College senior cohorts across the nation are preparing to turn their graduation cap tassels, receive their degrees and be sent off into the so-called “real world” of post-grad life.
Most of North Carolina’s universities are holding their commencement ceremonies this weekend, each hosting their own keynote speaker to capture and inspire the graduates in the audience, and their respective friends and families.
Below is a rundown of who’s headlining upcoming commencement ceremonies, organized by date.
Margot Lee Shetterly (author)
University of North Carolina-Greensboro, May 12
Margot Lee Shetterly is author of the critically acclaimed, best-selling book “Hidden Figures,” which was adapted into a major motion picture last year.
Shetterly tells the story of a group of black female mathematicians who worked as “human computers” at NASA during the historic, 20th century Space Race. It’s a biographical tale of their journey in bringing their advanced computing skills to a workplace that was highly segregated and discriminatory—and how they boldly tackled the challenges that came with that.
Shetterly’s work is particularly relevant UNC Greensboro and its soon-to-be graduates. Alumna Virginia Tucker, class of 1930, was one of the first to join the “human computer” team at Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory in 1935—the group of trailblazing women spotlighted in “Hidden Figures.”
In a statement announcing Shetterly’s role as the spring 2017 commencement speaker, UNCG Chancellor Franklin D. Gilliam, Jr. said, “’Hidden Figures’ brings to life UNCG’s values of inclusion, opportunity and excellence. As our 2017 graduating class looks to the future, we are confident that they too, like the real-life heroes portrayed in ‘Hidden Figures,’ will go out into the world and accomplish great things.”
Laila Ali (boxing champion, author, TV host)
North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, May 13
Laila Ali, the daughter of boxing legend Muhammad Ali, began boxing at age 18 and started her professional career just four years later at 22-years-old. She went on to earn five world titles and eventually retire with a 24-0 record.
The undefeated boxing champion then entered a career in television, co-hosting “American Gladiators” in 2008 with Hulk Hogan, serving as a correspondent on CBS’ “The Early Show,” co-hosting ABC’s “Everyday Health” with Ethan Zohn and Jenna Morasca. She also hosted her own CBS morning show, “All In with Laila Ali.”
Ali is a key advocate for Title IX women’s rights to participate equally in collegiate sports, and she co-wrote the book “Reach! Finding Strength, Spirit, and Personal Power,” telling her own story in strides to inspire and motivate young women.
Joan Higginbotham (engineer and former NASA astronaut)
North Carolina Central University, May 13
Joan Higginbotham began her career as an electrical engineer for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, in the Kennedy Space Center’s Electrical and Telecommunications Systems Division. She later became an astronaut at NASA’s Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center. In 2006, she was part of the team to fly the historic Space Shuttle Discovery mission (STS-116), as well as participating in other NASA missions.
Higginbotham is currently the global sourcing director for Lowe’s, where she leads the company’s initiatives and opportunities internationally, and manages federal compliance efforts.
She’s actively involved in NCCU as a member of the university’s board of trustees, appointed in 2013.
Nancy McFarlane (Mayor of Raleigh)
North Carolina State University, May 13
Currently in her third term as Raleigh’s mayor, McFarlane is building on a longtime career and commitment to serve the city she has called her home for 30 years. She previously held a seat within the Raleigh City Council and to date, she has served roles in planning and executing public transit expansions, natural resources protections, small businesses and entrepreneur support and more.
In 2002, she launched Raleigh’s MedPro Rx Inc., a pharmacy that provides medication and services for people with chronic illnesses.
The NCSU commencement ceremony will be livestreamed on the NCSU Department of Industrial & Systems Engineering website.
Tom Joyner (radio show host)
Shaw University, May 13
Since founding in 1994, Tom Joyner has hosted the popular “Tom Joyner Morning Show”—now heard by over eight million listeners weekly in more than 100 demographics across the country. In addition to establishing himself as an icon radio host and entrepreneur, Joyner is embedded in HBCU advocacy and philanthropy.
His Tom Joyner Foundation helps keep students in historically black colleges and universities, raising more than $60 million since it began.
