Dear Carolina Community:
The time has come for me to say my goodbyes.
Stepping down as the chancellor of this great university and wonderful community feels much like parting from a gathering of family, friends and neighbors. When I first arrived, a student told me that Carolina feels like a small town, even though lots of people live here. I love that aspect of our community and will carry the energy, friendliness and aspirations of our University with me always. Like the seniors looking beyond graduation, I too am excited about beginning a new chapter in my life and work. Farewells shouldn’t be long or complicated. I have only two things to say today: embrace the future and thank you.
Embracing the future — and here I speak especially to students.
I have been inspired by your dynamism, what you do individually and collectively, by your energy, your drive to serve and improve the world, your character, and creative spirit. The richness of this as my daily reality has always reinforced my optimism and focus on the future.
“Well,” you might say, “we feel that too, but this is also one of the most polarized periods in the history of the state and the nation, and there is intolerance, injustice, economic uncertainty, changing climate … there’s lots to be concerned about.” Yes, true — there are many problems, challenges and importantly, opportunities — and I see in you the drive, intellect and determination to embrace them all.
Carolina’s grand mission is to provide unparalleled access, opportunity and education so that people from all backgrounds can become the leaders of the future. That’s you. You will lead, in your work and in your communities, at all levels, with influence ranging from the local to the global. You already know that some problems can be solved, others will always be a work-in-progress. The problems of your day will be grist for your mill — and your time here has already given you a deep foundation for handling, and building upon, whatever will come your way. You are shaping your foundations — for leadership, for building diverse, innovative and caring communities, for creating the jobs and values of the future. Take full advantage of what Carolina can offer you. Seek out the classes, the experiences, the groups, the collaborations and the mentors that you need. Develop your perspectives and capacities, never stop challenging your assumptions, and hold fast to the joy and mystery that is always part of real learning. You are always in the driver’s seat of your life.
…And now I will try to express my gratitude.
I am grateful to the people and the government of North Carolina who support this university, and to all those who gave me the great privilege to lead Carolina. Thank you to our generous, talented and loyal alumni, who have rallied in support of our grand mission, serving on our boards, volunteering time, energy and material resources. So many of you have become dear friends. Thank you to the people, businesses and artists of Chapel Hill and surrounding towns — you create a rich, vibrant living environment for us all, and I have loved it.
I am grateful to you, the staff, who make things work every day, who make it possible for the faculty and students to teach, discover and learn. I have enjoyed getting to know many of you, hearing about your lives, families, dreams and beliefs. So many unsung heroes, quietly, sometimes invisibly, going about your work, strategizing, planning, troubleshooting and fixing. Without you, everything would fall apart in a hurry. And to my team and the senior administrators across campus, what a pleasure and privilege it has been to know you and work with you. I know you will ensure a smooth and exciting transition for the interim chancellor and beyond. To all our staff — I cannot thank you enough for the thousands of kindnesses big and small you have given me.
And finally, I want to thank the faculty and students, the heart and soul of the university, at the very core of our mission. You have been the heart and soul of my experience here as chancellor too, whether we are celebrating your incredible successes, crafting an ambitious path for Carolina’s future, or seeking to find common purpose when the world is roiling around us.
Many of you in the faculty have shared with me your love of learning, your creativity, your depth and rigor — the excitement of your world-changing discoveries and your innovative teaching. This has been a source of continuing amazement and delight for me. I know from my own faculty experience that it can be a big stretch to appreciate the challenges of running the university, in the full context of our mission and our place in the community and larger society. You have stretched hard, and you have been honest and direct when you have felt you have stretched to the limit. I have learned from you and can’t wait to see what else you accomplish.
And to you the students — I will miss you. Every day you have brought to me the joy of life unfolding, your delight in learning, your care for others, and, well, just plain fun. Each time I walk across campus the greetings, updates and — yes, those selfies too — make my day. You have greeted me from cars passing by, on the streets of cities across the country and in far-flung places overseas. There are Tar Heels dancing through life everywhere, it seems!
So, thank you. Thank you all. My heart is full.
Carol L. Folt