University Day
University Day will be held October 12 at 10 a.m.

A bold experiment
that continues today

In 1793, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was founded as a bold experiment — an untested idea, built on the principles of lux, libertas – light and liberty.

For 225 years, Tar Heels have paved the way to a better world for generations to come. Because that’s what Tar Heels do. We walk the unpaved road with curiosity, courage and compassion. We discover. We create. We ask questions that matter. We build a better future one step at a time.

And we’re just getting started. While the world looks different than it did when we laid our cornerstone, the Carolina spirit is as strong as ever. This year we celebrate our past and embrace our future in service of a better state, a better nation and a better world.

225 Years.
History of University Day

University Day is an occasion to remember the University’s past and celebrate its future. The date, October 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, and Pat McCrory.

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.”

Processional information.

As faculty and staff process into Memorial Hall, each school will be identified with a gonfalon style banner, and faculty and staff will process together behind their respective banner. The procession will be organized by the date of the establishment of the school. Staff not associated with a particular school should process with the Administration and Staff banner. It is our goal that each banner will be proudly displayed with a prominent following. The processional line up begins at 9:30 a.m. near the Old Well. Look for your banner! In case of rain, faculty and staff should gather in Anne Queen Lounge.

Faculty who are participating are encouraged to wear their academic regalia, but it is not required.

Recipients of the 2018 Distinguished Alumna/Alumnus Awards


Don Baer

Donald A. Baer (Photo by LaDon Roeder)

Donald A. Baer, BA 1976
Don Baer is chairman of the global strategic communications firm Burson Cohn & Wolfe. From 2012 to 2018, he was chair and CEO of its predecessor firm, Burson-Marsteller, where he had served as vice chair since 2008. Previously, Baer was senior executive vice president for strategy and development at the global media company Discovery Communications. From 1994 to 1998, he was an assistant to President Bill Clinton, serving as White House communications director and, before that, as chief speechwriter and director of speechwriting and research. Currently, Baer serves as chair of the Board of Directors of the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). He is also a board member for the publicly traded Meredith Corporation and the nonprofit Urban Institute. Baer previously served as a member of Carolina’s Board of Visitors and General Alumni Association Board of Trustees.

A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Carolina, Baer earned a master’s degree as a Rotary International Scholar from the London School of Economics and Political Science. He also holds a J.D. from the University of Virginia.



Robert L. Bryant

Robert L. Bryant

Robert L. Bryant, Ph.D. 1979
Robert Bryant is the Phillip Griffiths Professor of Mathematics at Duke University. Previously he served on the faculties of Rice University and the University of California at Berkeley. He was formerly the director of the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute in Berkeley and is a past president of the American Mathematical Society. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

Bryant’s research in differential geometry has had applications in the study of minimal surfaces, the calculus of variations, and, especially, the geometry of spaces with exceptional holonomy, an area of mathematics that, in recent years, has become important in constructing models of theoretical high-energy particle physics.

Bryant earned a B.S. in mathematics from North Carolina State University. While a graduate student at Carolina, he was a founding member and, later, organizer of Triangle Gay Scientists.

Vaughn Bryson

Vaughn D. Bryson

Vaughn D. Bryson, BSPHS 1960
Vaughn Bryson worked at Eli Lilly and Company for 32 years, concluding his career as president and CEO. He later served as vice chairman of Vector Securities International, a private healthcare-focused investment banking firm in Chicago. He was also president of Life Science Advisors, a healthcare consulting organization, and president of Clinical Products, a medical foods company. Bryson has served on the boards of directors of more than 20 companies.

Bryson’s service to UNC-Chapel Hill has included terms on the Dean’s Advisory Board of the School of Pharmacy and on the Board of the General Alumni Association, including one term as chairman. In addition, Bryson served on the Carolina First Campaign Steering Committee, and he is a recipient of the Board of Trustees’ William Richardson Davie Award and the General Alumni Association Distinguished Service Medal.

Bryson is a graduate of the Sloan Program at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business.


Peter Henry

Peter B. Henry (Photo by Pascal Perich)

Peter B. Henry, BA 1991
Peter Henry is dean emeritus of New York University’s Stern School of Business, where he holds the William R. Berkley Professorship of Economics and Finance. Formerly the Konosuke Matsushita Professor of International Economics at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, Henry is the author of Turnaround: Third World Lessons for First World Growth.

In 2008, Henry led Barack Obama’s Presidential Transition Team in its review of international lending agencies such as the IMF and World Bank. A member of the board of the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) and the Economic Club of New York, Henry also serves on the boards of Citigroup and Nike. In 2015 Henry received the Foreign Policy Association Medal, the highest honor bestowed by the organization. A native of Jamaica who became a U.S. citizen in 1986, Henry was honored in 2016 as one of the Carnegie Foundation’s Great Immigrants.

Henry holds a B.A. in mathematics from Oxford University and a Ph.D. in economics from MIT.


Catherine "Tift" Merritt

Catherine Merritt

Catherine Merritt
Tift Merritt is a Grammy-nominated singer and songwriter who began her career in local venues such as Cat’s Cradle and The Cave and soon began appearing on top-ten lists in The New Yorker and Time. Since starting a band while a creative writing student at Carolina, Merritt has released a unique, critically acclaimed body of work including seven albums of original material and three live records. Merritt has been compared to Joni Mitchell and Emmylou Harris and has been covered by Don Henley, featuring Mick Jagger.

In her nearly 20-year career, Merritt has toured the world and shared the stage with artists as varied as Iron & Wine, Nick Lowe, and Jason Isbell. She collaborated with classical pianist Simone Dinnerstein

for the album Night and played harmonic foil and rhythm guitar for Andrew Bird in his old-time band Hands of Glory. Most recently, Merritt has been a regular contributor to the Oxford American, chronicling her 2017 tours with her young daughter, Jean.

Recipient of the 2018 Edward Kidder Graham Award
Bland Simpson

Bland Simpson
Photo by Steve Exxum

Bland Simpson, Kenan Distinguished Professor of English and Creative Writing

Bland Simpson is a Kenan Distinguished Professor of English and Creative Writing. He is the author of nine books, primarily creative non-fiction about eastern North Carolina, including Into the Sound Country and Little Rivers & Waterway Tales (with photography by Ann Cary Simpson, his wife) and The Coasts of Carolina (with photography by Scott Taylor).

A member of the Tony Award-winning stringband The Red Clay Ramblers since 1986, Simpson has toured extensively in North America, Europe, the Middle East and North Africa and has collaborated on the musicals King Mackerel & The Blues Are Running, Diamond Studs, Hot Grog, Life on the Mississippi, Kudzu, and three-time Broadway hit Fool Moon.

Simpson is the recipient of two Chapman Awards (1998, 2006) and one Tanner Award (2004) for Excellence in Teaching at UNC-Chapel Hill, as well as the UNC General Alumni Association’s Faculty Service Award (2015), North Caroliniana Society Award (2010), John Tyler Caldwell Award for the Humanities from the NC Humanities Council (2017), and North Carolina Award for Fine Arts (2005), the state’s highest civilian honor.

As a prolific writer, musician, environmentalist, and teacher, Simpson has entertained, educated, and improved the lives of countless people across this state, the nation, and the world.