalia cords, a printed invitation and program, an MPA program lapel pin, and some tokens from life in Chapel Hill including UNC A to Z: What Every Tar Heel Needs to Know About the First State University. The intimate ceremony featured a mix of live and pre-recorded remarks.

As is tradition at MPA program graduation, faculty member Carl Stenberg presided over the Deil Wright Research Paper Award in honor of former faculty member and public administration thought leader Deil Wright. He presented the 2020 award to Maggie Aron Bailey and the 2021 award to Alice Brown and thanked the Wright family for their generous support of the program.

Faculty member and alumna Margaret Henderson ‘90 presented the Nanette Mengel Communication Award. Former faculty member Nanette Mengel taught communications-related courses across campus and left the School of Government a scholarship fund for students. Maggie Aron Bailey (2020 winner) and Elizabeth Stalford (2021 winner) were celebrated for their outstanding graduation portfolios.

Keynote speaker Kirsten Wyatt ’02 is the executive director and co-founder of Emerging Local
Government Leaders (ELGL), a national network of young local government professionals. Her advice to the graduates contained practical nuggets of wisdom for public administration careers, such as “your career is a jungle gym, not a ladder,” “always go to the potluck,” “innovation starts with empathy,” and “life is hectic, but true leaders, mentors, and friends are never too busy to help somebody else.”

“A life lived in service is a life well lived,” Wyatt added. “There is no one right way in a career that is focused on public service.“

Graduation is an opportunity each year for the Alumni Association Board Chair to pin the graduates with their MPA program lapel pin as they process across the stage. Corey Petersohn ’16 led a virtual pinning ceremony after graduates’ names were read.

UNC School of Government Dean Mike Smith addressed the graduates. “You leave Carolina with a set of skills you can apply to any future situation. You are ready and we need you.” Quoting historian Stephen Ambrose, he said, “Optimism always is justified. Whatever the future brings, I am optimistic that you can handle it. You’re smart, creative, hard working. You are good, and you will do good. MPA graduates, you are here this afternoon because you have demonstrated that you are ready for anything. We’re proud of you. We look forward to following your careers and also continuing to support you as public service leaders.”

Smith also thanked MPA Program Director Bill Rivenbark who hosted the ceremony in his final semester as director before a new faculty member takes the helm of the program in fall 2021. “As you graduates pursue your careers and become public service leaders, you're not only carrying out the mission of the MPA program, you're carrying out the mission of the nation's oldest public university,” concluded Rivenbark.

A Sunny Ceremony in Kenan Stadium

On Saturday, May 15, about 20 MPA graduates participated in UNC-Chapel Hill’s ceremony reserved for the School of Government, School of Law, Kenan-Flagler Business School, and School of Information and Library Science. It was one of six distinct ceremonies held over three days in Kenan Stadium for audiences of limited size due to social distancing and outdoor gathering capacity requirements in place during the COVID-19 pandemic. View the recorded event here and the online program here.

The speakers recalled how tough the past year—between the pandemic, political unrest, and economic uncertainty—has been on the Chapel Hill community. Many also mentioned how this community—the University, its students, faculty and staff, and health system—is poised to lead through challenging times.

“The ways you’ve had to endure and fight through this pandemic will pay dividends someday. You have adapted, and the lessons of this year are important and worth celebrating,” said UNC Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz in his opening statement. “You will face other challenges in your life … I hope you will look back on 2020 and think about how you’ve persevered, how you’ve helped others amid the struggles, and the obstacles you have faced.”

Many University figures provided remarks, including Board of Trustees Chair and MPA alumnus Richard Stevens ‘74. Stevens earned his bachelor’s, master’s and JD degrees from UNC-Chapel Hill. “Last year was my 50th class reunion, and I’m still being shaped by this university…. As an alumnus once said, you may work on Wall Street, or you may work on Main Street. But don’t ever forget Franklin Street. Never forget what this university has given you. And in time, I know you will find ways to give back to the university.”

Two keynotes were delivered by scientists and public servants on the forefront of the nation’s COVID-19 pandemic response. Anthony S. Fauci is director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the U.S. National Institutes of Health, where he oversees an extensive research portfolio focused on infectious and immune-mediated diseases.  Kizzmekia S. Corbett, a Hillsborough native and 2014 PhD graduate in microbiology and immunology from the UNC School of Medicine, is a post-doctoral research fellow at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases' Vaccine Research Center. In this role, she conducts basic and preclinical research and worked on preclinical development of the mRNA-1273 vaccine against COVID-19. Both received honorary degrees from the University during this ceremony.

Both speakers noted the historic and unprecedented challenges of the past year for students. “How you have responded to this pandemic thus far gives me confidence that you will adjust and you will thrive,” said Fauci. “You are going to play an important role in shaping this new normal. Perhaps it can even be a better normal.

Corbett’s remarks focused on the importance of home and Carolina as a home for those lucky enough to be a part of this community. “The beautiful thing about this moment, as you leave this place, a place that has shaped you for the past four years, is that you now have the privilege to decide where you go from here,” said Corbett. “Remember that you are exactly where you are supposed to be. You are going exactly where you are destined to go.”


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