The Daily Tar Heel

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Thursday June 8th

A look at University Day throughout the years

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During his famous 1993 Bicentennial Address on University Day, Charles Kuralt shared what makes UNC worth celebrating. 

“Our love for this place is based on the fact that it is, as it was meant to be, the University of the people.”

On Friday, UNC will celebrate the 225th anniversary of the laying of Old East's cornerstone, the first building constructed on campus. The University began recognizing this day in 1877 to celebrate this historical event and the ideals the nation’s first public university has been committed to since its birth: lux et libertas, or light and liberty. 

Throughout the years, standard University Day events have included the faculty procession, the presentation of honorary degrees and distinguished alumni awards, and speeches by distinguished faculty and guests, including Presidents John F. Kennedy in 1961 and Bill Clinton in 1993. 

This year, in addition to the traditional festivities, the Order of the Bell Tower is sponsoring free “Waffles at Wilson” from 7:30 a.m. to 10 a.m., and there will be cookies and music in the Pit from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Over the past 141 years, University Day has been marked by a variety of different events. Students attending UNC in 1987 were invited to celebrate the commemorative event by attending a free “ice cream social” outside of Memorial Hall after the traditional ceremonies and a Clef Hangers concert by the Old Well in the evening. In 1906, students participated in the procession and sang “college songs” together in Memorial Hall, accompanied by the student orchestra.

Students have also used University Day as a way to make their voices heard by the administration. In 1977, approximately 100 members of the student body marched behind the faculty procession in a protest led by the Black Student Movement. They demanded the University increase its target goals for diverse enrollment. Students protested again in 1992, voicing their concerns over the lack of a freestanding Black Cultural Center. 

Although University Day has incorporated small changes over time, such as a shortened procession path or the addition of free food sponsored by independent organizations, the general focus and significance of the celebration have stayed constant.

“I haven’t perceived it as changing over the years," said John Sweeney, a professor in the UNC School of Media and Journalism. "I haven’t perceived it as suddenly, ‘it’s going to be a bigger thing!’” 

Sweeney said University Day has always been a quiet, respectful way of celebrating UNC's history. 

“We’re in an era where yelling and screaming get rewarded," Sweeney said. "It’s our cable news and all the rest of it. So maybe it’s better that our history be celebrated with quietness and niceness.”

Nicholas Graham, a University archivist, believes University Day has not experienced any dramatic changes over time. Graham enjoys the ceremony because he likes going to the speeches, and University Day takes on another level of significance for him because of his profession. 

“A big part of my job is helping make sure that this University’s history is preserved. So I love it when the whole University takes time to kind of think about the past,” Graham said. “Because I think that we don’t just think about what happened, we think about the ways that we preserve what’s happening now. And we think about the ways that we continue to interpret, reinterpret the past. “

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