Lately my alma mater’s name has been dragged through the mud. A lot. The academic scandal rocking the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has been a hot topic in sports news, and I’m pretty sick of hearing about it. Because it’s not the whole story. It’s not even the biggest part of the story. Carolina is so much more than sports, and I think that story needs to be told, too.
I still remember the day I got my acceptance letter to UNC. I had no idea how much that letter would change my life—how much it would shape the person I am today. Carolina is the place I found my community and my niche. It’s the place I discovered that I love writing and that biology is not my friend. It’s the place I figured out how to stand on my on two feet and the place I heard God’s voice more clearly than I ever had in my life.
My classes at UNC were not easy. In fact, my first few classes at Carolina were a rude awakening to the fact that I had never really had to study before, and I didn’t actually know how to do it. The classes I took at UNC introduced me to new concepts, ideas, and perspectives. I learned that the world is much bigger than I realized and that there are thousands of ways to think, believe, and live in it. My professors pushed me outside of my comfort zone and challenged me to find my own voice and form my own opinions. I left there feeling confident of my gifts and abilities and prepared to succeed in graduate school or a career or wherever life would take me next.
Not only did Carolina educate me in the classroom, but it also taught me how to be a part of a community—how to live and work and grow with other people. The people I met at Carolina are some of the most important people in my life. During my freshman year at Carolina, I lived in a suite on the sixth floor of Craige with six other girls. The seven of us quickly became a pack, and over the years those girls became my family–the people I call when life feels too hard or when I have something to celebrate. They are the people I danced with at my wedding and the first people I tell when something wonderful or awful or big or scary happens in my life. If all I walked away with at the end of four years was them, it would have been worth it.
And, yes, I love Carolina athletics—for so many reasons. I love it for the chill that goes down your spine on a crisp October night when the game is close and the first chords of “Hells Bells” sound over Kenan Stadium. It’s the giddy excitement that I feel when I watch highlight reels of Michael Jordan’s 1982 game-winning jump shot, Danny Green’s dunk over Greg Paulus, and anything Tyler Hansbrough ever did. It’s jumping over fires and climbing street signs with complete strangers because, “WHEN WILL I EVER GET TO DO THIS AGAIN?,” and you’re all in love with the same place, the same feeling, the same moment. It’s the fact that everyone gets it—that it will always be more than just a game. It’s when the final buzzer sounds and the band begins to play the alma mater—you wrap your arms around people you don’t know and pay tribute to the “priceless gem” in victory or in defeat.
Did we mess up? Yes, we did—irrevocably and inexcusably. But anyone who has been a part of the Carolina family knows that it is about so much more than sports. What is happening in Chapel Hill right now is disappointing and sad, but it doesn’t change how I feel about my school.
So today, like every other day, I am proud and grateful beyond words that I graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. And just in case anyone ever decides to put me in the Ram’s Club video, I am (and always will be) a Tar Heel.