Seven Sawyers march through Carolina

When Raymond Sawyer graduates from Carolina in May, it will be the end of an era – at least for UNC’s Marching Tar Heel band and the Sawyer family. For the past 17 years, a Sawyer has played and marched in the band.

“It’s one of the longest-running continuous memberships by one family I think I have seen,” says Jeff Fuchs, the director of the Marching Tar Heels.

Raymond’s graduation will also mark the culmination of an impressive parade of scholars from one family. Raymond is the last of seven Sawyer children (nine in all) to attend Carolina and march in the band. Raymond is also the family’s second Morehead-Cain Scholar. His oldest brother and the first Sawyer Marching Tar Heel, Connie Wildred Sawyer III, was the first.

The “Seven Sawyers of UNC,” as Ray’s sister, Bonney, an Elizabeth City State University graduate, likes to say, were recognized with the entire family at the UNC-Maryland football game during Homecoming weekend in November. Parents Bonnie and Connie Sawyer, Jr. led the family. Connie Sawyer, Jr. is a graduate of Elizabeth City State University, as are the two non-Tar Heel Sawyers.

The Sawyer family on the field

The Sawyer family at halftime of the UNC versus Maryland football game
on Nov. 10, 2012. Photo by Jennifer Hollar Photography.

“Of course our parents are proud of all of us, but the accolades are not the source of that pride,” Raymond says. “We were always taught that we all have this innate potential to achieve whatever we set out to do or to become whatever we want to become, as long as we put the work in. If we did that, then we achieved our goal. It’s about living up to our fullest potential for our own sake and no one else’s.”

Attorney, medical student, teachers, occupational therapists and more

The Sawyers, who are from Camden, have certainly done that. The Sawyer clan has garnered two Morehead–Cain Scholarships, one Robertson Scholarship, two Pogue Scholarships, a Rotary International Foundation Scholarship, a Gates Millennium Scholarship and an Earl J. Smith Carolina Scholarship. They have played saxophone, trombone, clarinet, mellophone, trumpet and tuba in the band. There’s an attorney, a medical student, three teachers, two occupational therapists, the head athletic trainer for Michigan State University’s men’s basketball team and Raymond, who is pursuing a degree in global studies focused on global public health. He’s also seeking a Fulbright Teaching Assistantship and will likely pursue graduate work in management with a focus on international health applications.

In his spare time, Raymond serves as an operational assistant to the band and helps run the summer camps, organize uniforms, arrange travel and more. He’s also the president of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity and vice president of Kappa Kappa Psi, the national honorary band fraternity.

“Our parent’s philosophy was simple and therefore our own philosophy is simple as well: keep the faith, respect other people and respect yourself,” Raymond says.

Raymond says he never felt pressure to “live up” to his older siblings, just the desire to follow their example.

“Connie set the bar pretty high from the start as a Morehead Scholar, but to us, this was much more than just a significant honor, it was a tangible investment in our future potential,” he says. “We all knew that we had potential; we are now able to appreciate how each individual sibling has capitalized on the opportunity to fulfill his or her potential in his or her own way.”

Read more in the spring newsletter of the Alumni Committee on Racial and Ethnic Diversity.

Published March 8, 2013.