University News

Doctoral hooding speakers encourage curiosity

Encouraging a “culture of openness,” they charged graduates to stay collaborative and committed to service.

Graduate student poses for photo in front of UNC banner
UNC-Chapel Hill honored nearly 300 doctoral graduates at its annual doctoral hooding ceremony held in the Dean E. Smith Center, featuring keynote speaker Angeli Achrekar ’13 (PhD). (Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

UNC-Chapel Hill honored nearly 300 doctoral graduates at its annual doctoral hooding ceremony held in the Dean E. Smith Center, featuring keynote speaker Angeli Achrekar ’13 (PhD).

Achrekar is the deputy executive director of the program branch at the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, an assistant secretary-general of the United Nations, and an alumna of the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health.

“Today is indeed a special day for you, graduates. You are crossing an important threshold – from pupils to leaders, from learning to doing – armed with the knowledge, networks and know-how bestowed upon you and earned by you from this prestigious University of ours,” Achrekar said.

Beth Mayer-Davis, dean of The Graduate School, said alumni of graduate education at һƷ̳̽ are among the next generation of leaders.  

“Our graduates become public servants, scientists, business leaders and world-renowned experts,” she said. “Through years of near-constant change and the grand challenges facing our society, they have triumphed and made our world a better place.”

There was a palpable energy of hope at the ceremony, with several of the events’ speakers remarking on the doctoral graduates’ penchant for curiosity and service-mindedness.

“At һƷ̳̽, we value collaboration. We know that the best work is often shared work, and progress happens when diverse teams of people with different backgrounds come together to tackle problems,” said Interim Chancellor Lee H. Roberts. “My charge to you today is to take that culture of openness and low barriers with you into the world.”

Achrekar’s charge to graduates continued the theme of openness. “There are opportunities, everywhere, to contribute to something larger than ourselves. We just must be curious, open and ready to jump right in.

Before joining UN AIDS, Achrekar served as the principal deputy U.S. Global AIDS coordinator for the president’s emergency plan for AIDS relief. Her dedication to public service, especially for issues that affect women and girls, has led to large-scale transformational impact, fundamental to ending the AIDS pandemic.

During her speech, Achrekar shared a few key principles that have guided her decisions at critical junctures in life: bringing skill to scale, leading change with humility and centering in service.

At the close of the ceremony, she charged students to “go forth with the lux libertas — light and liberty — the founding principles of our University as you find your way to contribute, to serve and to put your indelible mark on making this world better for the next generations to come.”

The Graduate School, founded in 1903, administers over 160 degrees spanning over 80 programs. It will confer more than 1,400 master’s and doctoral degrees during 2024 Spring Commencement exercises.

Faculty Award for Excellence in Doctoral Mentoring

At this year’s hooding ceremony, William Hall ’04, ’12 (MSW), ’15 (PhD), associate professor and L. Richardson Preyer Early Career Scholar at the UNC School of Social Work, received The Graduate School’s 2024 Faculty Award for Excellence in Doctoral Mentoring. Hall embodies the tenets of a service-minded mentor. He offers constructive advice and support to students, even those who are not direct mentees; provides safety and inclusivity for students with a variety of social identities and lived experiences; listens generously; and invests fully in each student as a whole person.

Hall’s current students and those who nominated him have published over 55 peer-reviewed publications collectively. He has guided or supported doctoral students with at least 10 successful grant applications, totaling over $250,000.