University Day 2018 – 225th Anniversary

"Our unique legacy demands that we continue to reconcile our past with our present and future and be the diverse and just community that is fitting for America’s first public university."

The seal of the University on a stone column by an entrance to UNC's campus.
Fall scene of the seal of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill affixed to a stone pillar at the Cameron Avenue entrance. (Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

Opening Remarks

Please be seated.

Before I begin, I want to send our thoughts and prayers to our fellow North Carolinians and sister Universities who have been deeply impacted by Hurricane Florence and now Michael. We care and will continue to help.

Good morning. I’m honored to welcome you as the Chancellor of this special place to this special birthday. It is wonderful to see you all here.

225 years ago, the University of North Carolina was established right here in Chapel Hill, the first public university in America to open its doors. Our founders believed that the best way to protect the hard-fought freedoms won in the revolutionary war was to invest in public education. To stand the trials of time, they said, our democracy would depend on Lux et Libertas, Light and Liberty.

And since then, with the generous support of North Carolinians we have strived to realize that vision, evolving and reaching to meet the dreams and needs of each generation. They have come – from tiny towns, cities across North Carolina and the world… some are first in their families, others carry the stories and love of this place from generations of family members who preceded them, with their own dreams.  I think I speak for all of us, when I say that our love for Carolina comes from the grand vision of public education born here. Accessibility, affordability and excellence – the citizens of North Carolina deserve no less. Their support strengthens our resolve to discover, to create, and to open possibilities for every person here so they too can build meaningful lives and advance the public good.

Today, Carolina is one of the world’s greatest, global, public, research universities. Creativity flourishes. The artistry and intellectual power of our faculty, staff and students produce game-changing discoveries that save lives and drive innovation. Serving others is as fundamental to our culture as the low stone walls that make our teaching and research so collaborative. Our graduates fuel the economy, build new industries, and strengthen the fabric of communities across the state and the world.

Every day, as I walk this beautiful campus, I feel grateful to the people who spend their lives caring for our students, nurturing the beauty of our historic grounds, managing our safety, and so much more. And I think of the more than 300,000 alumni whose lives of purpose are our greatest reward. The joy and drive in our people embody our celebrated motto, Lux et Libertas, light and liberty.

Of course, our history truly began long ago as the home of the first peoples of the land. And later, many who built our first structures were enslaved, sold as property, couldn’t vote, and were denied, by the laws of the state and nation, the most basic human rights and dignity.

Eleven years ago, the North Carolina General Assembly passed a resolution apologizing for the practice of slavery. They explicitly urged universities “to do all within their power to acknowledge the transgressions, to learn the lessons of history, avoid repeating mistakes and to promote racial reconciliation”.

And so today, on our 225th birthday, I join them. As Chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I offer our university’s deepest apology for the profound injustices of slavery, our full acknowledgment of the strength of enslaved people in the face of their suffering, and our respect and indebtedness to them. I reaffirm our University’s commitment to facing squarely and working to right the wrongs of history so they are never again inflicted.

We are the only public university to have experienced our nation’s history from the start – war, slavery, suffrage, civil unrest, as well as the hope, freedom, progress, opportunity, learning, and great discoveries fostered here. Our unique legacy demands that we continue to reconcile our past with our present and future and be the diverse and just community that is fitting for America’s first public university.

Our apology must lead to purposeful action, and build upon the great efforts and sacrifices of those across the years who fought so hard for much of what we value about Carolina today. We salute the people in the present who work daily to increase access and affordability, to create programs that open our doors even wider, and to embrace the diversity that is our national heritage. If done with honesty, resolve, and strength of purpose, our choices will help us come to terms with our past, and move us to a better future.

Two years ago, in this Hall, President Spellings said: “Higher education is the next frontier – a new civil right.” That resonates with all of us at Carolina.  We will be planning and working in that spirit for years to come.

As author Terry Tempest Williams said, “The eyes of the future are looking back at us and they are praying for us to see beyond our own time….that we might leave room for the life that is destined to come’.

As we create the future that time will judge, here are some of our challenges:

  • Can we open our doors even wider?
  • Can we hold the public trust?
  • Can we be a place where political disagreement is a source of lively and respectful debate?
  • Can we do even more to solve the toughest problems, while training the workforce and strengthening future economies?

This will test us and our capacity to partner with others beyond our walls. We will need to recognize and let go of some old habits and norms, to make way for more relevant, inclusive, innovative ways to be a university and a just community. I believe that we are up to the task. And you are why I believe it.

Esteemed guests, members of the platform party, faculty, students, staff, Chapel Hill Board of Trustees, UNC Board of Governors, Board of Visitors, former Chancellors, elected officials, community members, and friends – you honor us with your presence, your connection to Carolina, and your lives of service.

I hope you will join us as we connect our past with our future and strengthen the relationships that bind us in common purpose.


Over the last few years on University Day, we’ve been honored to share a number of important announcements that reinforce our commitment to our public mission and our strategic framework, the Blueprint for Next. In 2016, we announced named scholarships and grants in honor of the courage and action of pioneers who broke barriers and changed Carolina forever.… And a $20 million challenge gift for two signature programs, the Carolina Covenant and Morehead-Cain Scholarship.

Last year, I told you we raised more than $65 million, tripling the original gift, for student scholarships. And this morning, we honored several of our Bridge builders, a new set of scholarships named for people who helped forge a more inclusive Carolina.

