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The Daily Tar Heel

You might be tired of hearing about graduation and think another column on post-graduate life is wasted space. But, the two weeks since graduation have given me pause to see why a reflection on this period of transition is relevant to the UNC community I have called home for four years.

“You may turn your tassels.” With those words, it all changed. As if someone had ripped open my chest cavity and unearthed my heart, I felt an eerie sense of emptiness come over me as I climbed up the steps of Kenan Stadium, a new alumnus of this great university.

Graduation is certainly a time of mixed emotions, providing ample opportunity to reflect on the time, energy and effort spent in this place we call college. Undoubtedly many of my fellow graduates were beyond ready to depart from Chapel Hill, overjoyed to set aside the tuition bills and group projects.

In reflecting on my own conclusion here and on my approaching bumpy transition into law school this fall, I cannot help but shed a tear. Standing in the Tar Pit, trying not to sweat through my mortar board, I realized what really counts in the end.

It’s not the degree or the GPA. And as exciting as it might have been, it’s most definitely not the number of blue cups accrued over four years or the number of UNC basketball games I was lucky enough to attend. What has and will carry me safely into the next chapter of life are the people who stood with me in that sea of blue. The investment I put into relationships and organizations and what I got back from this investment has lifted my application off the page, refined my personal story and provided me true entrée into the Carolina family I am sure to call on in the future.

I surely could bemoan the inequity of monetary resources on our campus. I could spend my time advocating for gender-neutral housing or protective expansions to the University’s non-discrimination policy. There is a place for healthy criticism from UNC alumni, whose critical appraisals in the years to come will surely nudge this university forward.

But beyond the room for improvement, each alumnus, current student and member of the Carolina community must reflect on the special connection this place provides each of us.

Leaving Chapel Hill left me longing to be back. I know I will return often to re-connect with the place and the people that have given me so much. This kind of connection —this kind of love — is rare amongst our peers.

I will take away Carolina’s institutional pursuit of justice. Four years ago, I underestimated Carolina’s commitment to providing an inclusive, safe environment for all people. I can confidently say that I am both unsure I will find such commitment elsewhere and confident in my own ability to make an impact beyond Chapel Hill in the Carolina way.

The transition from undergraduate life into adulthood is full of imperfections that we are charged to fix. And, as I try my hand at making an impact, I will keep Carolina close to my heart and wait for the day when—in my own way—I can give back at little of the love it has given me.

I will also take with me the belief in the potential of the underdog. After all, that is what this university was founded to do. Carolina not only believes in the potential of marginalized communities, but its relatively low tuition and programs like the Carolina Covenant and Carolina Firsts help make tangible investments in the future we want to bring into fruition: a world in which, regardless of where and to whom one is born, a child has a bona fide chance at getting a world-class education.

Burton Peebles is a columnist from The Daily Tar Heel. He is a graduate journalism major from Graham, N.C. Contact him at

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