For Immediate Release
May 8, 2004
Public Information Office
310 Owen Hall, Campus PO 1820
Asheville, NC 28804-8507
828/251-6526 - FAX: 828/251-6777
Clifton Wharton Inspires UNC Asheville Graduates with
Address on Human Rights, Excellence; Graduating
Class of 594 Largest in University's History
Clifton Wharton, whose multiple accomplishments in higher education, economics, the foreign service and the corporate world exemplify brilliance and vision, spoke to a captivated audience of some 5,500 people Saturday at UNC Asheville's Commencement ceremony on the campus' main quadrangle. In his address, Wharton challenged the 594 graduates to fully understand the inseparability of excellence and equality, and to vigorously guard human equality and human rights.
"We must broaden our understanding of excellence until we grasp it as both a possibility and a necessity that traverses the whole range of human experience. We must refuse to use it as a euphemism for pre-established social, economic, or intellectual privilege. We must also strive to eliminate the cancer of ethnic, religious, and racial hatred that so bedevils that world and is spilling over to our shores. Such hatreds and intolerance too often spawns the violence that denies the fundamental unity of our humanity and the excellence toward which all people strive. And, in protecting ourselves, we must be doubly vigilant that actions taken to not undermine the very foundations of what is the strength of our nation - civil liberties, due process, religious tolerance, and freedom of speech," Wharton said.
He also spoke of the challenges presented by the evolution of higher education. While higher education was once solely for a handful of elite students, today's colleges and universities are educating the most numerous and diverse group of students in America's history.
"To acknowledge differences without causing harmful discrimination requires that the modern college or university, like the modern society, fully understand the inseparability of excellence and equity. Thoughtful egalitarians do not champion mediocrity. They champion universal access to opportunity, and for relevant standards. Conversely, proponents of excellence do not demand hereditary rule by the privileged few. They want just recognition of achievement, growth, and excellence," he said. ". . . Without equal opportunity and fair measurement, comparisons are impossible; otherwise excellence is robbed of its substance. Similarly, excellence provides the indispensable goal toward which equal opportunity must progress if it is to have full meaning for both the individual and society. Excellence and egalitarianism are two side of the good coin that society invests in the future."
During the ceremony, Wharton was awarded the honorary degree of Doctorate of Humane Letters. UNC Asheville Chancellor Jim Mullen noted that Wharton's career contains many firsts: Wharton was the first Black elected chairman and CEO of a Fortune 500 company, the financial services company TIAA-CREF; the first Black to lead a major, predominantly white university, Michigan State; the first Black to chair a major international foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation; and the first Black to be named Deputy Secretary of State.
Also receiving honorary degrees were Wall Street Journal science columnist Sharon Begley; Evan Dobelle, president of the 10-campus University of Hawaii system; and Charlotte businessman Jerry Richardson, founder and owner of the Carolina Panthers.
Three students were presented UNC Asheville's highest student recognitions.
Karen Gupton, a psychology major from Raleigh, received the William and Ida Friday Award for Community Service. For the past two years, she has worked as a member of the summer staff and as a volunteer at the Salvation Army Boys and Girls Club of Buncombe County. Her love for working with disadvantaged children inspired her classmates: some 20 other UNCA students eventually joined her as volunteer at the Boys and Girls Club. On campus, Gupton was active member and leader of the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and served as a University Ambassador and Summit Orientation leader.
Winston Rose, a psychology major from Atlanta, was presented the A.C. Reynolds Award and the Thomas D. Reynolds Prize for Leadership and Campus Service. As a campus leader and visionary, Rose was an active member of the campus' African American Student Association and was instrumental in bringing NAACP President Julian Bond to campus this spring. He organized a range of educational and community service projects for students ranging from financial planning seminars to visiting elderly members of the Asheville community. He was also a core member of the Ebony Gospel Choir, the Student Government Association, was a member of the track team and worked as a resident assistant.
Elizabeth Harp, a double major in biology and environmental studies from Snohomish, Wash., was named the recipient of the Manly Wright Award, which is presented to the student who is first in scholarship. Harp, who had a 4.0 GPA, was the recipient of two biotechnology grants and a research fellowship from North Carolina Beautiful. She completed two undergraduate research projects, revitalized and led UNCA's Missing Links Biology Club, served as a volunteer at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and worked as an intern at the Appalachian Highlands Science Learning Center.
The Distinguished Teacher of the Year Award went to Ed Katz, associate professor of literature and language and associate vice chancellor for university programs. Katz, who joined the faculty in 1992, holds a doctorate in English from the University of Rochester. With a vision toward continuing to improve students' classroom experience, Katz has been integral in helping transform UNCA's general education requirements. His fellow professors praised his engaging classroom style and his intense engagement with his subject.
UNC Asheville Class of 2004 Facts
Total number of graduates: 594 (UNCA's largest class)
Years to Graduate
Most Popular Majors
Athletics - Administration - Community Resources
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