The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, our nation’s oldest public university, celebrated its 200th birthday on October 12, 1993, nearly 25 years ago. The occasion drew important people from distant places who filled Kenan Stadium to honor the university, including President Bill Clinton and Charles Kuralt, an alumnus known widely for his lengthy career with CBS, his popular On the Road features and for his many years serving as host on CBS Sunday Morning.
Kuralt, who graduated from UNC in 1955, began his journalism there, serving as editor of the Daily Tar Heel and as an announcer on National Public Radio station WUNC. Addressing the packed football stadium, Kuralt spoke about the university he so loved and admired and its importance to him and so many others. I sat with fellow faculty members, dressed in our academic regalia, and listened. He had us all in his palm with his opening remark, which drew applause and an appreciative laugh.
“I speak for all of us who could not afford to go to Duke,” he said, “and would not have, even if we could have afforded it.” Then he proceeded to put his appreciation of the university into words, so eloquently. “What is it that binds us to this place as no other? It is not the well or the bell or the stone walls. Or the crisp October nights or the memory of dogwoods blooming. Our loyalty is not only to William Richardson Davie, though we are proud of what he did 200 years ago today. Not even to Dean Smith, though we are proud of what he did last March. No, our love for this place is based on the fact that it is, as it was meant to be, the University of the people.”
Mark Stinneford, one of my former students I was privileged to teach in UNC’s journalism school, recalled Kuralt’s memorable words a few days ago in a social media post. Mark, his wife, Karen, and a number of their fellow UNC graduates returned to campus last week to celebrate the 125th birthday of the Daily Tar Heel, on which they all worked as student reporters, editors and photographers.
This period in our lives offers us so much that affects us for the rest of our days. We form lifelong friendships while we learn from professors and develop our craft in the newsrooms of student-run newspapers. As we grow older, we yearn to relive those days that meant so much to us, and so we return to eat and drink, laugh, hug and swap stories together and to draw unparalleled nourishment from the experience.
So here’s to the Old Well, the Davie Poplar, singing Hark the Sound at ball games, and to those long nights at the DTH office. Here’s to all those wonderful DTHers and their precious friendships and memories. Here’s to the University of the people.