The most recent University Day was probably the best-attended one ever, with an estimated 1,100 people in Memorial Auditorium. The day also had other aspects that set it apart.
- First with birthday party items like balloons, buttons and a giant birthday card;
- First to have faculty, staff and students process together under their school or department banner;
- First to honor the laureate who received the 2015 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Azis Sancar;
- First public appearance of Faculty Chair Bruce Cairns since his cardiac arrest last month;
- Last University Day for Tom Ross as president of the UNC system.
In his remarks, Ross reminded the audience that 12 of the 17 chancellors currently serving in the UNC system were his hires. “And there’s none I’m more proud of than selecting Chancellor Folt,” he said.
After the other remarks and presentation of awards to distinguished alumni Cairns rose to speak. He began by praising Carolina and UNC Health Care for their aid when he collapsed. “I am so happy to be alive,” he said. “Like countless others in this state, I literally have this university to thank for my life.”
While introducing Chancellor Carol L. Folt, the featured speaker, Cairns said he believed she always spoke from the heart.
“I know for a fact that her commitment and passion for these issues is not just words or the crafting of a strategic position,” he said. “They are an extension of who she is, based on her life experience and how much she cares about who we are and what we’re doing.”
Folt began her address by listing five major turning points in the University’s history: enrolling its first student, extending public service, opening the doors to others, participating in the digital revolution and becoming the “Innovation University.”
The milestone that drew the most applause was the third, allowing women, people of color and the poor to attend Carolina. “Despite the accepted definition of public, I believe that was the moment we truly began to become the University of the People,” she said.
The audience was reminded of the University’s contentious history with race earlier in the day when 30 or so members of the Real Silent Sam Coalition filed into Memorial Hall to express their opposition to the memorial to Confederate soldiers on McCorkle Place.
Folt stood silent onstage allowing the protesters their time. When they were gone, she told the audience that universities are where “our students and our community speak with real heart and voice.”
“I’m really glad they felt comfortable to come here and that we were all able to listen and hear their very important message,” she said to much applause, then proceeded with the program as scheduled.
At the end of her remarks, Folt stressed the need to look forward, to “embrace change at the speed of innovation.”
“In the next couple of weeks, I’m going to be challenging our faculty to reinvent key aspects of our graduate and undergraduate education and curriculum to better meet 21st century needs, across all our schools,” Folt said.
The times demand it, she said, urging the audience to be bold, courageous and even audacious as they re-imagine what Carolina might yet become.
In closing, she said that as fast as the world is moving, opportunities can be very fleeting, so we need to speed up now, here.
She smiled and held out her arms. “Welcome to the Carolina Century,” she said.