University Day shows Carolina’s service to the state

The 230th birthday celebration focused on access and affordability as well as the positive impact of research collaborations.

Men and women wearing ceremonial robes walk across a street near the UNC's Old Well.
(Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

UNC-Chapel Hill celebrated its 230th birthday Oct. 12 with a University Day ceremony that had significance for the entire state.

Addressing students, alumni and faculty at Memorial Hall, Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz highlighted UNC-Chapel Hill’s impact on all of North Carolina, keying in on “Service to Our State” as this year’s University Day theme.

“UNC-Chapel Hill has been a light, an example and an inspiration for what higher education can be,” Guskiewicz said. “We are not an ivory tower. We are not a city on a hill.

“We are built into the bones and the heart of our state. We are present in the lives of people from the mountains to the coast, from the cities to the farms.”

University Day marks the laying of the cornerstone of Old East, the oldest public university building in the nation. In the 230 years since, the University has benefited North Carolinians in every corner of the state. As Guskiewicz said during the ceremony, “Each one of our 100 counties matters to our university.”

Guskiewicz highlighted many ways UNC-Chapel Hill serves North Carolinians, starting with the access and affordability that make Carolina the No. 1 value in public higher education.

Programs like Carolina Covenant and Blue Sky Scholars ensure students graduate as debt-free as possible. This year, through the further generosity of the school’s donor base, North Carolina students whose families make less than $80,000 have their tuition covered.

Beyond affordability, Carolina also serves the state through its problem-solving and community collaboration. The ceremony provided numerous examples of both, including a video feature about a Carolina collaboration with Person County Schools and the positive impact that partnership has made for children in Roxboro. The School of Education is leading that effort in partnership with the schools of social work, public health, medicine and more.

New to the University Day experience was a discussion panel moderated by Student Body President Chris Everett with three Carolina alumni who have benefited North Carolina through their work:

  • Elizabeth Biser, secretary of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality and president of the Environmental Council of States.
  • Pablo Friedmann, director of the Durham Public Schools Multilingual Resource Center.
  • Alex Lassiter, founder and CEO of GreenPlaces, an organization working to support sustainable practices and environmental stewardship in the business community.

“As you get older, you start to see that everything that you’ve experienced — all of the engagement, community building at UNC, all of the planned events and the classes — all of that took effort for somebody,” Lassiter said during the lively panel discussion. “And I think what motivates me is the responsibility to carry that on and to make sure that I’m dedicating that much into the community so that this next generation gets to be able to experience what I did.”

Four people sitting in chairs on a stage for a panel discussion during a University Day event.

(Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

Paying respects

Though the bulk of the University Day ceremony was in the spirit of celebration, there were moments for solemn reflection.

Guskiewicz opened his remarks with a statement about the Israel-Hamas war.

“I want to begin by acknowledging the heartbreaking pain for members of our community who have been affected by the terrorist attacks of Hamas in Israel and the devastation in Gaza,” he said. “We condemn all forms of violence and mourn the many lives lost.

“Rest assured, we are focused on our people and supporting them during this difficult time. My leadership team and I have been reaching out and meeting directly with those who are hurting, especially our students. The foundation of our university, which is why we gather on University Day, is about our community and caring for each other.”

Guskiewicz also paid tribute to Zijie Yan, an associate professor and nanoscience researcher who died in a campus shooting Aug. 28.

“On Aug. 28, we lost Dr. Yan — a teacher, a scholar, a friend and a colleague — a man devoted to expanding our knowledge about the world,” Guskiewicz said.

Before the closing of the ceremony, Carolina music professors Nicholas DiEugenio and Brent Wissick played a musical arrangement in Yan’s honor.

View a recording of the University Day ceremony.

Read about University Day honorees.