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'Broke college kids love free stuff': Students reflect on FallFest 2023


UNC students and members of the Order of the Bell Tower stand outside of Davis Library during Fall Fest on Sunday, Aug. 20, 2023.

As 15,000 attendees walked through the Pit in 90-degree heat on Sunday holding stuffed rams and corn dogs, they celebrated the start of the school year at the 28th annual FallFest.

FallFest, hosted by the Carolina Union, took place on Sunday from 6:30 to 10 p.m. 

From the Student Union to the Pit to Polk Place, the event featured over 40 sponsors, including University departments, corporate sponsors and small businesses. Local and national vendors brought more than $100,000 worth of food and beverage items, and over 5,000 items were distributed, including tote bags, bucket hats and t-shirts.

UNC students stand in line to play interactive basketball in the Pit during Fall Fest on Sunday, Aug. 20, 2023.

The celebration is a “fun welcome back to campus” for new and returning students, according to the Carolina Union website.

The event directly followed New Student Convocation, the University's welcome for all first-year and transfer students. For first-year Ava Sharon, the celebration was a distraction from her nervousness about starting classes and sadness over leaving her family. She said that she had been looking forward to FallFest and that the free giveaways were a part of what drew her to it. 

“I just feel like in high school, you have to pay for everything and you get very used to always watching your bank account,” she said. “So it's been really fun to come to college and be able to get free t-shirts and free stickers.”

UNC students stand in line for a bounce house during Fall Fest on Sunday, Aug. 20, 2023.

The free merchandise was one of sophomore Catharine Yoder's favorite parts of FallFest because “broke college kids love free stuff,” she said. 

For promoters like Kenny Barone from the social media app sp0t, the tradition is one way to get the word out about their services to students. 

“There's just so many people here," he said. "It's really a great way to get everyone at once."

While Yoder loved watching students getting involved, she also said there was a lot going on.

“It's crazy to see how many people actually go to the school,” she said. “It's like a sea of people, and it's so many people that it's hard to navigate.”

Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz said there was a lot of energy on campus during the event. 

UNC students placed painted handprints on display in the Pit during Fall Fest on Sunday, Aug. 20, 2023.

He said FallFest is important because it builds a sense of community, and that he loved seeing the tradition being enjoyed by all University students, not just first-years. 

“I've seen a lot of our sophomores, juniors and seniors here, and there's a lot of enthusiasm and excitement about being on campus right now,” he said.  

For senior Sophie Southerland, FallFest was a place to reconnect with student life one last time, she said. Southerland was a first-year in 2020 — when FallFest was canceled because of COVID-19 — and without the event, she said it was “harder to get plugged in.”

“It’s where you actually feel like you’re a college student before school starts,” she said. "Everyone’s in one place and you get to see everything that UNC has to offer.”

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Lauren Rhodes

Lauren Rhodes is a 2023-2024 assistant university editor at The Daily Tar Heel. She has previously served as a senior writer for the university desk. Lauren is a sophomore pursuing a double major in media and journalism and political science with a minor in politics, philosophy and economics.