Brooke Baldwin, a CNN anchor and 2001 graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill’s journalism school, told thousands of brand new Tar Heel alumni Sunday that it’s OK if they don’t have the next steps in their lives neatly planned and ready to go.
“Learn your worth,” Baldwin said as she gave the Class of 2017’s commencement speech. “Dream. And never forget where you came from.”
Baldwin spoke about overcoming struggles and offered encouragement.
She said she worked for several years in small-time, stressful TV jobs before getting a job at CNN. And even then she was only part-time at first, which she said forced her into every college grad’s worst nightmare – having to move back in with her parents when she was 29.
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Her advice to those who get stuck in what might seem like dead-end, lonely or depressing situations?
“Make the best of it,” she said – plus don’t be afraid to lean on friends in the tough times, and find people who believe in you.
The graduating class was 60 percent women, and Baldwin encouraged any of them who might want to follow in her footsteps, saying, “I am proud to be a woman in this era.”
Baldwin pointed to the women at Fox News whose allegations of systemic sexual harassment brought down former CEO Roger Ailes and star pundit Bill O’Reilly, among others.
“We have seen courageous women at another network stand up to their leader and call out injustice and sexism,” Baldwin said. “A titan fell.”
And she gave a shout-out to another Tar Heel alumna, Emily Steel, the New York Times reporter whose investigative work helped lead to O’Reilly’s downfall.
Baldwin also touched on a few other high-profile topics.
On many journalists underestimating support for Donald Trump in 2016: “No one listened enough.”
On the state of the media in 2017: “Journalism has never been more alive, more crucial.”
On whether her speech will live up to another memorable one for Tar Heels this year: “Nothing can really top our homegrown, distinguished philosopher, who proffered ‘The ceiling is the roof.’ Thanks, Michael Jordan.”
More than 6,000 people graduated from UNC Sunday, including 270 new PhDs and 645 undergrads who were the first in their families to go to college. Three dozen graduates were also military veterans. Another 24 will leave school commissioned as officers in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines.
For many that morning – which was also Mother’s Day – the real center of attention wasn’t any speech or award but simply the chance to watch sons, daughters, siblings and friends toss their caps in the air and rejoice the last few years of work.
Receia Kollie was there with an extended family to celebrate her daughter, Jemeia Kollie, one of the 3,807 new undergraduate alums.
“It’s just overwhelming,” said Receia Kollie, who is originally from Liberia and now lives in North Dakota. Kollie bragged on her daughter, who came to UNC through the competitive out-of-state admissions process – and even won a scholarship to attend, she added with a smile.
And when moms weren’t bragging about their kids, the graduates were thanking their moms.
Brianna Moody, a 20-year-old from Concord, posed grinning for photos with her parents after the ceremony.
“Honestly I probably wouldn’t be here without her,” she said of her mom, Nicole Moody. “I feel like I considered dropping out several times.”
Now she wants even more education, planning to go to medical school or graduate school for public health. But first Moody will take a break from being a student to become a teacher – she’s about to travel to Ukraine, teaching English classes as a member of the Peace Corps.
“I wanted to do something meaningful between undergrad and graduate school,” she said.
This class of undergrads were freshmen when Chancellor Carol Folt came to campus, and she said that made the day especially meaningful for her, too. And she bragged on all of them.
The class of 2017, she said, put in a combined 6 million hours worth of class work and 4 million hours of volunteering.
Folt, a scientist by training, then cited a study about college students and their sleep habits (or lack thereof).
“Each of you is graduating with about a 200-day sleep deficit,” she said to cheers from some in the audience. “So if you want to sleep all day tomorrow, or even all week, you have my blessing.”
Doran: 919-836-2858; Twitter: @will_doran