UNC-A schedules graduation ‘if health conditions allow’

Staff Report

Asheville, NC – Graduates of UNC- Asheville still might get a commencement as the university announces its planned speaker for the event with a date to go along with it. Dr. Patrice A. Harris, president of the American Medical Association and leading international medical expert, will be the featured speaker at UNC Asheville’s Spring Commencement, rescheduled to take place in person on Saturday, August 1 beginning at 9 a.m. on the University Quad, if public health conditions allow. Dr. Harris was chosen as the UNC Asheville Commencement speaker last October 2019.

Dr. Harris will also receive an honorary degree from UNC Asheville and will be awarded the Chancellor’s Medallion, the University’s highest distinction, given to recognize individuals who demonstrate the highest commitment to community service, national leadership and enhancement of the University.

“Dr. Harris is among our nation’s most important and reputable medical leaders and visionaries. Her expert thoughtful leadership during the recent COVID-19 pandemic have confirmed her role as an advocate for health innovation and moving medicine toward a more equitable future,” said UNC Asheville Chancellor Nancy J. Cable. “Dr. Harris is a native Appalachian, born and educated in West Virginia, and a pioneer as the first African American woman to lead the AMA – her story will inspire the UNC Asheville Class of 2020. With the future shape of our nation’s health care system in the forefront of national conversation, and now with the coronavirus to challenge that system and reveal inequities, the time is ideal to welcome Dr. Harris to UNC Asheville.”

Dr. Harris became AMA president in June 2019 and has led the national conversation for a science-based approach to COVID-19 and she has also led the AMA’s efforts to end the nation’s opioid epidemic. She has been chair of the AMA Opioid Task Force since its inception in 2014, with its goal of working “across every state to eliminate barriers to treatment, provide patients with access to affordable, non-opioid pain care, and fight the stigma faced by those with substance use-disorders,” according to the AMA website.

Beyond the AMA, she has held positions of leadership with the American Psychiatric Association, the Georgia Psychiatric Physicians Association, the Medical Association of Georgia, and The Big Cities Health Coalition, where she chaired this forum composed of leaders from America’s largest metropolitan health departments.

Growing up in Bluefield, West Virginia, Dr. Harris then earned a BA in psychology, an MA in counseling psychology and a medical degree in 1992, all from West Virginia University. It was during this time that her passion for helping children emerged, and she completed her psychiatry residency and fellowships in child and adolescent psychiatry and forensic psychiatry at the Emory University School of Medicine.

Dr. Harris also specializes in children’s mental health and childhood trauma, and has led efforts on both local and national levels to integrate public health, behavioral health and primary care services with supports for employment, housing and education. In addition to consulting with public and private organizations about health service delivery and emerging trends, Dr. Harris continues her private practice, is an adjunct assistant professor in the Emory Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, and serves as an adjunct clinical assistant professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Morehouse School of Medicine.

As is customary during the University’s spring ceremony, this special August Commencement for the Class of 2020 will include the bestowing of three additional honorary degrees to leaders who have given remarkable service to UNC Asheville, the state of North Carolina and to our nation.

·       Dr. Luther E. Barnhardt is a retired radiologist and physician, founder of Western Carolina Radiology, who has supported UNC Asheville through philanthropy and volunteer board leadership including serving on the Board of Trustees. Dr. Barnhardt is a past recipient of UNC Asheville’s Chancellor’s Medallion.

·       Mr. Lou Bissette is an attorney, president at McGuire, Wood & Bissette, P.A., who has served Asheville as its mayor, and has served the UNC as chair of the Board of Governors and as a trustee at Western Carolina University and Wake Forest University.

·     Dr. William H. Turner is a distinguished American historian and author, and a pioneer in research, documentation, and writing about the history of Africans Americans in Appalachia. He is the co-editor of the book, Blacks in Appalachia, and is a leader who has served UNC Asheville with public lectures on campus and in Asheville during the annual African Americans in Western North Carolina and Southern Appalachia scholarly conference and community gatherings in the last several years.

The August 1 Commencement Ceremony on the Quad will celebrate more than 500 members of the UNC Asheville Class of 2020. 

For more information on UNC Asheville’s special August Commencement, visit

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Clint Parker

Publisher & Editor Weaverville Tribune

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