The hushed silence of the event gave way to thunderous applause and cheers as Terri Houston entered the room.
A crowd of about 100 students, staff and faculty gathered at the Stone Center on Wednesday afternoon to bid farewell to Houston, the former interim provost for diversity and multicultural affairs, who announced her resignation earlier this month.
Alexis Davis, president-elect of the Black Student Movement, spearheaded the effort to honor Houston after she told Davis at a March 30 meeting that she wouldn’t be at the University next year.
“I can’t let her leave without some sort of celebration,” she said.
Artansy Hailey, who helped stage the event, said Houston has been an influential part of his UNC experience.
“Being able to do something and show her how many people she has influenced over her 13 years … gives me the opportunity to help appreciate someone who doesn’t get as much appreciation as they might deserve,” he said.
Little mention was made at the event of the events that led to Houston’s decision to resign, which she has said was influenced by the fact that her replacement, Taffye Clayton, wanted to take the office in a different direction.
Instead, students and faculty who have worked with Houston during her tenure spoke through laughter and tears as they paid homage to the woman many of them see as a mentor and mother figure.
“Honestly, for a lot of us, we wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for her,” said senior Chris Lyle, who later gave a farewell speech on the behalf of the class of 2012.
Houston didn’t specifically mention her post-UNC plans, but did say she would be staying in the area after she helps the University transition to operating without her.
During an emotional address punctuated by brief bits of heart-heavy silence, she let the audience know how much they and the event mean to her.
“I found my family. I found my children. I found my home,” she said.
After the various goodbyes, students stood in line to exchange some final words with Houston as the event wound to a close.
Greg Downing, a member of the BSM Gospel Choir that had earlier sung some of Houston’s catchphrases during a rendition of “Ride on King Jesus,” said he was waiting to tell Houston how much she meant to him. He said she helped the choir get back on its feet after briefly disbanding earlier this year.
“She touched me and she probably doesn’t even know it,” he said.
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