Dr. Norman Anderson earned his PhD in psychology at UNCG 30 years ago.

On Friday, he was back. Anderson, CEO of the American Psychological Association and a Greensboro native, addressed the Class of 2013 and took home a second doctorate, an honorary Doctor of Science degree.

He spoke of happiness.

About 60 percent of their personal happiness can be chalked up to life circumstances and genetics, Anderson told the new grads. The remaining 40 percent is up to them.

“Research has shown that enduring happiness involves the actions we take, the thoughts we think and the goals we set for ourselves every day,” he said. “We are in complete control of a large percentage of our own happiness, so the onus is on us to fully realize our happiness potential.”

Chancellor Linda P. Brady conferred 2,693 degrees during the university’s spring commencement, held in the Greensboro Coliseum. That number includes 2,020 bachelors degrees, 600 masters degrees, 15 Specialist in Education degrees and 58 doctoral degrees. Thirty-eight of those degrees went to international students.

Anderson urged every graduate to major in psychology — in spirit if not in deed.

“So why do I say you should ‘major in psychology’ from this point on?” he asked. “Because it is crucial that you have a strong psychological and cognitive foundation from which to navigate your life and to succeed in the modern world you are entering — a world that seems to get more complex every day.”

Anderson drew on three points to impress on new graduates the importance of fully understanding mental illness and maintaining psychological health.

First, he cautioned, young people ages 18-32 are grappling with more stress, partly due to economic and work-related pressures.  

“College graduates today face enormous challenges, particularly because of job instability, high unemployment and income stagnation,” Anderson told grads. “Economic issues are a major concern for college seniors, with more than 50 percent of you already carrying at least $20,000 in debt.”

Second, he told them, it is up to their generation to bring mental illness “out of the shadows.” One in four adult Americans suffers from a diagnosable mental disorder, he said, and nearly 50 percent of U.S. adults will develop at least one mental illness during their lifetime.

“Why is this important to you?” he asked. “Because the chances are great that someone you know — a loved one, or even you — has experienced or will experience a mental disorder in your lifetime. This could be a prevalent and challenging condition, such as chronic depression and anxiety, or a rarer but severely disabling condition, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or autism.”

Lastly, Anderson said maintaining optimal mental health is essential to their personal well-being.

“Optimal mental health includes things like self-acceptance, having a purpose in life, having positive relations with others, continuing to grow and develop as a person, having an overall sense that life is worthwhile and experiencing what we all want — long-term happiness,” he said. “Unfortunately, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that only about 17 percent of the U.S. population experiences optimal mental health. I want that number to increase, and I want you to be counted in it!”

Juan Vazquez, who majored in English education, spoke for the Class of 2013. Vazquez has already been hired to teach at Ragsdale High School.

“Always aim to improve,” he told his fellow graduates. “Continue to be ever-growing. Lastly, remember that when you leave here today and walk out of this coliseum, you have a home. That home is UNCG. There will always be a place for us here. This is our home.” 

Dr. Lisa Tolbert, associate professor in the Department of History, received the UNC Board of Governors’ Teaching Excellence Award at the ceremony.

Dr. Daniel Winkler served as faculty marshal and mace bearer.

Chelsea Boccardo, president of the Student Government Association, addressed the Class of 2013 on behalf of SGA.

Chief marshal was Anna Batista. KaShay Evans-Barlow was tassel turner.

Matthew Moss, Class of 2013, and Gayle Hicks Fripp, Class of 1963, rang the university bell, a longstanding UNCG tradition.

By Michelle Hines, University Relations

Photo by David Wilson, University Relations

<Read Dr. Anderson’s speech>