Today, it is my privilege to announce a new scholarship program, the Blue Sky Scholars, designed to help middle-class families overcome the heavy burden of college debt. This new distinctive program will expand our commitment to excellent, affordable higher education for the people in our state. Through a combination of tuition funds, work study and enrichment awards, we will address a critical gap that will make the promise of a Carolina education possible for even more students and their families. They will graduate with $10,000 or less of college debt.

Our goal is $20 million. We are already well on our way, thanks to a lead gift of $5 million from alumnus and former UNC System President Erskine Bowles. Please join me in thanking Erskine for this extraordinary gift.

Now we will watch a video that celebrates our 225 years.

Then, Jim Leloudis, the Peter T. Grauer Associate Dean for Honors Carolina, Professor of History and Co-Chair of the History Task Force, and…

Felicia Washington, Vice Chancellor for Workforce Strategy, Equity and Engagement, will join me on stage to offer three different looks at aspects of Carolina – past to future.

Closing Remarks

Thank you Jim and Felicia. You brought to life so much of what I admire about Carolina. It is a privilege to work with you.

So, here we are at 225.  Let’s go back 25 years to our bicentennial: it was 1993 – Try to put yourself in that year … if you’re old enough. My husband and I had 2 little kids. We just spent a sabbatical with them in the Bornean rainforest. I was preparing for the first national conference on climate change in Washington, DC. The first World Wide Web software was released and the internet took off. Gas was $1.16 a gallon. Genomic medicine leapt forward, with the identification of the gene for colon cancer. Maya Angelou was the 1st African American and the 1st woman to read her poem at a presidential inauguration. And the GOAT scored his 20,000th career point.

Here in Chapel Hill…UNC won the National Basketball Championship – Coach Smith’s 2nd title. Charles Kuralt made his inspiring bicentennial speech – “what binds us to this place…” and The Grateful Dead played a sold-out concert at the Dean Dome.

What’s happened over the 25 years from then to now? 177,000–students graduated. Almost as many (190,000) as in our first 200 years. Aziz Sancar and the late Oliver Smithies won Nobel Prizes. 17 of our students won Rhodes scholarships. Our faculty nearly doubled and our staff, faculty and students diversified, bringing us an even greater perspective on the world from their own histories and experiences. The state passed a bond that gave us nearly $500 million for much-needed renovations, and our research boomed, topping $1 billion in annual research this year. Reversing the usual trend, we converted 20 acres of asphalt to green space. We’ve taken on the 3 zeros of sustainability; water, waste and greenhouse gases. And we won 29 national athletics championships.

5 years ago, I came from a private university to Carolina because of its grand public mission, hungry for a deeper connection between the university and the wider world of human affairs. And I found that here, in Carolina’s long-standing commitment to the public good, its contributions to the livelihood of the state, and the personal relationships that link Carolina to people and places across the state. Carolina was already a great public university, but it also was poised to do more– to adapt to meet the needs and issues of the 21st century. I found a community that cared about the world, wanted to do big things, and was determined to make opportunity available for others that was inspiring.

And so 2 years ago, from your dreams and knowledge, your perception of problems and challenges, and your willingness to innovate, we created the university’s first strategic framework– the Blueprint for Next. It’s two central themes are Of and For the People, and Innovation Made Fundamental, and it articulates a dynamic vision across our schools.

Last fall, we launched our largest-ever fundraising campaign– $4.25 billion to advance the public good, including $1 Billion for student scholarships, to reach talented hard-working students, from all backgrounds. More than 160K generous alumni and friends have taken us more than half way there, passing $2.3 billion this month. They believe in our mission and are delighted that we use their support to make life changing discoveries, and to continually rethink and energize our teaching. Maker Spaces are sprouting up across campus. We are national leaders in entrepreneurship. And the creative arts are always on display.

So let’s turn now to the future:  Yogi Berra famously said, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” But I’m going to try, and here are 5 for the next 10 years:

We will continue to connect our present with our past honestly, openly and deeply. That includes, but is certainly not limited to the Confederate Monument, and ongoing contextualization of the historic names of campus buildings and places.

The accelerating pace of change, innovation and adaptation will be everyday business for us as we redefine how the modern university operates – Rather than letting the world change around us—or just keeping pace—we’ll be keeping ahead.

Our student body will continue to diversify and globalize and we will meet them more where they are actively doing things – they will integrate their learning with off campus work and research. And we will prepare them to be ready– to be the ones who adapt and extend their skills—to create the jobs and ideas of tomorrow.

Our world class faculty in all fields will be better supported to take their work into the world, to take risks, and to collaborate in solution-oriented teams that will span the globe.

Many of today’s jobs will phase out across the state and on campus. But we will help the state retrain its workforce, and our staff to develop the skills for the future. No matter what the future brings, I am confident that Carolina will both ride and guide the changes.

I will close by repeating the quote from Terry Tempest Williams that I shared earlier, “The eyes of the future are looking back at us and they are praying for us to see beyond our own time….That we might leave room for the life that is destined to come’. Terry is a close friend, and what I read into her words is this –  that we must leave a world, a healthy planet, in which those who follow us can thrive — a rich legacy founded in honesty, trust and goodwill. There are some periods in our nation’s history when these qualities can seem to be in short supply. That’s when it’s most vital for us to cultivate the qualities that connect us– that bind us– as a community, a university, a state and a nation. If we hold to this, lux et libertas, light and liberty, will always have meaning here, in America’s first public university.