One thing that has been apparent to me across the nearly four years I have been President of UNC is that our university community is comprised of exceptional individuals. This has been all the more evident as we have navigated challenging times together. I have truly enjoyed every interaction I have had with our students, faculty, staff, and alumni – learning about their journeys, what brought them to UNC, and what their aspirations are for themselves and their families. There are so many incredible stories within our community that serve as a source of inspiration and provide purpose for the important work we do each day.
Last summer, I was able to enjoy Colorado’s beautiful mountain landscapes and continued my quest to summit the state’s 14ers. One Saturday morning, I hiked to the summit of Mount Yale. I began shortly after 3 a.m. and only one other person was in view, also getting ready to begin the hike. We started ascending the mountain around the same time, enjoying each other’s company and the calmness all around us. At one point, I asked him where he was from – he said Greeley. Naturally, I asked him what he did for work, and he said he worked at UNC. He then, in turn, asked what I did for work and I told him I was President of UNC. It didn’t seem to phase him much. I had to smile, marveling in that moment over the odds that two people who had never met, but both worked at the same institution would find themselves summiting a peak together so many miles from home. We had a great conversation and I learned about his background, family, and interests. Reaching the summit of a 14er is typically the highlight of that experience, but on that day, our conversation on the journey up and down the mountain was the best part for me.
The man who hiked with me, Gonzalo Quinonez, has worked in our recreation facility for 15 years. He is a beloved staff member and proud UNC Bear. We have since built a friendship and camaraderie around our similar passions and I enjoy visiting with him when I rock climb at our campus rec center. I share this story as an example of how genuine the people who work at UNC are – and how our paths as Bears cross in even the most unlikely of situations.
Gonzalo and all our UNC staff members play a significant role in enriching the experience for our students, which helps empower them to succeed in their respective careers after graduation. In their own journeys – in their own ways – they help our students ascend the peaks represented by their greatest hopes and dreams. Last Friday, we had the pleasure of celebrating our terrific faculty and staff on National Employee Appreciation Day by announcing some initiatives to improve the work-life balance among our employees. Just as we invest in our students and their success, it is important that we invest in our faculty and staff, as well.
Celebrating our alumni is very important to honoring the people who make up our community, too. Later this month, we will honor six individuals with the prestigious Honored Alumni Award, individuals who are recognized leaders in their careers and communities. Each year, the stories of our Honored Alumni are uplifting, and this year is no different. When learning more about this year’s recipients, some of whom I have had the pleasure of having a close relationship with, one element stood out above the rest. Each recipient talked at length about a faculty or staff member at UNC who had a profound impact on them when they were a student. Thus, reinforcing my belief that our work at the university transforms lives. These recipients are living proof of just that.
Sometimes it can be easy to get buried in our work and lose sight of the impact we have on those around us. This month, I want to make sure we are taking the time to celebrate success and service within our community, which we will do at events like Honored Alumni and our Employee Recognition banquet. As a community of students, faculty, staff, and alumni, we will never all get to climb a mountain together – literally – but I will always enjoy the journey and learning about your stories and successes along the way.
Rowing, Not Drifting,