UNC celebrated its 228th birthday on Tuesday. This year’s University Day took a more somber tone following multiple tragic events over the weekend.

University leaders at the event tried to balance tragedy and celebration with a message of hope and resilience.

UNC students left flowers and wrote chalk messages of love and support in the campus pit on Tuesday as they grieved following the death of a student over the weekend. Classes were canceled as part of a Wellness Day to address what Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz called a mental health crisis.

Meanwhile, in Memorial Hall, the campus community celebrated the 228th anniversary of the founding of the university. Guskiewicz acknowledged the grief which made the normally cheerful celebration quite different this year.

“Amid pain, suffering and despair, where do we find the strength to move forward?” Guskiewicz said. “How do we build resilience? I don’t have the answers, but the word that comes to mind for me is hope”

Guskiewicz said hope and resilience bind people together, which is what we need right now.

University Day is typically a celebration of the founding of the nation’s oldest public university. It commemorates what UNC Student Body President Lamar Richards said he believes is a stained history. He said this year, the commemoration was especially difficult.

“On this day of supposed celebration, Carolina is grieving, our community is aching. Today, university day is a sad day,” Richards said. “It cements the necessity of the fundamental and institutional change necessary to protect the sanctity, the peace and the wellness of us all.”

Richards said the loss of life of just one fellow student is devastating, which is why taking time for wellness and showing empathy for one another is critical.

Richards said he is always hesitant to celebrate the university’s past because of its historical oppression of marginalized people. He said he is grateful the university is not the same place it was 228 years ago.

“The truth is I take classes, attend events and represent a student body inside buildings and within an institution that was built not for people that look like me, but by people that look like me,” Richards said.

The ceremony went on to honor distinguished faculty and alumni for their contributions to the university. UNC System President Peter Hans said he is proud of the university for all it has accomplished through these challenges.

“One of the most impressive things about this university is its ability to both preserve and push forward,” Hans said. “To be conservative in the way it protects wisdom and tradition and progressive in the way it seeks new knowledge and welcomes new voices.”

Hans said over the past two centuries, that the tension within the university has made this community the thriving place it is today.

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