Oct. 12, 2018
Before I begin, I want to send our thoughts and prayers to our fellow North Carolinians and sister Universities who have been deeply impacted by Hurricane Florence and now Michael. We care and will continue to help.
I’m honored to welcome you as the Chancellor of this special place to this special birthday. It is wonderful to see you all here.
225 years ago, the University of North Carolina was established right here in Chapel Hill, the first public university in America to open its doors.
Our founders believed that the best way to protect the hard-fought freedoms won in the revolutionary war was to invest in public education.
To stand the trials of time, they said, our democracy would depend on Lux et Libertas, Light and Liberty.
And since then, with the generous support of North Carolinians we have strived to realize that vision, evolving and reaching to meet the dreams and needs of each generation.
And they have come – from tiny towns, cities across North Carolina and the world… some are first in their families, others carry the stories and love of this place from generations of family members who preceded them, with their own dreams.
I think I speak for all of us, when I say that our love for Carolina comes from the grand vision of public education born here. Accessibility, affordability and excellence – the citizens of North Carolina deserve no less.
Their support strengthens our resolve to discover, to create, and to open possibilities for every person here so they too can build meaningful lives and advance the public good.
Today, Carolina is one of the world’s greatest, global, public, research universities.
Creativity flourishes. The artistry and intellectual power of our faculty, staff and students produce game-changing discoveries that save lives and drive innovation.
Serving others is as fundamental to our culture as the low stone walls that make our teaching and research so collaborative.
Our graduates fuel the economy, build new industries, and strengthen the fabric of communities across the state and the world.
Every day, as I walk this beautiful campus, I feel grateful to the people who spend their lives caring for our students, nurturing the beauty of our historic grounds, managing our safety, and so much more.
And I think of the more than 300,000 alumni whose lives of purpose are our greatest reward.
The joy and drive in our people embody our celebrated motto, Lux et Libertas, light and liberty.
Of course, our history truly began long ago as the home of the first peoples of the land. And later, many who built our first structures were enslaved, sold as property, couldn’t vote, and were denied, by the laws of the state and nation, the most basic human rights and dignity.
Eleven years ago, the North Carolina General Assembly passed a resolution apologizing for the practice of slavery. They explicitly urged universities “to do all within their power to acknowledge the transgressions, to learn the lessons of history, avoid repeating mistakes and to promote racial reconciliation”.
And so today, on our 225th birthday, I join them.
As Chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I offer our university’s deepest apology for the profound injustices of slavery, our full acknowledgment of the strength of enslaved people in the face of their suffering, and our respect and indebtedness to them. I reaffirm our University’s commitment to facing squarely and working to right the wrongs of history so they are never again inflicted.
We are the only public university to have experienced our nation’s history from the start – war, slavery, suffrage, civil unrest, as well as the hope, freedom, progress, opportunity, learning, and great discoveries fostered here.
Our unique legacy demands that we continue to reconcile our past with our present and future and be the diverse and just community that is fitting for America’s first public university.
Our apology must lead to purposeful action, and build upon the great efforts and sacrifices of those across the years who fought so hard for much of what we value about Carolina today.
We salute the people in the present who work daily to increase access and affordability, to create programs that open our doors even wider, and to embrace the diversity that is our national heritage.
If done with honesty, resolve, and strength of purpose, our choices will help us come to terms with our past, and move us to a better future.
Two years ago, in this Hall, President Spellings said: “Higher education is the next frontier – a new civil right.”
That resonates with all of us at Carolina. We will be planning and working in that spirit for years to come.
As author Terry Tempest Williams said, “The eyes of the future are looking back at us and they are praying for us to see beyond our own time….that we might leave room for the life that is destined to come’.
As we create the future that time will judge, here are some of our challenges:
Can we open our doors even wider?
Can we hold the public trust?
Can we be a place where political disagreement is a source of lively and respectful debate?
Can we do even more to solve the toughest problems, while training the workforce and strengthening future economies?
This will test us and our capacity to partner with others beyond our walls. We will need to recognize and let go of some old habits and norms, to make way for more relevant, inclusive, innovative ways to be a university and a just community.
I believe that we are up to the task. And you are why I believe it.
Esteemed guests, members of the platform party, faculty, students, staff, Chapel Hill Board of Trustees, UNC Board of Governors, Board of Visitors, former Chancellors, elected officials, community members, and friends – you honor us with your presence, your connection to Carolina, and your lives of service.
I hope you will join us as we connect our past with our future and strengthen the relationships that bind us in common purpose.