Taking in Tar Heel traditions

Cole Mueller has seen all of Carolina's storied traditions up close as a member of the Order of the Bell Tower. But when the pandemic cut his time at Carolina short, he missed out on experiencing some of the biggest milestones for himself. This weekend, he'll be crossing them off his bucket list.

Cole Mueller by the Old Well.

As a member of the Order of the Bell Tower — Carolina’s keepers of tradition — for four years, Cole Mueller ’20 has seen many Tar Heel traditions and milestones up close.

He just hasn’t experienced all of them himself. He’s been on the sideline, helping others take them in.

This weekend — 18 months after earning his degree in exercise and sport science from the College of Arts & Sciences — Mueller will officially check off his final Tar Heel traditions as he climbs the Bell Tower to sign his name on a brick and turns his tassel at Commencement on Sunday.

“After seeing it so many times and supporting a lot of those traditions, it was truly important to me to be able to come back and live those out,” Mueller said.

Mueller has always been passionate about Carolina. His parents both attended UNC-Chapel Hill — his mother for her undergraduate studies and his father for medical school — and instilled a love for the University in their children. As a student, Mueller wanted to help other Tar Heels foster similar deep connections to Carolina and joined the General Alumni Association’s Order of the Bell Tower.

“It was a club meant to make a lot of those traditions accessible to current students, to past students and future students,” said Mueller, who served as president of the group his senior year. “It was taking the reason that I came to Carolina and pushing it to other students.”

Though he was on the frontlines of many hallmark events that fill Tar Heels’ bucket lists, he also quickly became encapsulated with another UNC-Chapel Hill tradition: service.

In addition to conducting research in the exercise and sport science department’s Motion Science Institute and publishing papers, Mueller dedicated hours to giving back through Carolina’s Camp Kesem, a free camp for children whose parents have cancer.

“It was supposed to be a place where they could forget about cancer because everybody has the same story,” Mueller said. “I was a camp counselor for 14-year-old boys, and I think at the end of the day, I was the one who learned the most about resiliency, adaptability and playing with the cards you’ve been dealt.”

That passion for serving others has stayed with Mueller. Shortly after finishing his degree in May 2020, he began an internship at the Urology Specialists of the Carolinas, working in a community hospital in Matthews, North Carolina. With his sights on medical school, the internship is providing him with valuable tools and experiences while also serving a small, tight-knight community.

“I work alongside nurses, medical assistants and social workers. It’s 90% patient-facing, and I absolutely love the community and the experience,” he said. “They’re able to provide me with all the skills that I need in order to do everything this office provides.”

Outside of the hospital, he’s training to become a volunteer firefighter and volunteers in the community with his therapy dog.

Carolina, he said, played a big part in developing his drive for serving others.

“It was partially the community I was surrounded by that pushed me into developing those skills,” he said. “My parents built the foundation. Carolina then teased out those skills to where I can apply those skills on my own accord.”

But this weekend will be all about Mueller and the Class of 2020, and he’s excited to celebrate alongside friends and classmates he hasn’t seen since early in his final semester. He’s particularly eager for the Bell Tower Climb, where he will sign a brick and leave his mark on a storied Carolina tradition.

He’s also ready to take part in a smaller, special Mueller family tradition for Commencement day.

“I look at my mom and sister, who both have legendary family photos in their blue gowns running across the field — both of them were barefoot on Kenan Stadium. So obviously, I have to be barefoot,” he said. “Being able to turn the tassel is something that I’ll be incredibly proud of.”