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In a tradition Chancellor Carol L. Folt brought to Carolina from Dartmouth College, she hand-signed diplomas for three first-generation graduates Friday. Sunday will mark the first spring Commencement presided over by Folt, Carolina’s first woman chancellor, and Friday’s signing ceremony marked another way for her to get to know this year’s graduates.

“I was thinking about where I could choose to make my very first signature on a diploma at Carolina,” she told the group gathered in the sunny Anne Queen Lounge at the Campus Y. “And it felt to me right to make the first signature with Carolina Firsts.”

Folt and members of the Carolina Firsts.
Chancellor Folt and members of the Carolina Firsts.

Carolina Firsts are students who are the first generation in their families to attend college. Nearly 20 percent of Carolina undergraduates are Carolina Firsts.

The three students selected as representatives of the 671 Carolina Firsts were Ashley Ownbey of Rutherfordton, Edgar Lopez of Shelby and Shannon Smith of Chapel Hill. Coincidentally they also all majored in public policy.

At the ceremony, the diplomas were placed on a table and Folt announced each graduate’s name as she took up a pen and signed the diploma. Then she presented the document to the student as friends and family members clapped and photographers snapped the special moment.

The ceremony was brief but meaningful for the three students.Diploma_Tight,-v2

“It’s fantastic, especially when I look back to where I started,” said Lopez, who wants to specialize in energy policy. Being the first in his family to come to college, it was “the unknown – but I pulled through it.”

Smith said it was her 10-year-old daughter, Isabel, who inspired her to get her degree. “She watches everything I do, and I think she’s proud. It’s made her confident of what she can do with her life,” she said. “Largely I did it for her.”

“A ton of family members have been behind me, so I’m proud to make them proud,” said Ownbey. One of those family members was her twin sister, Jessica, who graduated in December with a sociology degree. Ownbey double-majored in geography. “It’s a great moment,” she said. “It’s really nice.”

By Susan Hudson, UNC News Services

Published May 9, 2014