The sight of protesting UNC-Chapel Hill students marching and chanting slogans because they don’t like the name emblazoned on a campus building warms my heart. Good for them.
The target of their ire is Saunders Hall, named for a former slave owner who was once the King Klucker of the Ku Klux Klan or something. The building bears his name, the university says, because he published the early colonial records of North Carolina, and that, to historians, is a certified big deal.
I don’t really care all that much what the place is called. What I do care about is a phrase that has been ridiculed and bandied about a lot in the past few years: “The Carolina Way.”
Full disclosure: Yep, I’m a Carolina graduate. I wear my Carolina garb with pride, although I’d be a little more proud if the basketball team would quit choking in the second half and maybe, just maybe, hit a clutch free throw occasionally. That said, I’m the guy in the fight song: “I’m a Tar Heel born and a Tar Heel bred and when I die I’m a Tar Heel dead ”
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Those in the ABC (Anybody But Carolina) club have made great sport of the university’s signature slogan. “The Carolina Way,” they claim in their endless and often nonsensical tirades on the Internet, means phony classes, phony grades, taking down the championship banners in the Dean Dome, an athletics department doing anything to keep athletes eligible, administrators trying to cover up the whole sordid mess, blah, blah, blah.
No, that’s not The Carolina Way. The Carolina Way is the almost 30,000-member student body going to class every day to study medicine, history, journalism, art, chemistry, law, education, astronomy, music or a hundred other disciplines.
The Carolina Way is students who volunteer to work with needy people at home and abroad, building houses, tutoring and, yes, cheering like mad at sporting events.
The Carolina Way is about professors who encourage disheartened students, who do research and remember they are there to teach, inspire and motivate. And, yes, The Carolina Way is their underpaid and overworked graduate assistants who never get the praise or the money they deserve.
I lived it
So the naysayers are wasting their time telling me what they think The Carolina Way is.
I know what it is because I lived it.
My heart was in my throat the first day I walked on campus in the summer of 1970. Fresh out of the Army, I was 27 with a wife and two kids and had been admitted as a “high-risk” provisional student, meaning I was expected to fail and hit the road. The deal was, I had to take two classes in each session of summer school and pass all four with no grade less than a “B” or I was gone.
Two years and two semesters later, I graduated with honors and a degree in journalism.
How? Because of The Carolina Way.
The Carolina Way is married students working day and night to keep family and education going. My wife worked at the Institute of Government and as a waitress while I repaired books at Wilson Library and slung words at the Chapel Hill Weekly. And when we needed a car to get to these jobs, her boss, professor Jake Wicker, sold us one for $65 that had a new set of tires and a new battery.
The Carolina Way was Dean John Adams coming up with a thousand-dollar grant from the Journalism Foundation when, in spite of our four jobs and the GI Bill, we ran out of money for books and tuition and I was looking at having to re-enlist.
The Carolina Way was a grad student teaching French who took pity on me and my Southern accent that first summer and promised that if I tried real hard and came to class every day, I would pass with the “B” I needed to be admitted as a full-time student. I worked harder in her class, and learned more, than in any other class I took.
The Carolina Way? It is journalism professor Walter Spearman arranging a part-time job for me that paid $2 an hour. And it’s another journalism professor lending me his prized and expensive Hasselblad camera so I could take his photography class. And he gave me film for it.
Protests and vigils
The Carolina Way is students marching to support higher wages for cafeteria workers and bravely facing down armed state highway patrolmen. It is working to end the disastrous war in Vietnam. It is lighting candles in silent grief for the murdered Eve Carson. It is protesting the legislature’s attempt to decide who can or cannot speak on campus. It is standing up for your beliefs even when they are unpopular. Especially then.
The past few years have been difficult for those of us who love Carolina. We are disgusted with the whole stinking mess and look forward to the day when those in whose hands we have entrusted our beloved university will have the courage to do the right thing, openly and boldly. Remember what’s written on the university seal?
“Lux Libertas” (Light and Liberty).
That’s The Carolina Way too.