ROBERTS: UNC Chapel Hill Commencement Remarks

This University is something we share, just as we share our remarkable state.

(Gerry Broome / AP Photo)

Every graduating class deserves a day of celebration and reflection, and this one more than most.

Many of you missed out on high school graduation, on the rites and recognition that normally mark the transition into college. You bore the brunt of the pandemic lockdowns. And then, you found ways to rekindle public life at Carolina after it was brought to a standstill.

And now you’re here, standing in this gorgeous place and surrounded by people who so earnestly want the rest of your days to be full and fulfilling. I am one of those hopeful admirers, and I’m honored to stand with you.

I’ve had the chance to meet with a wide range of graduates recently. First-generation students. Student-athletes. Veterans. And so many others. My wife, Liza, and I have a number of high school and college graduations in our family. We know how important this ceremony is.

To the graduates, you’ve shown incredible commitment and curiosity to arrive at this point.

It’s always tempting to think we’ve lived through unprecedented times, faced unprecedented challenges, seen the world change in ways no one has experienced before. But there’s confidence in knowing that generations of students have stood where you stand, faced challenges equal to yours and thrived just as you will.

That’s because Carolina was born in a moment of upheaval, and it has seen plenty more since.

This University was created in the early days of the American experiment, when the arguments over the foundational ideas of this nation were just getting started. Those arguments have never stopped, and that’s exactly why we need this University of the People, this place where all are welcome to think, to learn and to argue for their vision of progress.

Being the University of the People is not always easy, especially when the people are not of one mind … and they never are. Being the University of the People means that we contain all that is great and all that is troubling about our society.

It means that Carolina doesn’t belong to you; it sure doesn’t belong to me; it doesn’t belong to any one person or group. This University is something we share, just as we share our remarkable state. And we hold it in trust for the generations who will come after us.

Sharing doesn’t come easily. I speak from some experience here as a father of three, as a husband and, of course, as a citizen of this great and vibrant and diverse nation.

But almost everything worth doing in life is the product of shared effort. Your family, your professional achievements, your friendships and your civic commitments — all of those good and glorious things take compromise, sacrifices big and small, a healthy recognition that your view of the world is but one among many. It means balancing passion and conviction with humility, grace and respect.

None of those things are simple, and we should all be willing to acknowledge when we’re uncertain, when the right and righteous path is not clear.

But you can do so with confidence.

The confidence and certainty that your time here, the relationships you’ve built and the skills you’ve gained have prepared you to enter a world full of uncertainty.

When Bill Friday was president, seeing the University through a period of great unrest in the late 1960s and early 1970s, he kept faith with our core mission.

The University’s job, he wrote, is to provide our students “the knowledge, skills, and sense of purpose with which to live in this troubled world. That is the test we shall have to meet.”

That is as true today as it was then.

You all stand here as proof that we are still meeting that test, and we always will.

So, class of 2024, no matter where your next steps take you … take them confidently and leave your heel print on this world.

Lee Roberts is interim chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.