The lights came back on and the masked figures left the room.
With the century-old ritual for new member selection to The Order of the Golden Fleece completed, two-time World Cup champion, philanthropist and UNC alumna Mia Hamm took the stage to present the 2014 Frank Porter Graham Lecture on Excellence.
This year marks the 110th anniversary of the Order, which is the oldest honorary society at UNC.
Lifelong members returned to Chapel Hill this weekend for a celebratory reunion featuring panels and speeches by distinguished members of the UNC community.
The event began with masked men running around the room and “tapping” the newest inductees to the society, which they consider the highest honor at UNC. Then Mia Hamm, ’94 UNC graduate and current member of the Order, spoke to the group.
“Mia Hamm was selected to deliver the Frank Porter Graham Lecture on Excellence because of her love and dedication to the University and because she embodies excellence in all aspects of her life,” said reunion committee co-chairwoman Cathy Stuart.
Hamm shared her thoughts on excellence at UNC and beyond.
Hamm said her pursuit of excellence began in her youth, when she competed on local boys’ soccer teams. She eventually earned a spot on the under-19 Women’s National team at the age of 14.
When choosing where to play in college, Hamm said she had her sights set on UNC.
“No doubt this is where I wanted to be. I love the culture. I knew I had to be a part of the culture of excellence and tradition,” she said.
During her freshman year, Hamm’s coach asked her what she wanted to be at UNC. Hamm responded, “I want to be the best,” but she said she didn’t know what it would take.
Knowing that she had great potential, her coach reminded Hamm, “Successful people make that decision every day.”
Hamm led the team to four straight NCAA Championships, earning her the title of All-American three times.
When her brother passed away from a rare bone marrow disease, she created the Mia Hamm Foundation, which raises funds for families in need of a bone marrow or cord blood transplant and the development of more opportunities for women in sports.
“When we talk about excellence, we could talk about the medals, but the lives we influence with the Foundation blows those things away,” she said.
David Baron, an Order member who graduated in 2012, said he appreciated Hamm’s guidance.
“One of her more powerful messages is that excellence isn’t an act, but a habit,” he said.
Hamm said the standard of excellence at UNC is only going to get better after listening to what the newest members have done in service to the University.
“One thing I love about this University is the understanding of being a part of something that’s greater than the individual.”