On Homecoming weekend in 2016, recent UNC graduate Monique LaBorde set out a plate of locks and a few sharpies and waited in the Coker Arboretum.
She watched as couples lying the grass migrated over to the pile and interacted with the locks. One pair in particular, who she pegged as first-years, picked up a lock and signed it — placing it on a small gate in the Arboretum.
“This is exactly what I wanted,” LaBorde said.
Their lock joined several of LaBorde’s own — two to represent her two big loves at Carolina, and one, the first one, for her sister’s marriage.
This initial lock still sits on the top left corner of the gate, with June 11, 2016, her sister’s wedding date, engraved.
“I put theirs on first, just basically, because they were the first big Carolina love in my life at the time,” LaBorde said of the couple, whom she said are avid UNC fans and alums.
LaBorde revealed the secret gift at the wedding, as her sister teared up at the announcement. The couple also received a small photo of the lock to remember the symbol.
At the wedding, LaBorde said many other Carolina graduates were similarly touched by the display.
“They were all like, ‘wow, this is a great idea, we gotta go back and do that, why didn’t we think of that?’” she said. “So that was really cute.”
Now a couple years later, LaBorde said she hopes to return to add a lock for her and her current partner Brennan Lewis, a UNC junior.
She said the locks don’t need to exclusively represent marriage. LaBorde also encouraged friends to place locks in remembrance of unrequited loves and crushes throughout college.
“It takes so much energy and so much pining,” she said. “You’re allowed to have something to represent that or to memorialize all that you went through at UNC.”
But LaBorde said she’s afraid the gate of locks won’t last long in the Arboretum — and if she ever adds a later love lock, that it might be taken down by the administration.
Margo MacIntyre, a curator for the Coker Arboretum, said she knows little about the gate.
“The locks started appearing, and a few are added from time to time,” MacIntyre said.
Lewis, LaBorde’s partner, said those in the campus garden have been great about leaving the locks up so far, and supporting students wanting to leave that mark.
The couple visited the love lock gate on one of their first dates, Lewis said.
“It’s awesome to see the lock gate grow from just Monique’s locks to around 20 or 30 locks now,” they said.
LaBorde said she only knew the first few people who added locks to the gate.
“Big locks, or weird engraved locks, there’s one with a double heart — I have no idea who those people are,” she said.
Some locks signed with Sharpie during Homecoming weekend have begun to fade away, LaBorde said.
The fact that the collection of locks has continued to grow says something about the Carolina community, she said.
“I just feel like this is something that is so in the Carolina spirit,” she said.
“(It’s) something that is a little bit bold, a little bit amorous.”
Staff writer Nicole Booth contributed reporting to this story.
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