May 9, 2022

Edgar Villanueva speaks to about 430 graduates and thousands of their friends and family.

Edgar Villanueva shares his message with graduates and thousands of their friends and family members.

“In the face of [ongoing] challenges, you all have both the opportunity and the responsibility to be healers,” Edgar Villanueva, MHA, told graduates of the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health during this year’s Commencement address. “Our suffering is mutual and our thriving is mutual. When we all find our medicine — when we all claim our roles as healers — that makes it possible for our [institutions] to be reborn into something better. That is what this era demands of us.”

Villanueva is an award-winning author, activist and expert on issues of race, wealth and philanthropy. The founder of the Decolonizing Wealth Project and its fund, Liberated Capital, he holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the Gillings School and is an enrolled member of the Lumbee Tribe.

At the School’s 2022 Commencement celebration on May 7, he called graduates to “find their medicine” in the sense of indigenous traditions, in which medicine can be any object, person, event or concept that helps achieve balance and healing. He encouraged students to find their personal medicine — their unique way of making positive change in the world.

During the ceremony, 517 students were awarded degrees, with bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral graduates all well represented.

In her message to students, Dean Barbara K. Rimer, DrPH, Alumni Distinguished Professor at the Gillings School, expressed personal pride in the graduates.

Master's graduates wait to walk into Carmichael Arena.

Master’s graduates wait to walk into Carmichael Arena.

“It is a joyous day, even if it rains. It’s our first in-person Commencement since 2019!” she said, to thunderous applause. “Soon, graduates will cross the stage to receive their degrees. [This rite of passage represents] a personal journey from the people they were to the people they have become.”

During the ceremony, Rimer received accolades and flowers in honor of her illustrious 17-year tenure as dean, which will end on June 30, 2022.

Toward the end of the ceremony, Kristin Black, PhD, vice chair of the Gillings School Alumni Association, welcomed graduates into a network of more than 21,000 alumni working in all 100 North Carolina counties, all 50 states in the U.S. and in more than 100 countries around the world.

“I want to wholeheartedly urge you to stay involved [with the Gillings School],” she said. “We are here to serve you as you move forward with exciting careers in public health. Lifting you up lifts us all. Best wishes to you on your journey ahead!”

Find photos from the event, read the Commencement program and watch a recording of the live-streamed ceremony.

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