The sidewalks and crosswalks of downtown Chapel Hill teemed with students the third weekend in August as they reunited with friends they hadn't seen since May. Every year, I love it when they come back. Sure, it means longer waits at restaurants and fewer places to park. But the annual return of Carolina students to Chapel Hill at this time reminds us that reason we're here is so 28,000 young people can learn what they love doing and learn to do it well.
The students make Chapel Hill the very special place that it is. They could stay home in their sweats and get a degree online quicker and cheaper. But they want to come here, to a physical place where they can have face-to-face discussions with their professors and their peers.
And later they can continue to discuss the meaning of life at Pepper's. Because, as any downtown merchant will tell you, students also happen to be very good for business.
Students are also the backbone of community service. During FallFest, our annual back to school party on campus, students signed up in droves for service projects. Project Homeless Connect and Spare Change from Real Change, two programs to work with the homeless population in Orange County, drew more than 125 signatures from students ready to start now to help.
At UNC, we realize that some of our students may have trouble adjusting from residence hall life to residential neighborhoods. That's why, for the fifth year in a row, we joined the Town of Chapel Hill and its police department to welcome back students living in off-campus neighborhoods with the Good Neighbor Initiative.
The afternoon of Aug. 18, UNC staff members, neighborhood leaders and police officers went door to door, handing out bags of goodies and information to encourage students to work to keep their neighborhood a great place to live.
We're also encouraging students to be vigilant and cautious when they go out after dark, especially when walking. UNC and Chapel Hill are magical places, but neither is immune to the dangers of crime and violence. Our students have taxed themselves a safety fee to fund new lighting and blue light emergency call boxes like those on campus in nearby neighborhoods as well, to make it easier to call for help in the event of an emergency.
We are also improving the lighting on McCorkle Place, where campus meets Franklin Street most visibly. We want to give students a brighter path to walk from their residence halls to downtown and back.
This time of year not only means the first day of classes, but also the beginning of football season. Our first home game at Kenan Stadium is this Saturday, Aug. 30, against the Cowboys of McNeese State University. On game Saturdays, Chapel Hill's population swells again as thousands of alumni return here to cheer on our beloved Tar Heels.
The town is encouraging fans to come early and stay late on game days, taking advantage of free bus service and park and ride lots to avoid traffic headaches. (For more information, visit www.TouchDowntown.com.) And I hope those fans also bring the kids to jump in the inflatables at Tar Heel Town or climb the Bell Tower on campus. It's never too early to start recruiting future Tar Heels.
Holden Thorp is chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Readers can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.