In the commencement speaker announcement, Shaw University President Tashni-Ann Dubroy stated, “Mr. Joyner’s tremendous professional career coupled with many years of distinguished and dedicated community and public service will serve as an inspiration for our graduates, their families, students, faculty, staff, alumni, and the community.”
Ko Barrett (of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)
University of North Carolina-Asheville, May 13
Ko Barrett, a UNC Asheville alumna, currently serves as the deputy director of the Climate Program Office in the NOAA research division. There, she oversees daily administrative and research operations, and helps launch and manage programs such as the Ocean Acidification Program and the Office of Weather and Air Quality research.
Previously, Barrett was director of the Global Climate Change program, leading climate activities in initiatives in 40 countries. She was also the lead negotiator and scientific advisor for the U.S.’s presence in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Those negotiations led to the formation of an agreement between 195 countries to address the problem of greenhouse gas emissions. In 2007, Barrett and her colleagues were awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for their work in communicating the reality of climate change.
In addition to delivering the UNCA commencement address, Barrett will receive an honorary degree for being a leader in her field and maintaining a strong commitment to her alma mater.
Brooke Baldwin (news anchor)
University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, May 14
Brooke Baldwin anchors the 2-4 p.m. weekday edition of “CNN Newsroom”—a position she has held since 2010. She’s spent years at the network reporting in-depth on a range of notable events.
Most recently, she spent a portion of last year reporting stories while embedded with the U.S. Navy in the Persian Gulf. Baldwin also played a major role in CNN‘s extensive coverage of the 2016 presidential election cycle.
UNC Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt stated in the commencement address announcement, “I have had the pleasure of meeting Brooke and I know our students will be inspired by her story of building upon what she learned at UNC-Chapel Hill to create a successful career covering significant breaking news stories around the world.”
David Rubenstein (philanthropist, investor)
Duke University, May 14
David Rubenstein is a renowned philanthropist and financier, Duke alumnus and current chair of the university’s board of trustees. He’s also cofounder and co-CEO of global private equity investment firm The Carlyle Group, which is located in Washington D.C. In 2010, Rubenstein was among the first 40 people pledging to donate than half of their wealth to philanthropic causes or charities for The Giving Pledge. He is listed on the 2016 Forbes 400 Wealthiest People in America.
Among Rubenstein’s history of philanthropic contributions, one example stands out in his purchasing the Magna Carta from its previous owner for $21 million, in order to return it to the National Archives. He is committed to increasing public access to ancient artifacts and pieces of history.
Duke President Richard H. Brodhead said in a public statement that in addition to being a “famously brilliant and witty speaker,” Rubenstein is also a “spectacular example of the power of education.” He came to Duke as a first-generation college student, and graduated Phi Beta Kappa and magna cum laude in 1970.
Jon Meacham (author)
Wake Forest University, May 15
Jon Meacham is a Pulitzer Prize-winning, bestselling author and presidential historian. His work includes popular and praised biographies about Andrew Jackson, Thomas Jefferson and George Herbert Walker Bush.
Meacham is also the current executive editor and vice president of Random House, and a contributing editor at Time Magazine. He previously served a position as the editor-in-chief of Newsweek.
In a statement, Wake Forest President Nathan O. Hatch spoke of the commencement speaker: “There is no better time for us to understand and appreciate how the past informs our future. We are honored he will deliver Wake Forest’s commencement address.”
The ceremony will be livestreamed on the school’s website.
Maity Interiano (journalist)
Elon University, May 20
Maity Interiano serves as a producer and on-air reporter for the Univision Network show “Despierta América.” She covers the entertainment segment, interviewing actors and musicians such as Tony Bennett, Johnny Depp, Angelina Jolie and Shakira. She also hosts “Maity on the Road,” a blog that provides an inside look at her experience when she works as a field reporter.
In the past, Interiano has covered major events like the 2011 royal wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton (Duke and Duchess of Cambridge), the Latin Grammy Awards, the Rose Parade, the Golden Globes and the Oscars.
Interiano’s introduction into broadcast journalism happened when she was a student at Elon University (class of 2007), serving as a reporter within a student-run newscast outlet. In 2012, she won an Elon Top 10 Under 10 Alumni Award, a celebration of alumni accomplishments in the last decade.