And of these old brown walls,
Of white old well, and of old South
With bell’s deep booming tone,
They’ll think again of Chapel Hill and–
Thinking– come back home.
Home, in this instance, is Chapel Hill. Though we come from across the state, across the nation and across the globe, we all share one common home in Chapel Hill. Our connection to this school and to one another transcends the here and now. What Thomas Wolfe wrote about his school — our school — almost one hundred years ago remains true today. It’s funny, too, given the title of one of his few books, You Can’t Go Home Again. By that title he meant his childhood home, not Chapel Hill; in fact, this University provided for him the tools by which he propelled into his career and adulthood. You can’t go home to the past, Wolfe said, because we are all moving toward the future, whether we want to or not.
“Some things will never change. Some things will always be the same,” Wolfe wrote. Every year, a new crop of students will enroll in this fine University and another set will graduate, set loose upon the world. The faces passing through the halls of the dorms and classes will be different, the professors lecturing to sleep-deprived undergraduates will be different, and, though we love her so dearly, one day even Chancellor Folt will pass the baton to another. Still, the University will remain. Its students will travel to the ends of the globe, but this University, this town, will stand as it has for over two centuries, a bastion in the South.
To borrow one final quote from Thomas Wolfe, for all of us generally, and for those of us leaving specifically: “Make your mistakes, take your chances, look silly, but keep on going. Don’t freeze up.” As Wolfe said, don’t freeze up. For those like myself who are graduating, now is a time to reflect on where we’ve been, and more importantly to look forward to where we are going. No matter where life may take us, we will all think again of Chapel Hill and — thinking — come back home.