University Day is an occasion to remember the University’s past and celebrate its future. The date, Oct. 12, marks the laying of the cornerstone of Old East, the institution’s first building and the oldest state university building in the nation. The Carolina community first celebrated University Day in 1877, after Governor Zebulon B. Vance, as chair of the Board of Trustees, ordered that the day “be observed with appropriate ceremonies under the direction of the faculty.”
Subsequent celebrations have featured speeches from distinguished members of the faculty and honored visitors. President John F. Kennedy spoke in 1961, as did Bill Clinton in 1993. North Carolina governors have made University Day a traditional stop during their first term of office – including Luther Hodges, Jim Hunt, Terry Sanford, Jim Martin, Mike Easley, Bev Perdue, Pat McCrory and Roy Cooper.
Since 1971, the faculty has presented the Distinguished Alumna and Alumnus Awards on University Day to recognize those Tar Heels who have made outstanding contributions to humanity.
Beginning in 1957 with William B. Aycock, University Day became the traditional inauguration day for new chancellors: Paul F. Sharp in 1964, J. Carlyle Sitterson in 1965, N. Ferebee Taylor in 1972, Christopher C. Fordham III in 1980, Paul Hardin in 1988, Michael Hooker in 1995, James Moeser in 2000, Holden Thorp in 2008 and Carol Folt in 2013.
Public higher education began in Chapel Hill in 1793, and for more than two hundred years Carolina has symbolized the importance of education in a democratic nation. It remains a place defined by those values, as noted by Governor Terry Sanford in 1987, of “freedom and liberty and tolerance, the search for truth, the defense of dignity, courage to arrive freely at convictions, and the personal courage to stand for those hopes and truths.”