A Brief History
Each University Day serves as a celebratory reminder of the University’s beginnings, and some ceremonies have been particularly memorable.
The University first celebrated University Day on October 12, 1877, after Governor Zebulon B. Vance ordered that “the anniversary of the day on which the cornerstone of the University was laid be made a college holiday to be observed with appropriate ceremonies under the direction of the faculty.” Gerrard Hall, decorated in ropes of evergreens, was the site of the first ceremony. The Glee Club performed and President Kemp Plummer Battle spoke for an hour on the University’s origins.
University Days have served as convocations for new chancellors; William B. Aycock in 1957, Paul F. Sharp in 1964, J. Carlyle Sitterson in 1965, N. Ferebee Taylor in 1972, Christopher C. Fordham III in 1980, Paul Hardin in 1988, Michael Hooker in 1995, and James C. Moeser in 2000.
The Bicentennial University Day in 1993 was particularly memorable. President Bill Clinton addressed a capacity crowd at Kenan Stadium. On that chilly evening filled with pageantry, the University celebrated its 200th birthday.
In 1906, Dr. Edwin A. Alderman, a former school president, received the first honorary doctor of laws degree given on University Day. The practice of awarding honorary degrees later evolved to the presentation of Distinguished Alumna and Alumnus Awards, first given in 1971 to “alumni who had distinguished themselves in a manner that brought credit to the University.”
One of several sesquicentennial events, the 1943 ceremony featured addresses by Dr. Harold W. Dodds, president of Princeton University, and University President Frank Porter Graham. With America in the midst of World War II, Graham called on Carolina’s sons and daughters to “repledge ourselves to (the University’s) great hopes as boundless as the humane hopes of mankind.” Afterwards the Carolina Playmakers, replete in period costume, reenacted the laying of the Old East cornerstone.
The 1961 celebration was a shining day as President John F. Kennedy spoke to a crowd of 32,000 people in Kenan Stadium. Kennedy and Governor Terry Sanford received honorary degrees that day.