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The Daily Tar Heel

Office DJ: Songs for driving down Highway 54

Photo courtesy of Eliza Benbow.

When I was a kid, I often fell asleep to my dad quietly singing the Carolina fight song as part of our bedtime routine.

As a Tar Heel born and bred, I learned embarrassingly late in life that "Sweet Caroline"  and "Carolina in my Mind" weren’t written exclusively for UNC basketball games. 

On the way home from those games, I would fight to stay awake during the 50-minute drive down N.C. Highway 54 as my dad listened to The Avett Brothers. There was something special about sharing those songs with him, and I wanted to be awake for every second.

Years later, in the summer between being accepted to UNC and moving into my first year dorm, I made the same pilgrimage to campus with my best friend and future roommate as often as possible, a carefully-curated joint playlist boasting songs by artists like Dayglow and The Main Ingredient.

We would wander through then-unfamiliar landmarks and talk about the classes we would take, the places we would study and the people we would meet. UNC was a tempting mystery, and we were eager to solve it.

I haven’t solved the mystery any more than those first visits. I still sometimes feel as if I am engulfed by such a large student body, still get completely lost in Carroll Hall and am frequently rendered speechless by visitors' navigation questions.

I moved into my first year dorm faster than my family and I were ready for, my belongings packed into few enough boxes that I was tearfully hugging my siblings and parents goodbye less than an hour after I got my keys.

Almost as soon as they left, my roommate and I began to decorate the blank walls of our new home, made up of an eclectic collection of photographs, postcards and pages I'd taken from random books.

We listened to a playlist we’d made for moving in about new beginnings, with Declan McKenna and Paul Simon paving the way.

I felt uncomfortable and small in such a new space, and filling the walls with reminders of familiarity while singing along to songs I loved was a balm for move-in day nerves.

Since that first night, I’ve unpacked and repacked my life several times.

I’ve spent hours on the quad in front of Wilson Library, ignoring my homework to swap song recommendations with friends. 

I've gone on many late-night walks around campus by myself to clear my head, blasting Phoebe Bridgers.

UNC has been both a constant in my life and a driver of change in my relationship with myself and the world around me.

I have discovered new facets of myself with the encouragement of those around me and felt the joy of watching those I love grow.

These are the songs that I always come back to that remind me of Carolina, whether it’s driving down Highway 54, taping memories to the walls of my first dorm room or laying on the quad.

Hopefully, they remind you to stay grounded in the people and places you love, but to be open to growth.

Welcome (almost) to Carolina. I hope it's already starting to feel like home.


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@dthopinion |

Eliza Benbow

Eliza Benbow is the 2023-24 lifestyle editor at The Daily Tar Heel. She has previously served as summer university editor. Eliza is a junior pursuing a double major in journalism and media and creative writing, with a minor in Hispanic studies.