On Friday, December 10,

More than 200 graduates of the University of North Carolina Asheville moved their graduation cap tassles from the right side of their mortarboard to the left side, as families and friends gathered to celebrate the first class of 2022 on Dec. 10.

Newly graduated Bulldogs were joined by a few dozen recent alums from the classes of 2020 and 2021 during the afternoon event at Kimmel Arena. Chancellor Nancy J. Cable led the ceremony that also was live-streamed on UNC Asheville’s YouTube channel.

“Times of great challenge are also times of significant opportunity,” said Cable as she addressed the socially distanced crowd. “In the midst of these many months of uncertainty, our nation in a polarized divide, COVID complexities, and the distance we’ve had to keep from one another, we have also witnessed profound opportunities for new beginnings and new hope, and certainly, calling forward our sense of resilience.”

The address ended with a powerful message:

“You are resilient, you are inspiring, you persisted and prevailed,” Cable told the graduates.

Together, UNC Asheville’s Class of 2022 includes graduates spanning in age from 18 to 64, with 93% hailing from North Carolina. The students’ choice of majors included humanities, with 24%; natural sciences, 31%; and social sciences, 45%. Three students became the first to receive UNC Asheville’s newly offered Sustainability Certificate along with their degree.

Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Kai Campbell followed the Chancellor’s remarks with the land acknowledgment; UNC Asheville’s recognition that the campus of the University is situated upon the ancestral land of the Anikituwagi, more commonly known as the Cherokee.

“To the Anikituwagi, this land was known as Togiyasdi, Where They Race, and was part of the Cherokee Nation, Tsalagi Ayeli… The stories that come from this land teach how to live, interact and mutually care for all relations,” Campbell said. “As an institution, UNC Asheville has a responsibility to commit its efforts and resources to the health and priorities of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, the students who attend this university and all the varied Indigenous people who live in and around the lands this university is situated on.”

Student Government Association President Demon Thomas, a mass communication and sociology double major with a minor in Africana studies, reminded his students, “We are the generation of change.”

The theme of resilience was carried into the keynote speech delivered by Irene Rossell, a professor of environmental studies at UNC Asheville, and the recipient of the 2021 Board of Governors Award for Excellence in Teaching.

She addressed the graduating class, and pondered the universal concept that time spent at college “are the best years of your lives.”

“In a strange twist of fate, I am giving your commencement address at a time when the tables have been completely turned. You might be thinking these have not exactly been the best years of your lives, because you did not come to college expecting to be quarantined, or wear a mask all day, or take online classes, or stand six feet apart from others,” she added.

True to the resilient nature of UNC Asheville’s Bulldogs, Rossell continued: “The pandemic showed you about yourselves, which is the depth of your ability to adapt, change, and carry on in the face of the unexpected. You may not have wanted to focus on academics while the world erupted in turmoil, but you found a way to get it done. You figured out how to go to school in your pajamas.”

Wrapping up her address, Rossell acknowledged the perseverance displayed by the graduating class of 2022 and left them with a message similar to the one delivered by her own graduating class’ keynote speaker.

“The best is yet to come… Meaningful change takes time, and it’s OK sometimes if you just sit back and enjoy the journey,” she said.

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