No Labels Blog

“Both Sides”

By Emma Petasis
June 25, 2019 | Blog

By Mary Moore Hamrick


Masters of Accounting Commencement Address at UNC Kenan-Flagler

Good morning; it’s wonderful to be back in Carolina for this special celebration.

Thank you, Colton Richardson and Ryan Bidler, and thank you to Dean Shackelford – It has been an honor to chair the alumni council under your strong leadership.

Speaking before you, the Centennial Masters of Accounting class, is the highest honor of my professional career.  Thank you. A special thank you to Jack Evans, who was dean and a mentor when I was studying here, has been a part of Kenan-Flagler for half of its 100 year history and who invited me to join the alumni council. 

UNC Kenan Flagler is such a special academic institution, with so many outstanding alumni, faculty and staff.   You all are part of an exceptional place and time in history and will carry this Carolina experience with you wherever you go.

I am so grateful to everyone here today – for welcoming a Blue Devil to your podium! It’s true. My undergraduate degree is from Duke. But both of my graduate degrees are from UNC!

My Tar Heel father used to say I had to “go to Carolina to get a real education.”

Dad set up the first band scholarship here at UNC. He was such a HUGE Tar Heel fan, cheerleader and supporter… that the UNC pep band, on their way to the Georgia Tech game, once came through Shelby, NC to play just for my Dad who’d returned home from rehab after a heart attack.  So my remarks today are in special memory of my favorite UNC graduate, my Dad, Gordon Hamrick.  

And you’ll never guess where my mother went to school? Duke! Don’t tell Mom, but I am much more a Tar Heel than a Blue Devil.


Now, I had no idea – when I was at Duke or here at Carolina – that my career would end up being mostly in Washington, DC. But rarely does a day pass when I don’t appreciate how well prepared I have been, for the partisanship in Washington, because I went to BOTH of the greatest rival schools in the country!

Although I’ve spent most of my time in Washington on the Republican side, I did start on the other side – as a registered Democrat when I had my first internship in DC.

Through learning about both parties – both sides! – I now find myself examining issues to find areas of bipartisan agreement.   So I’ve seen both sides of the Duke-UNC rivalry.  Both sides of the political spectrum. And both sides of American socioeconomic life, having grown up on Main Street in Shelby, North Carolina and later working on Wall Street in New York City.

I’m also part of a generation that has lived and worked on both sides of the incredible tech revolution that we have seen over the past 30 years, but especially since the iPhone was introduced a dozen years ago in 2007.

You will experience two sides of a tech revolution as well. Data analytics and Artificial Intelligence are going to dramatically change the business world, and especially the accounting profession.

Don’t fear this sea change. Be open to the value it will bring – to your clients and to you, professionally. 

Today, in my work for Grant Thornton, I provide clients with insights and perspective from both sides of politics and both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington – that’s the White House on one end, and Congress on the other.

Experiencing, both sides of anything in life is something that I believe serves us well. It ensures that our perspective is broad, and it helps us to be more fair.

That is my message for all of you, today, as you prepare to enter or re-enter the workforce with your new degree.

I encourage you to see both sides. To appreciate…both sides. To be open to different points of view. To be curious about anything that is “other” or “different” from your own experience or perspective.

Another way to put this:  Stay OPEN to whatever comes up, in your careerandyour life. There have been so many unexpected moments in my career, and I’m glad that most of the time I managed to be open to new possibilities.  The minute we close ourselves off from one perspective or another, is the moment when we stop learning.

Try thinking of your degree not as a ticket, but as a passport – a credential that clears you to go in countless different directions. When I graduated with my UNC MBA, I went in a predictable direction: Wall Street. I landed at Morgan Stanley.

It was great to be there. I felt very prepared and every bit as well-trained with my UNC education as my new colleagues, many of whom had gone to Wharton or Harvard Business School. In fact, it was a UNC grad, John O’Hara, who gave me a chance to interview for a coveted job on Wall Street! 

I was just settling in to this new life when the market crash of ’87 happened. 

I had no choice but to learn, and fast, during a time of real crisis.  I saw both sides of investing – the good and the bad, the incredible opportunities and the devastating challenges. I also saw plenty of good professional behavior, and plenty of bad. I realized I couldn’t change the stock market – which was a career disrupter – but I could l change my own job!

The experience of being on Wall Street during such a difficult time made my next professional opportunity so intriguing – I made a career pivot, and moved down to Washington, DC to work for the U.S. House of Representatives.  Instead of advising clients on their investments, I advised members of Congress on their public policy positions.  It was my chance to be part of something so much greater than myself – to do the kind of work that could impact lives far beyond even the biggest client base of the biggest financial firm.

Four years on Capitol Hill, and I was hooked on public policy. I wanted the cause-oriented nature of my work to carry forward in my career, and I wanted to carry it back to the financial sector, where I had started. I ended up going back-and-forth between the public and private sectors more than once. 

You may find this interesting: In spite of my MBA, I never was a CPA and never worked as an accountant… But I did work at the government agency with oversight of the accounting profession! The Public Company Accounting Oversight Board was created as part of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act; I started working there right when it was established, as one of its 50 original employees.

As the Board’s first Director of Government Relations, I had the opportunity to form an incredible team to build a government relations function from scratch. 

We worked directly with Senator Sarbanes and Representative Oxley to bring the vision of their legislation to reality. It was an extraordinary time for me, professionally – a real privilege to help build something that is part of history. 

That feeling is truly unique to government service.

But each of my jobs have been special, and in each one I have been able to bring the perspective of the other side. It was important to understand the financial sector when I was working in the government and it is incredibly valuable to understand government when working for a financial firm.  My curiosity about both sides led to experiences that increased my professional value as well as my own professional satisfaction.

For each of you, there will be different professional sides to explore.  Sometimes that will happen within just one job, or with just one employer – Alternatively, you may find yourself working for a large accounting firm, or discover you’d prefer to be part of management as the CFO. Hopefully, you will try whatever intrigues you, then bring your experience and knowledge with you, to whatever side is next.

Because of my own professional path, I obviously think a lot about the two sides of government and private business. But it strikes me, today, that the original two sides of our lives, as students, are academia and employment. In one place, we spend money…in the other we make money! But in both places, we learn. And the learning never stops.  

Today is a great day to remember: When transitioning from one side to another, the door behind us does not close. I could still return to government or to academia.

UNC is still one of my homes, one of my places where I have a history and a network. It will always be that for you, as well.

I encourage you to hold on to everything you love about the academic side of life – the knowledge, the lessons, the friendships. Return to it often. Whether that is through alumni events and networking, volunteerism or annual giving. Some of you may return for another degree!  Others may teach.  Or you may become a future successor to Dean Shackelford.  This place will always be part of who you are…and it will always be here, just as it has been for 100 years.

You are the Centennial Class, so your connection will be special, and your role as ambassadors for this program will be profound. You will also probably make jokes about Duke for the rest of your life! And Duke graduates will give you a hard time, too. That’s okay. Rivalries sharpen us. They make us better. As long as it is done with good intention and in the spirit of good sportsmanship.

So, my friends, I leave you with this: See and embrace both sides. Whether it’s a sports rivalry, a professional choice, a political debate, or a challenging conversation with a loved one. Look at both sides. Appreciate both sides. Travel to both sides. READ information from both sides. The news can be your textbook now – it is there for you to consume responsibly, and voraciously, with an open mind.

If you go forward from here and stay open to both sides, wherever you go, you will succeed. Seeing both sides, I promise, will make all the difference.

Thank you again for having me here today; I wish you all the best of luck on the other side of today’s special ceremony.

Congratulations!  And Go Tar Heels!  

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