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The Daily Tar Heel

Chapel Hill’s small-town feel keeps UNC graduates close, despite constant change

Old Well

The Old Well is a fixture of McCorkle Place.

Despite the changes that the UNC and Chapel Hill community has seen over the years, three UNC graduates still are happy to call Chapel Hill home. 

After graduating in 2010, Jessica Stringer left the the area for four years, but when the call came with an opportunity to move back to Chapel Hill as an editor at Chapel Hill Magazine, Stringer couldn’t refuse.

“I always thought I’d move back, but I didn’t quite think it would be this soon,” Stringer said.

Stringer said her favorite memory from her time at UNC didn’t actually take place at the University. She was in Detroit watching the men’s basketball team beat Michigan State University for the 2009 NCAA National Championship title.

Though, she missed the Chapel Hill community during the celebration.

“As cool as it was to say I was at the game, I almost wish I could have snapped my fingers and been right back in Chapel Hill experiencing that Franklin Street win,” she said.

She has seen the most change in the physical landscape of the Town, with new restaurants and shops replacing classics like Spanky’s on Franklin Street.

“While Chapel Hill certainly has many more tall buildings than when I was in school, I just think the character and the sense of community hasn’t changed,” Stringer said.

Bethany Chaney, a member of Carrboro Board of Aldermen, grew up in Chapel Hill and graduated from UNC in 1990. 

Chaney said she feels the foundation she got at UNC was formative and important throughout her career and in her decision to be a part of local government. 

She first feared staying close to home would hinder her from having a true college experience but quickly learned that she was able to have those new experiences and almost forget she was in the place she grew up.

She lived outside of North Carolina before deciding in 2004 to move back home. Since then, she’s been a nonprofit consultant focusing on program development in the Chapel Hill area. 

While much has remained the same over the years, Chaney said she desperately misses Hector’s Greek grilled cheese sandwiches. 

Chaney said she’s always admired the University's commitment to the views of its students, but she’s been incredibly disappointed at the way the University has handled Silent Sam. 

“Given that Carolina has sought to be a place where student voices can be heard and where students can feel protected, it’s disappointing that it doesn’t feel the same for every student,” Chaney said.

For Gerry Cohen, a three-time graduate of the University, attending Carolina was a legacy. Cohen was raised in Connecticut, but grew up hearing about Chapel Hill from his father, a member of the class of 1945. 

Cohen lives in Raleigh but said he is in Chapel Hill often and keeps up with the Town and University. 

“The only thing that’s the same about Chapel Hill is that it changes,” Cohen said. 

Cohen said he's most proud of his efforts to establish the Town's transportation systems while he was a member of the Chapel Hill Town Council.

He said while the University’s student body continues to grow, Chapel Hill has still retained its small-town community feel. 

“Chapel Hill pretends to be a village,” he said. “Whether it ever was, I don’t know, but it pretends to be a village, and that’s something I’ve always admired.”

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