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Speakers Encourage Graduates to Stay Curious and Committed to Service  

The University of North Carolina at 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 Ph.D.).  

People at the stage of the doctoral hooding ceremony

Achrekar is the deputy executive director of the programme branch at the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), 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 knowhow 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 Carolina are among the next generation of leaders.   

“Our graduates become public servants, scientists, business leaders, and world-renowned experts. And 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 Carolina, 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. “[T]here are opportunities, everywhere, to contribute to something larger than ourselves – we just must be curious, open and ready to jump right in.”  

Prior to 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. Those in attendance were able to share in the knowledge of her experiences that included her “aha moment” that led to her work in AIDS relief, her dramatic shift in responsibility during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as her personal connection to the Saving Mothers, Giving Life partnership, supported in part by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

At the close of this year’s hooding 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, oversees the administration of more than 160 degrees that span more than 80 programs. It will confer more than 1,400 master’s and doctoral degrees during spring 2024 commencement exercises.  

Faculty Awards for Excellence in Doctoral Mentoring

At this year’s hooding ceremony, William Hall ‘04, (‘12 MSW; ‘15 Ph.D.) 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: offering constructive advice and support to students, even those who are not their direct mentees; providing safety and inclusivity for students with a variety of social identities and lived experiences; listening generously and investing fully in each student as a whole person.   

A person wearing an open blazer and glasses
William Hall

Hall’s current students and those who submitted his nomination 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. Hall’s nominators noted his dedication to students’ success even beyond their time at UNC-Chapel Hill, mentioning his advice on courses to teach, curriculum development, and grant applications as they transition from students to early career faculty. 

Even during times of personal loss, his students recall his dedication, “… Dr. Hall leaned in. With infinite grace, humility, and kindness, he continued to provide strong mentorship.”  

Andrea Sterling

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