UNC Asheville Announces Commencement Speaker and Honorary Degree Recipients for Spring 2017


UNC Asheville will celebrate Spring 2017 Commencement on Saturday, May 13, with alumna Ko Barrett, deputy assistant administrator for research for NOAA, serving as commencement speaker for the morning ceremony. Barrett will receive an honorary degree, along with honorary degree recipients artist Stoney Lamar, pediatrician Olson Huff, and Cherokee elder Ellen Bird.

“These honorary degrees recognize leaders in their fields, not only for their professional and personal work, but for their deep commitment to our campus, our community and our country. Each one has had a profound impact, on science, medicine, arts and culture. We are grateful for their work and the experiences that they can share with our students, particularly as our graduates embark on their careers and make their way in the world,” said UNC Asheville Chancellor Mary K. Grant, who will preside over the ceremony, which starts at 9 a.m. on the University Quad.

“Each spring our campus community comes together to celebrate our graduates – the next generation of leaders in our state and nation – as well as honor inspiring individuals who exemplify our liberal arts values across the arts and sciences and throughout their work and lives. It’s a day we look forward to and welcome friends and families to be a part of,” said UNC Asheville Board of Trustees Chair Pat Smith.

Ko Barrett

Ko Barrett currently serves as the deputy assistant administrator for research at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), supervising the daily operations and administration of NOAA’s research enterprise, and the execution of NOAA programs including the Climate Program Office, Ocean Acidification Program, the National Sea Grant College Program, Ocean Exploration and Research, and the Office of Weather and Air Quality research.

For over 15 years, Barrett has represented the United States on delegations charged with negotiating and adopting scientific assessments undertaken by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the international body created to review and assess the most recent scientific, technical, and socio-economic information produced worldwide that is relevant to understanding climate change.

Prior to joining NOAA in 2005, she was the director of the Global Climate Change program at USAID and oversaw climate activities in over 40 countries. In her first position with NOAA, she served as lead negotiator and scientific advisor for the United States delegation to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Those negotiations led to the Paris Agreement, a joint effort between 195 countries to limit greenhouse gas emissions. In 2007, Barrett and her fellow IPCC scientists were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their work to disseminate knowledge about climate change.

Barrett earned a Bachelor of Science in environmental studies from UNC Asheville, where she was named a University Scholar as well as a Distinguished Research Scholar, and was elected a member of Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Society. Her daughter, Elizabeth (Ellie) Hoover, graduated from UNC Asheville in 2014, with a degree in psychology.

Barrett will receive an honorary Doctor of Science degree.

Olson Huff, M.D.

Dr. Olson Huff by David Huff CreativeDr. Olson Huff, a Kentucky native, has practiced pediatrics in North Carolina all of his professional career, first in Charlotte, and since 1982, in Asheville, where in 1987 he established the child development program, subsequently named in his honor, at Thoms Hospital. In 1994, he became the founding Medical Director of the Ruth and Billy Graham Children’s Health Center at Mission Hospital and under his leadership, Mission Children’s Hospital, the only children’s hospital in Western North Carolina, was formed. The Olson Huff Center for Child Development became a part of the Children’s Hospital in 1996. He was also instrumental in the development of health care resources, such as the “toothbus” that provides care for underserved children in rural Western North Carolina.

Dr. Huff is past chair of the Board of Directors of the North Carolina Partnership for Children (Smart Start), the Task Force on Obesity and Nutrition of the Health and Wellness Trust Fund Commission, and the Committee on Federal Government Affairs of the American Academy of Pediatrics. He serves on a number of other boards and was recently appointed by the Governor of North Carolina to the N.C. Early Childhood Advisory Council. He holds an undergraduate degree from the University of Kentucky and a medical degree from the University of Louisville, and is a veteran of the United State Air Force.

Dr. Huff will receive an honorary Doctor of Science degree.

Stoney Lamar

Stoney LamarStoney Lamar is a prolific woodturner who produces his work in Saluda, North Carolina, and has contributed exceptional skill and vision to the world of woodturning for more than 25 years. His sculpture is created primarily through a unique approach to multi-axial lathe work, which gives his pieces a distinct sense of line and movement unlike other works of turned wood.

He began his career thinking he would be a furniture maker, but encouragement from his wife and a woodturner’s apprenticeship in New Hampshire changed his path and led him back to North Carolina in the mid-80s. He has been creating, selling and exhibiting work constantly since then, including public collections in the American Craft Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, England, and the Renwick Gallery of the Museum of American Art at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C.

Lamar has been a board member of the American Craft Council, president and board member of the Southern Highlands Handicraft Guild, a founding member of the American Association of Woodturners, and board president of the Center for Craft, Creativity & Design. He spent time at both UNC-Chapel Hill and UNC Asheville before receiving his degree in industrial arts from Appalachian State University.

Lamar will receive an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree.

Ellen Bird

Ellen Wachacha BirdEllen Wachacha Bird is an elder of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and was recently given the title of Beloved Woman, a designation bestowed upon Cherokee women who are highly respected for their service to the community, their integrity and their good character.

Born and raised in the Snowbird community in Graham County, she is the daughter of Rily Wachacha and Ancy Walkingstick. A fluent Cherokee speaker, she has shared her knowledge of Cherokee traditions, including medicines, quilting and food, not only with her 10 children, but also with the community. As a Beloved Woman, she is recognized as someone the community can call a sister, a mom or a grandmother, and she is well-known among children for teaching a quilting class in the Summer Arts Camp as part of the Graham County Indian Education Program.

Bird was honored as a matriarch at the 100th anniversary of the Cherokee Indian Fair. She was also recognized as a Distinguished Citizen on Ned Long Day in November 2006.

Bird will receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree.

Event Information

UNC Asheville’s Spring 2017 Commencement Ceremony is open to friends and family of the graduates.

UPDATED MAY 11, 2017: Due to inclement weather, UNC Asheville’s May 2017 Commencement, originally scheduled on the University Quad, will be held indoors at Kimmel Arena on campus. Commencement begins at 9 a.m., Saturday, May 13

For more information, visit news.unca.edu/commencement or contact the Office of the Chancellor at chanoffice@unca.edu or 828-250-6500.