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The Daily Tar Heel

Graduation speaker focuses on undocumented immigrants in commencement speech

More than 2,000 students graduated Sunday

CORRECTION: Due to an editing error, this article incorrectly stated a source's status at UNC. Jane Violette is a senior. The article has been updated to reflect this change. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for the error.

Commencement speaker Paul Cuadros spoke about his experience as the son of immigrants in his speech at UNC's winter commencement ceremony Sunday. 

“Being an American has nothing to do with papers and everything to do with spirit,” he said.

Cuadros, an associate professor in the School of Media and Journalism and the founder of the Carolina Latino/a Collaborative, said his book, "A Home on the Field," is about a Latino-dominated soccer team in a town with a large population of Latino immigrants and one player, named Indio, who was the star player and an illegal immigrant. 

“It is now 2004, November, and I’m walking out onto a lush green field at WakeMed Soccer Park,” Cuadros said. “There are hundreds of people cheering behind me, banners snap in the air, drums bang. In front, a group of boys are celebrating. They’re dressed in white, almost all are from Mexico, some from Central America, a few were born here, many are here illegally.” 

Cuadros said President-elect Donald Trump has vowed to eliminate Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a program allowing immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally as children to be protected from deportation and one that Indio benefitted from. 

“Think about that for a moment — a program that asks kids to trust the government, to trust us, to come out of the shadows and promise to protect them — is being rescinded,” he said.

Senior public relations major Jane Violette said she enjoyed Cuadros’ message to graduates. 

“I liked that he included stories about his upbringing and how that can affect a person,” she said. “The graduates may not know what they’re doing in the world, but they can still make a change.”

A total of 2,166 students became UNC alumni on Sunday — 907 undergraduates, 886 master's students, 324 doctoral students and 49 professional students.

During her speech, Chancellor Carol Folt said she saw the creators and innovators of the future. 

“When I look out at all of you in your gorgeous Carolina blue,” Folt said, “I see the next generation of caring hearts and laser-sharp minds that are needed for our nation and the world’s future...We see in you, in fact we depend upon you, to be not only the fresh face, but also the principled, the resolute and the just face of our shared global future.”

Folt said she knew the new graduates would use what they've learned in places near and far.

“You’re going to expand Carolina’s influence from the Old Well to the edges of the world.” 

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