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The Daily Tar Heel

Graduates-to-be, don’t lose sight of the needs of NC

Seniors, let’s talk. Soon (I refuse to acknowledge exactly how soon — that’s how deep in denial I am), we’re going to be dressed in Carolina blue caps and gowns, sitting in Kenan Stadium, surrounded by our friends as our last moments as official UNC undergraduates tick away.

I hope you’ve loved your four years here as much as I have. I hope you’ve made a connection with an amazing professor.

I hope you’ve shouted yourself hoarse at a sporting event. I hope you’ve met someone who’s completely changed the way you see the world.

I hope you’ve rushed Franklin. I hope you’ve laughed, cried, learned, loved and been challenged in this place with the Well and the Bell and the stone walls and the crisp October nights and the smell of dogwoods blooming.

I hope you’ve come to understand what being a graduate of the University of North Carolina means.

UNC is so closely tied to the state of North Carolina that it’s nearly impossible to mention one without the other. We have to respect and understand the intensity and mutuality of this relationship, and find where we belong in their greater story.

North Carolina could never have risen from its beginnings as a poor, backwards state — the land that separated wealthy Virginia from prosperous South Carolina — to its present position as one of the leaders in the South without UNC.

The University has sometimes been the gadfly, pushing for reforms in North Carolina and across the South, and sometimes it’s been the stable institutional structure, providing support and legitimacy to new ideas.

Likewise, UNC would never have become a world-class research institution or a public Ivy without the never-ending support it received from North Carolina.

For generations, North Carolinians have felt that they have a stake in this University, even if they never set foot in Chapel Hill.

UNC encouraged this support by paying special attention to its roots and the problems in its own backyard.

Particularly in the first half of the twentieth century, under the leadership of the likes of Edward Kidder Graham, Harry Woodburn Chase, Howard Odum and Frank Porter Graham, the University was constantly looking for new ways and implementing bold programs to serve the state that sustained it so generously.

This emphasis on service became our signature and something for which we became nationally and internationally known.

The University is not the same university it was back then. We’ve expanded. We’ve become more prestigious.

We don’t receive as much financial support from the state. We no longer have a monopoly on higher education in North Carolina. Our outreach and service has expanded to a more global scale.

It’s natural for this university to evolve. Nothing — especially not a 200-year-old institution — will ever stay the same.

In this increasingly globalized world, and with our increasingly diverse student body, it is right that we focus on issues all over the world.

What we must be sure of is that even in the midst of this change we do not lose sight of the needs of the state that allowed us to become the university that we are.

We must not lose sight of our responsibility to uphold this legacy.

It is right that we place value on research. It is right that we promote innovation. It is right that we do not let slip our legacy of service. And it is right that we uphold our relationship with the state of North Carolina.

We are all so lucky to have a personal stake in this relationship, and we have a personal responsibility to do our part to maintain it.

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Seniors, everyone is asking us what we’re doing after graduation. Some of us have answers we’re ready to rattle off and some of us try to avoid this question at all costs.

Regardless of what your plans for next year are, this challenge from former UNC-system President Bill Friday applies to you: “Every morning a million North Carolinians get up and go to work for wages which leave them below the poverty line so they can pay taxes that finance the education you receive at Carolina. Your job is to figure out how you’re going to pay them back.”

Be humbled by that. Be intimidated by that. Then get to work.

Allison Hawkins is a columnist from the Daily Tar Heel. She is a senior history and political science major from Brevard. Contact her at