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Tar Heel traditions

Timeless connections

The nation's first public university, UNC-Chapel Hill is home to centuries-old traditions and experiences that connect generations of Tar Heels.

Watch the Bell Tower lighting the night before the first day of class, go for a stroll on Franklin Street and cheer on the Tar Heels in Kenan Stadium.

Learn more about the places and experiences that make the Tar Heel experience so special.

The Old Well

When Carolina first opened, the University’s well served as the primary source of drinking and bathing water for the students, faculty and staff.

Since then, it has gone through a few redesigns, including the addition of a structure based on the Temple of Love at Versailles in 1897. The current well — what we now call the Old Well — was constructed in 1954 using wooden columns, a marble base and copper roof.

Over the last six decades, the Old Well has become an icon for Carolina.

Rameses

The tradition of a live animal mascot began in 1924 when head cheerleader Vic Huggins was inspired by footballer Jack “The Battering Ram” Merritt to acquire a live ram. Huggins’ idea formed a royal family that has lived on for the past century.

Most recently, Otis, a Horned Dorset ram from northern Virginia, has taken the throne as Rameses XXII.

Learn more about the history of Rameses

 

Davie Poplar

The Davie Poplar tree has been keeping watch over Carolina students in Chapel Hill ever since the University opened its doors more than two centuries ago. The large tulip poplar tree located in McCorkle Place predates the University and is named after Carolina’s founder, William Richardson Davie.

Legend has it that if the Davie Poplar falls, the University falls with it. Though the origin of the myth remains unknown, Carolina isn’t taking any chances. Davie Poplar Jr. was planted in 1918 to serve as the original tree’s heir.

Explore more of campus

  • A collage of photos that includes a sculpture of a lion head as a fountain; a silver and brass button on the Old Well; branches of a tree wrapping around each other; the rings of a cut tree trunk; blue 3D printing robots in a line; and a cup of steel pieces from a letter press.

    Take a closer look at Carolina's icons

    With historic buildings and picturesque landscaping, Carolina's campus is iconic, and some of the University's most beautiful spots are worth a closer look.

  • An aerial photo of UNC-Chapel Hill campus.

    Carolina then and now

    Have you ever heard of the Tin Can or the Scuttlebutt? Those words may bring back fond memories for some generations of Tar Heels, but for today's students, they're a mystery. Though much of the Carolina experience remains the same, take a look at how campus has changed through the years.

  • A collage of photos including metal lettertypes, a section sign of Kenan Stadium, drill bits, the spine of a book, the

    An alphanumeric look at Carolina

    From classrooms to makerspaces, take a new and unique look at the University through the alphanumerics that bring meaning to campus locations.

Student life traditions

Carolina's campus is full of iconic structures and legends, but true Tar Heel traditions live on in the student life experience. Everyday activities, such as joining historic student organizations, keeping time with the rings of the Bell Tower or living in Old East, are steeped in tradition.

Explore how today's students are keeping centuries-old traditions alive today.

  • The DiPhi room in New West.

    Created on June 3, 1795, the DiPhi debate and literary society is the University's oldest student organization. Carolina's colors can actually be traced to the light blue from the Dialectic Society and the white from the Philanthropic Society.

    See how DiPhi continues its legacy today

  • The Bell Tower.

    As the oldest General Alumni Association student group, the Order of the Bell Tower serves as the official student ambassadors and tradition keepers to the University. Through our events and services, the group connects past, present and future Tar Heels.

    Meet an Order of the Bell Tower member

  • Students digging in a garden.

    Since its founding, the University has been dedicated to serving the state of North Carolina. Tar Heels today continue that legacy by working with nonprofits and community organizations throughout the year to address critical issues and challenges facing North Carolinians.

    Learn more about how students serve our state