I grew up with you in my blood. The alma mater poured from my lips with ease from my lips from the beginning. The only thing I ever wanted in my life from the moment I understood what it was, was UNC diploma. When I didn’t get in straight out of high school I was devastated. It seemed I was the only one you didn’t want UNC, I wasn’t good enough for you. I didn’t know I would ever be good enough. I worked so hard my freshman year, in a place I didn’t want to be, aching to be in Chapel Hill. I submitted my application to transfer and I waited. It was agonizing. Six months later I got that acceptance email and I screamed. And I cried. My life changed the moment I read that email, not just for the better, but for the best.
My first semester I came excited but terrified and you gave me two amazing women. Two best friends who had the same love of you and the same ambitions as I did. The first class I ever went to, one of them was there. The other joined me for some of my first English classes. We went to every football and basketball game. We stayed up late talking and laughing, listening to music, doing a lot of homework. We shared so many meals together (our first text in our group message is “Dinner at 6:30?”) and just as many study sessions. We coined iconic phrases and inside jokes. With the mere mention of a word or phrase we will still descend into uncontrollable giggles. We were inseparable for all that time. They’re still my best friends UNC, thank you for that. I cried moving out of my dorm UNC, not from relief, like the previous year, but because I was grateful. Grateful for the fun I didn’t know college could be and the friends I didn’t know I would make.
First semester junior year, when I was settled in, I thought that I had all the friends I needed and that I hit the peak of my academic ambitions, you dumped so much in my lap I didn’t know what to do with myself. You gave me the class that inspired my honors thesis, the professor who would become my mentor, and a study group that was so much more than that. We laughed, I cried, we listened to Bruce Springsteen, and we ate tacos while studying Renaissance literature. I got one of my best friends out of that deal, and a group of people from every discipline you could imagine came together to absolutely destroy that final exam. It was magical UNC, I had never enjoyed group work before that. You know what else you gave me that semester UNC? Through a run of the mill email from the history department you gave me an internship which inspired in me a love of historic preservation that I still carry with me. You gave me a cause to fight for (like I needed another) and even better, you gave me even more friends. Two women who shared my love of history, who I spent countless hours drinking coffee with and discussing the ever important topics of boys and women in history with. The women I worked with were so supporting and encouraging, I didn’t know I could enjoy work that much.
Then UNC, you really surprised me. You dropped two new subleasers in my apartment when this time around I was sure that I had my friend group set in stone. Then, at the end of the semester, I had two new best friends out of nowhere. It shouldn’t have happened like that. It shouldn’t have taken only four months to develop deep and lasting friendships, but it did. We watched movies, drank wine, turned the heat up way too high during the winter. We laughed and cried and filled out brackets. I don’t know how many pints of ice cream, boxes of wheat thins, chicken breasts, and boxes of pasta we consumed. We had family style dinners, they became like sisters to me. We have so many memories together from just that semester I can’t even begin to recount them all. (Almost all of them also feature incidents I should not mention to the general public.) Slowly their friends became my friends too. And these women too, impacted me for the better.
I came into senior year with an apartment full of friends, a thesis to write, and a basketball team ranked preseason number one. It’s not fair that my best year was my last one UNC. It’s not fair that I was the happiest I had ever been and you made me leave. It’s not fair that I took some of my favorite classes ever during my last semester, that our football team won every game I attended, that I traveled to Houston to see our basketball team play for a national championship, I celebrated my 21st birthday, I ate a ton of buffalo dip, discovered I like gin, watched sunsets from my balcony, made a ton of trips to Cookout, rocked an iconic Halloween costume, drank a ton of coffee, saw Beyonce in concert, took a road trip to Florida to go to Universal Studios, went to Senior Bar Golf, rushed Franklin Street, and made so many more lifelong memories in the last few months I was there. And you made me leave.
UNC you have given me some of the best moments of my life, and admittedly some of the worst. But every moment has been worth all it took to get here. Standing in line for four hours in the rain and cold for a game I never even got into, sitting in the library until it closed, buried in twelfth century primary sources, sobbing on my friends’ shoulders over some problem or another, bad exam grades. Every discouraging, embarrassing, disappointing, moment was worth it. And I can’t not mention the people you didn’t give me UNC. My old friends from middle school, high school, my first year of college, my family. They loved me through every moment. They came to visit me, sat in the library with me, watched games with me, slept over in my apartment, and ate cookies with me at 2am (thank God for delivery.) My relationships with them are even stronger now and my life is bursting with people and memories who I adore and I could not be more thankful for. Now I have two degrees, lifelong friends, and enough old bluebooks to wallpaper the White House. The highest highs, the lowest lows, more than my share of embarrassing moments, you allowed all of that to happen. So this is my letter to you, UNC. Part thank you note, part love letter, part coping mechanism for saying goodbye.
As Charles Kuralt asked, “What is it that binds us to this place?” He was right in that it is not “the well, the bell or the stone walls” or anything else he mentions. It’s the people, the memories, the knowledge that I have grown into someone I never thought I would become. You’re home to me UNC. I am who I am because of you, UNC.
I love you, thank you, goodbye.
Claire Richie, Class of 2016