When best friends Kacie Horton and DeAndre Sawyer arrived at UNC-Chapel Hill in 2019, they were eager for the endless opportunities they would have at Carolina. They didn’t know where their college careers would take them, but they knew that no matter what, they would be by each other’s side as they had since their first days of kindergarten.
The two will now complete that journey together this weekend. Horton, a sociology major, and Sawyer, a double major in communication studies and global studies, will both have their degrees conferred at graduation on Sunday, adding another major milestone that the lifelong friends have experienced together.
A lifelong friendship
Horton and Sawyer first met in their hometown of Camden, North Carolina, at Grandy Primary Elementary School almost 20 years ago.
“The length of our friendship feels like its own natural thing. It just exists,” says Sawyer.
Growing up in a small town, the two attended the same schools through high school. In their high school yearbook, they were both voted “most likely to succeed.”
Sawyer and Horton applied to Carolina and celebrated when they were both accepted. The Tar Heels are the first in their families to attend college and becoming a college student meant more than just pursuing a degree for Sawyer.
“I didn’t want to come just for the degree. I wanted to come for all the possibilities that were here, all the experience to be had and all the networks that I could create,” says Sawyer.
The two shared many special moments in Chapel Hill as they navigated life as college students together. One of those includes sitting in the front row of a Carolina-Wake Forest football game. Sawyer worked with the Student Rams Club, an on-campus organization that helps provide opportunities for student-athletes, and scored the great seats to the game.
“We got our 10 seconds of fame because ESPN pointed the camera right at us, and we ended up on TV,” says Horton. “It was like, ‘Wow. Someone like me from a small town is literally on TV right now just for going to a game.'”
Always near, never far
Because they took different academic paths, Sawyer and Horton had classes together only in their final semester, and that happened by coincidence. When Horton walked into her class about modern-day Korea, she saw Sawyer was already there.
“When she called my name on the first day of class, it was a full-circle moment,” says Sawyer. “We started our first class together [in kindergarten], and we are ending our last class together.”
After graduation, the two will live more than just a few miles away from each other for the first time in 16 years. Horton is looking for work at a nonprofit in Charlotte, Raleigh or Pennsylvania; Sawyer will pursue a master’s degree in video journalism at the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media.
“Kacie has always been like a pillar for me. She is always there, and it’s not only support, but it’s always directing me on my right path. It’s almost like she can see if I’m fully myself or if something’s wrong. She’s always been there to support me,” says Sawyer.
One last ceremony
Horton and Sawyer say the key to a successful and lasting friendship is communication. They both explained that they’ve remained close because they’ve always given each other room to grow and no matter what, they are each other’s biggest supporters.
“He can hype you up no matter what you tell him. He always tells me that I’m going to succeed and I’m going to be awesome,” says Horton.
This weekend, Horton and Sawyer will gather at Kenan Stadium with their friends and family for one last graduation together.
“It feels great to be graduating together because we’ve seen each other grow, and this is our final accomplishment together,” says Horton.
Sawyer echoed Horton’s sentiment.
“While looking back at those kindergarten pictures, it’s crazy to think that we ended up in the same place again. It’s always been like, ‘Wow. How does this keep happening?'” says Sawyer. “The chances of us getting accepted to Carolina, the chances that even when the pandemic happened, we could have gotten thrown off a different course. Even just graduation-wise, we could have graduated in different years. But it’s almost like this whole time, we’ve always been in stride with each other, right next to each other.”