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'We have grown better together': UNC and Chapel Hill celebrate years of collaboration

Interim Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz commences University Day on Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019 at Memorial Hall.

UNC, the nation’s oldest public university, turned 226 years old Saturday with a celebration that reflected on tradition and looked toward the future. 

Faculty gathered Saturday morning at the Old Well dressed in formal regalia and carrying banners, proceeding into Memorial Hall as the UNC ceremonial band played to honor UNC's birthday — University Day.

The day commemorates the anniversary of Oct. 12, 1793, when the cornerstone of Old East, the first building constructed on UNC's campus, was laid and public higher education in the United States began.

Reflecting on UNC’s past two centuries, University Day was meant to allow faculty and community members to express their pride about the institution's traditions as a global leader in teaching, learning and discovery.

“But we also understand that we are beyond our past history as our University becomes more diverse, more global, more technological and more engaged with the challenges and opportunities of our own time," interim Chairperson of the Faculty Lloyd Kramer said.

More specifically, this year’s University Day theme focused on service to the state of North Carolina and UNC being both of and for the public.

“Our University is our state, and we belong to the towns and communities that we serve,” interim Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz said during his address. “While we are formally known as the University of North Carolina, we might better be known as the University for North Carolina.”

From working to address issues such as the hurricane impact on the coasts, the opioid epidemic, rural communities' limited access to healthcare, food insecurity and more, Guskiewicz said UNC is focused on serving all 100 counties of North Carolina. 

The goal is to continually reaffirm former UNC President Edward Kidder Graham’s commitment to service, Guskiewicz said. 

Distinguished Alumna and Alumnus Awards were presented to four recipients: James Delany, Nikole Hannah-Jones, Jill McCorkle and Robert Newman.

The Edward Kidder Graham Faculty Service Award was presented to Giselle Corbie-Smith, professor in the School of Medicine, because of her commitment to health disparities research and working to improve the health of minority populations and underserved areas in North Carolina.

The service-oriented focus epitomizes Graham’s call to make the campus coextensive with community boundaries, Board of Trustees Chairperson Richard Stevens said.

And this year’s ceremony was not only in celebration of the University’s birthday and commitment to service, but also the 200th year of town government in Chapel Hill. 

Chapel Hill is now a vibrant college town because of its intersection with the University, Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger said. Transitioning from the past to the present has required the town and the University to be good neighbors and strong community partners, she said.

“Through collaboration and ongoing discussion, we have navigated difficult issues and partnered to seize great opportunities," Hemminger said.

Building on that solid foundation, the town and the University have worked hard together to live up to important ideals as the times have changed, Hemminger said.

“We have grown better together for now over 200 years,” she said.

Guskiewicz said he is grateful for the strong partnership and collaboration with local officials, police, business leaders, community leaders and more. UNC will continue to work toward the goal of being an asset to the Town of Chapel Hill, he said.

But Stevens said University Day should not just emphasize that UNC is coextensive with the boundaries of the state, but also the boundaries of the world.

“Our campus goes well beyond Chapel Hill, to every county in North Carolina and every corner of the world,” Stevens said. “From building the next great companies, to finding a cure for cancer and other diseases, our faculty are addressing critical problems and finding solutions.”

Bernard Bell, executive director of the Shuford Program in Entrepreneurship, said UNC is cultivating the future of the world through the lens of innovation and service.

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Bell said service and innovation can work hand-in-hand. 

“Our students have the power to become or do or be whatever they imagine,” he said. “Our goal to serve others will be reached, and the landscape of innovation and entrepreneurship will always prosper.”

Guskiewicz said UNC should always strive to serve and give more in order to become the leading global public research university it aspires to be. 

“Hark The Sound” resonated through Memorial Hall as the ceremony ended and the faculty returned back outside.

“Happy birthday to our beloved University,” Guskiewicz said.