SOE News

William R. McNeal urges graduates to validate, serve others at School of Education commencement

Photo of Bill McNeal

Bill McNeal


Photo of Eliz Colbert

Eliz Colbert


Photo of Dean Bill McDiarmid

Dean Bill McDiarmid


Photo of Memorial Hall

Graduates and guests in Memorial Hall


Photo of graduate with friends and family

The celebration continues at Peabody Hall.

Photos by David Gellatly

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Former National Superintendent of the Year William R. McNeal addressed the graduating class at the School of Education’s commencement ceremony on May 10, 2009.

McNeal is executive director of the North Carolina Association of School Administrators. In 2004, he was named the nation’s most outstanding school superintendent by the American Association of School Administrators, while serving as superintendent of the Wake County (N.C.) Public School System.

In his commencement address, McNeal referred to The Wizard of Oz, noting that the story’s characters─Tin Man, Scarecrow, Lion and Dorothy─already had the gifts they were seeking but they didn’t know it. They needed the Wizard to validate that they had the heart, brains, courage and refuge of home that they needed to succeed.

“Someday soon it will be your turn to be the wizard,” McNeal told the graduates. Referring to those who will soon be in the graduates’ care, he said, “The question becomes … How will they be validated? Will they soar like an eagle or be nothing special? Much of that power is in the hands of the wizard. The message to them is the same message I’m sharing with you─that they, like you, have the brains, the heart, the courage and the home, not only to succeed, but to lead.”    

McNeal cautioned the graduates that they will face challenging times ahead and urged them to remember that “there’s no place like home.” He underscored their ties to Carolina by quoting from Charles Kuralt, “What is it that binds us to this place as to no other?  It is not the well or the bell or the stone walls or the crisp October nights or the memory of dogwoods blooming.  The love of this place is based on the fact that it is, as it was meant to be, the university of the people.”

McNeal closed by emphasizing the importance of serving others. “Life is about service to other people,” he said to those gathered on Mother’s Day for the ceremony. “This we learned from our mothers.”    

More than 1,200 people attended the commencement ceremony in UNC’s Memorial Hall.

Presiding at the ceremony, Dean Bill McDiarmid reminded graduates of the original purpose for schools in this country. “Early in the 19th century, Benjamin Rush, Thomas Jefferson, working men’s associations throughout the Northeast, all advocated the creation of publicly supported schools,” he said. “Why? Because they all understood that an educated citizenry was the bedrock of a democratic society.”

McDiarmid charged the graduates with insuring that our citizens continue to acquire the knowledge and “patterns of mind” essential to democracy. “To address the daunting social, economic, technological and environmental challenges we face, an informed and critical citizenry is absolutely vital,” he said. “That is the job that’s before us all. The faculty and I have every confidence that you are prepared to fulfill that mission.”

Dr. Eliz Colbert, president elect of the School of Education’s Alumni Council and senior director for professional development with the Wake County Public School System, brought greetings from the Alumni Association. She welcomed the graduates to “an elite group of educators who are leaders in the classroom, leaders of schools, of districts, leaders across our state and our nation, leaders who make a difference for children every single day.”

The 316 graduates included 101 baccalaureate, 157 master’s and 26 doctoral degree recipients, and 32 licensure completers.

The first class of eight students graduated this year from UNC-BEST, a new program that encourages undergraduate science and mathematics majors at Carolina to become high-school teachers. Through this collaboration between the School of Education and the College of Arts and Sciences, eight biology and physics majors have earned their North Carolina teaching licensure while simultaneously completing their undergraduate science degrees. All are seeking teaching positions in North Carolina high schools.