Margaret Spellings gives UNCW College of Arts and Sciences commencement address


Photo courtesy of the Office of University Relations, UNCW.

UNC System President Margaret Spellings speaks of Hurricane Florence, transitional times in life and UNCW’s resilience in her commencement address.

Helen Rogalski, Managing Editor

University of North Carolina System President Margaret Spellings gave the commencement address at the UNC Wilmington College of Arts and Sciences graduation ceremony more than a month after announcing she would step down from her position.

UNCW’s College of Arts and Sciences graduation ceremony was held on Saturday. Trask Coliseum was packed as students, faculty, staff, family and friends gathered.

The undergraduate, graduate and doctoral graduates proceeded onto the basketball court, which was decorated with UNCW memorabilia and holiday floral arrangements. Many of the graduates were decked out in regalia such as medals, stoles, and cords, as well as decorated caps decorated with quotes such as “Thanks Mom & Dad” and “Brains and Beauty.” Audience members cheered as their loved ones were shown on the jumbotron.

Following the processional, Sarah Wells sang the national anthem and Chancellor Jose V. Sartarelli welcomed the audience and graduates. Chancellor Sartarelli spoke of the challenges this semester faced from Hurricane Florence and the resilience of the UNCW community.

Tom Fetzer of the UNC Board of Governors spoke briefly before Student Body President Cole Tillett congratulated the graduates. Tillett showed his school spirit by concluding his speech stating “Wings Up,” accompanied with the hand motion of a bird commonly used by students. Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Marilyn Sheerer followed and honors students graduating with cum laude, magna cum laude, and summa cum laude honors.

UNC System President Margaret Spellings provided the commencement address at this year’s ceremony. Spellings has acted as the president since 2016 but announced her resignation in October of this year after extensive speculation.

Spellings has had an extensive career in education and educational reform. Most notably, she worked as the Secretary of Education under George W. Bush from 2005 to 2009.

She worked in support of the No Child Left Behind Act and has faced several controversial moments during her career. Controversy followed Spellings into her time with the UNC system, beginning with her hiring and continuing through the Silent Sam protests, House Bill 2, and Hurricane Florence.

Despite the dividing support for Spellings across North Carolina, her commencement address was warmly received by the audience.

During Spelling’s speech, she related to the recent graduates in their “transitions in life,” drawing connections between many graduates beginning their careers, and her own career changes. Spellings is set to conclude her time as president in March of 2019.

She garnered laughs from the audience when joking about “moving in” with her daughters following her resignation, and even provided some self-deprecating humor.

“For those of you who spent this time [of the speech] making a mental note of all the friends, family and professors you have to thank today, congrats on the time well spent,” she said.

The rest of Spellings speech was focused on the “unprecedented challenges” that UNCW faced this semester in the wake of Hurricane Florence, and offered praise to the community’s resilience and faculty’s dedication to completing the semester fully.

Spellings attendance at the ceremony was welcomed warmly by UNCW officials.

“Spellings has led the UNC System into a new period of performance, affordability and growth, guided by a strategic plan that is improving graduation rates, reducing achievement gaps and ensuring access for students of every background,” said Caroline Cropp on the university’s news page.

Following Spellings, Chair of the UNCW Board of Trustees Ronald B. McNeill provided the authorization for conferring of degrees. The graduate degrees were presented by Interim Dean of the Graduate School Carol P. McNulty; undergraduate degrees were presented by Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Aswani Volety.

Chancellor Sartarelli and Provost Sheerer assisted in the presentation of both graduate and undergraduate degrees.

Lynn Whitesell of the class of ’97 and Vice Chair of the Alumni Association offered a “greeting from the alumni association” and was “honored to be the first to call [the graduates] UNCW alumni.”

Sara Wells concluded the ceremony by singing the alma mater, followed by the recessional.