Baumgartner Vaughan: The road to graduation

May. 10, 2014 @ 02:56 PM

The first time I was ever in the Dean Dome was not for a basketball game, but my sister’s graduation hooding ceremony when she received her Ph.D. from UNC Chapel Hill. I didn’t live in the Triangle yet. I was still living in another college town about four hours north. It was May 2004.
I wore the wrong shoes – big clunky sandals that I traded for cheap flip flops I bought on Franklin Street hours later. I know better now. Anyway, I have a framed photograph of my sister, Joy, in her graduation gown, the UNC Bell Tower in the background. She’s looking off into the distance. I’m sure I asked her to, to capture a wistful moment. The reality was we happened right by the tower in a hurry to the ceremony and I snapped a quick picture. To a first time visitor to UNC, the entire campus seems to be uphill. The rest of the weekend is a blur. We ate dinner out at a restaurant. We met her friends. It was sunny. We walked through the Coker Arboretum. That was pretty.
I’m proud of Dr. Baumgartner, just as all of you attending graduations this weekend are proud of your family and friends who are receiving degrees. Those diplomas are a tangible example of perseverance, because life takes us down side roads and bumpy roads – smooth roads, too – on our way to framing that piece of paper. High school, college or graduate school – it all takes dedication.
There is value in all learning, both in academia, reading on our own, on the job experience and in conversations with everyone else to share our knowledge. Education, as many have said, is something that can never be taken away from you. It is, however, expensive, and it is important to note that it takes a lot of work hours to be able to write those tuition checks. Some check writers make a lot more than others, so the value of what that tuition reaps is different for each graduate and his or her support network. Many private universities cost more per year than many of us make per year. The playing field is not even. The playing field is never even. Life is not even. But that field does flatten out a little bit when you have a degree, making it worth getting there.
Congratulations to all the new graduates, and to those who supported them on their road to the big day.
Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan may be reached at or 919-419-6563. On Twitter: @dawnbvaughan.