This Saturday would have been Eve Carson’s 26th birthday. Though the community will honor her at the memorial 5k in her name, almost all the students with whom she shared this campus have left.
Students I hear speaking about Eve on campus seem to fall into one of two camps. Many idolize her as an abstract ideal — the Carolina Way — while some regard the efforts to remember her as little more than a coping mechanism for those who had been close to an ordinary person.
Neither stance is quite correct. Eve left an outsized impact and inspired many, but she was indeed just a college student like us, with her own strengths and weaknesses.
I was a freshman three and a half years ago, when the campus packed Polk Place and then the Dean Dome to mourn the murder of our student body president, a fellow student and, for many, a dear friend.
Though I had spoken with Eve only a few times, I still felt a sense of loss. After all, she was the sort of student who made me excited to go to UNC: a leader on campus, smart and with a heart for other students — even the unsettled freshman.
We cried together as a community, and came together as UNC does so well. And after the basketball team beat Duke the following weekend, even the crowd on Franklin Street honored her name.
The details Eve’s friends shared about her have become collective memory: that she cared about working for other students and could make others feel like they were the most important people in the world, and that she also loved have a good time and dance.
And as Eve Carson became the embodiment of what a UNC student should be, it became tempting to mythologize her, as if there could never be such a student body president or caring student, or perfect human being.
Eve was special, but she wasn’t perfect. She was a crummy driver, I’m told, and it could take you 15 minutes to read an email from her. She was always down to be ridiculous. She was a college student; she was human.
To me, that seems a far more powerful message to today’s students and those who will follow in the future. Once we accept Eve as human and try to understand who she was, then students need not live in her shadow. We can accept and reject lessons from her; being ourselves, we can go beyond her.
That’s not to say her impact is any less meaningful or her example less impressive.
The Eve Carson Scholarship wasn’t just started in her name. It had been her idea — she had sold her friends on it, they wanted to see it through.
And she definitely had a rare ability to inspire idealism in others. One friend of mine still turns to the handful of emails he has from her for inspiration. When 10,000 members of the community turned up for her memorial service, you could almost imagine that these were the friends that Eve, as she told us, had not yet met.
But we can honor Eve without falsely beatifying her.
Rather than each simply aspiring to be like Eve, we should be reminded by our memory of her to be our best selves.
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