2019 University Day

There are many principles that could guide our work as the leading global public research university. But I believe Hooker’s vision is our foundation. We are here today to emphasize that one reason: Carolina is here to serve North Carolina.

226th University Day celebration at Memorial Hall on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Saturday October 12, 2019. Distinguished Alumna and Alumnus Award recipients: James Delany, Nikole Hannah-Jones, Jill McCorkle, and Robert Newman. Edward Kidder Graham Faculty Service Award recipient, Giselle Corbie-Smith. University Day Address by Rick Luettich, Bernard Bell, Anita Brown-Graham and Interim Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz. (Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)


Welcome to University Day and the 226th birthday of our nation’s first public university – the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. My name is Kevin Guskiewicz and it is an honor to be here today as Carolina’s interim chancellor. University Day is about bringing our community together in celebration, and I want to thank everyone for being here.

Today, we mark the laying of the cornerstone of Old East; the first stone of the first state university in our nation. Millions of stones followed here in Chapel Hill and at state universities across our country. And together, we’ve defined what it means to be a great public university. Edward Kidder Graham, our 10th president and whose award we give today, passionately argued that our purpose is to serve the people of North Carolina. He and so many Tar Heel icons have made UNC synonymous with service to the state we love.

My first day at Carolina was July 1, 1995, the same day Michael Hooker became our 9th chancellor. 20 years ago this year, he tragically passed away from cancer. He was an inspiration to so many of us and he remains an inspiration to me today. To Michael, Carolina’s commitment to serve this state reigned supreme and it showed in his actions, as he visited all 100 of our state’s counties during his tenure. At Spring Commencement in 1998, he said: “there is only one reason to have a public university, and that is to serve the people of the state. That should be the touchstone of everything we do.” There are many principles that could guide our work as the leading global public research university. But I believe Hooker’s vision is our foundation. We are here today to emphasize that one reason: Carolina is here to serve North Carolina. Our history demands that service. From Edward Kidder Graham to Michael Hooker, from our faculty to our students and alumni, we are defined by our commitment to serve our state. For far too long, service to the state did not mean service to all North Carolinians. Many were excluded for years. Our history is not easy, but it is a history worth grappling with, and we are doing just that by launching several initiatives across campus.

Today, we will hear from Tar Heels working across our state on Carolina’s impact. We will hear how this touchstone, our “one reason,” is put into practice. But before we hear from them and other campus leaders, I want to say a special happy 200th birthday to the town government of Chapel Hill. Few universities are blessed with such a strong town partnership as we are. We must always be an asset to our town, and I am grateful to Mayor Pam Hemminger and the entire town government for their leadership.


Thank you to our speakers and their guests for sharing with us the incredible ways you are serving our state. Our university’s founders and leaders would have been proud of what they just heard.  Across our faculty, there are so many more examples.

  • Robert Bashford leads our rural health initiatives to provide medical care to underserved areas in North Carolina. Dr. Bashford and his team are reaffirming our commitment to serving every North Carolinian in every part of our state. Gisele Corbie-Smith, who won our Edward Kidder Graham award just now, is integral in this effort. Thank you.
  • Our School of Education has been training North Carolina’s teachers, administrators, superintendents, and counselors for over 140 years. 103 of North Carolina’s 115 school districts have our School of Education graduates working there.
  • The Carolina Center for Public Service is celebrating its 20-year anniversary this year. 20 years of serving across our state, from spring break service trips to hurricane relief to building houses with Habitat for Humanity.

We ARE serving our state every day, in every county. UNC President Bill Friday said, “the problems of the people are the problems the university must deal with.”  There is no problem, no challenge in our state that we don’t care about. We are passionate about the crises facing us in our state: hurricanes barreling down our coast; the opioid epidemic; rural communities not having access to health care; food insecurity; and so many more. We are focused on our whole state, all 100 counties. Over half of all our 360,000+ alumni live right here in North Carolina. Our university IS our state, and we belong to the towns and communities we serve.

While we are formally known as “The University OF North Carolina….we might better be known as “The University FOR North Carolina.” But, we can do even better. As we move forward together, we are re-committing ourselves to Edward Kidder Graham’s mission of service to our state and strengthening our partnerships with all North Carolinians. This is what it means to be uniquely Carolina. We should always strive to serve and give more. Our state’s support throughout our history has given us the resources and ability to be the leading global public research university. Our state has made us better, and we aim to make our state better too. We want our state to be a place where small towns and cities live side by side, working together and benefiting one another. We want the people of our state to live healthy, productive, secure lives. We want to prepare the next generation of leaders to build our state and ensure its continued growth.

To do this, we will spend the next year listening to our partners across the state so that we can live out our “one reason” to serve the people of our state, and make sure our touchstone, is being fulfilled. Next week, 90 of our faculty and campus leaders are traveling on three different buses to the Southern, Southeastern and Western regions of our state. Some of those individuals joining us on this tour are here today.  Will you please stand and be recognized? Thank you for joining us on this journey. This is my charge to you:

  • I charge you to listen to the people of our state and engage with the towns and communities our students call home.
  • I hope this tour will promote scholarship and service that responds to the concerns of the state and contributes to the common good.
  • And I charge you to find ways to center our work around the needs of North Carolinians and live our mission, our “one reason” as a public university.

I too am eager to jump on the bus and can’t wait to join our faculty and campus leaders on this journey.

Thank you to everyone for being here, and again happy birthday to our beloved university. To all the people who worked so hard to prepare for this event – Thank you! I want to thank the members of the Ceremonial Band and to Jeff Fuchs, band director, for their performance today. As the Ceremonial Band plays, please stand and join in singing our Alma Mater, Hark the Sound.  At the conclusion of the alma mater, please remain standing while the platform party departs and then please enjoy some refreshments as you exit today’s ceremony. I also encourage you to join us for Festifall on Franklin St.