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We salute the 2020 class of Carolina graduates! They have stood the test of time and risen to new heights…switching to remote learning without much time to prepare and finding new ways to celebrate their graduation accomplishments. This is especially true for our Native students at Carolina.

“Throughout time, American Indians have proven to be resilient during the most unprecedented of times. This time is no different. We, as a PEOPLE, have endured colonialism while maintaining cultural traditions, created paths to navigate an education system that was not intended for our success, earned collegiate degrees, and established careers that support our families and tribal communities. Knowing this, I had no doubt that our Native students at Carolina would conclude this semester with a strong finish. They made it! I am so very proud of them! I know our ancestors are also proud of them!”, says Qua Lynch Adkins, Native Student Engagement Coordinator at the American Indian Center.

Similar to the rest of campus, our American Indian Center has been forced to alter programming as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, but that has not changed our excitement and dedication to serving our communities. Each year, we host our annual Commencement Ceremony which aims to honor all Native students at Carolina, students graduating with a degree in American Indian and Indigenous Studies, and students who have significantly contributed to the Native community via their engagement with the AIC.

Though this ceremony in its traditional form was cancelled, our Center still worked to make this time special for our AIC graduates. Students received signature gifts from our staff – a clay pottery turtle, tobacco bundle, UNC scarf , and a copy of the late Dr. Jenny Ton-Pa-Hote’s book “Crafting and Indigenous Nation”. The turtle and tobacco bundle are culturally significant to Native Peoples and have over the years become hallmark gifts given to our graduates.

The clay pottery turtles are handmade by world renowned artist, Senora Lynch, of the Haliwa-Saponi Indian Tribe. At Carolina, Senora is most known for creating the design of the mosaic walkway at the Frank Porter Gram Student Union, entitled “The Gift”, but known for her signature red and white clay, handmade pottery across the nation. Students find it an honor to receive one of her clay turtles to mark their graduation from Carolina and reflected on them with a smile several years afterward.

The tobacco bundles are handmade each year by our staff. They are traditionally given in times of appreciation and/or in hopes of bestowing blessings to the person receiving it. While making them, we reflect on our memories of them at Carolina and say blessings/prayers/good thoughts that we wish for them moving forward. It is considered honorable to receive them.

The book “Crafting an Indigenous Nation” is a fantastic addition to this year’s bundle of gifts. Many of these graduates will read this book and add it to their collection of memories of their time spent with Dr. Jenny Ton-Pa-Hote as a professor and mentor.

We are still hopeful to have a social gathering in the future to celebrate our graduates, but for now we sent these gifts via mail to all of those students who signed up for our 2020 AIC Commencement Ceremony. Additionally, we will be creating spotlight articles on each of the graduates over the next several weeks.

Dr. Larry Chavis, Qua Adkins, Jillian Ransom, and Jesalyn Keziah wish each of them loads of success in the future and look forward to receiving updates on how their life unfolds over the years to come. We are proud of you!


Note: If you have any questions about the AIC Commencement Ceremony or would like more information about student programming offered by the AIC, please contact Qua Lynch Adkins by phone at 919-843-5928 or by email at

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