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Geoffrey Sayre-McCord reminded 2,330 December graduates that they always will be surrounded by invisible, intangible, odorless and often inaudible ideas — ideas about who they are, what they can accomplish, what is a problem, and what might be a solution.
“Put yourself in the position to decide which of the ideas you are surrounded by are worth embracing and developing and which are worth changing, and then act accordingly,” the Morehead Alumni Distinguished Professor of philosophy and department chair told the graduates Sunday. “Only then are you truly autonomous.”
The students marched into the Smith Center to the “Procession of the Nobles” by Nikolay Andreyevich, performed by the 50-member UNC Ceremonial Band before a stage festooned with ferns and Christmas poinsettias.
“This is your day, and all of us join you in this celebration of your academic achievement,” Chancellor Holden Thorp ’86 told the graduates. “During your world-changing adventures, remember that you represent Carolina and its values: a love of knowledge, a dedication to freedom and a passion for helping others.
“The University’s motto is light and liberty. When you leave Chapel Hill, you carry that light with you, and I know it will help you transform the future. We can’t wait to watch.”
Sayre-McCord continued a tradition of members of the faculty delivering the December Commencement address.
He joined the UNC faculty in 1985 and chaired the philosophy department for 10 years. He is the founding co-director of UNC’s philosophy, politics and economics program and is a member of the advisory board of the Parr Center, which examines ethical questions in numerous fields.
Sayre-McCord has won UNC’s Tanner Award for Teaching Excellence twice, in 1987 and 2005, and held several distinguished term professorships — including the prestigious Bowman and Gordon Gray — and received numerous fellowships. He regularly gives invited lectures at universities and conferences around the world.
Of those who applied to graduate, administrators expected to award 1,071 bachelor’s, 894 master’s, 352 doctoral and 13 professional degrees. The latter are from the schools of dentistry, law, medicine, nursing and pharmacy.