In just two weeks, the Class of 2011 will be graduating in Kenan Stadium. Anyone who has been to Carolina knows what an impact this institution and the surrounding community make on an individual. But I sometimes wonder if people outside the campus realize what an impact our students make on their community during their four years here.
Sometimes they actually leave something physical behind, like the blue light emergency phones that students took through the town of Chapel Hill’s approval process to get installed in neighborhoods off-campus. A student, David Baron, is the driving force behind the HOPE Garden on Homestead Road, where homeless people learn valuable farming and marketing skills while offering fresh local produce to the community. Another student, Megan Jones, challenged UNC to help provide more affordable housing for our employees through the Build-A-Block project with Habitat for Humanity. University student and employee volunteers joined together to build 10 homes in the new Phoenix Place neighborhood over the past year.
But these are only some of the most recent marks UNC students have left on the community. Some student initiatives have become local institutions of their own, like the Student Health Action Coalition clinic, begun in 1967. At the Carrboro Community Health Center, SHAC students from all UNC health-affairs schools provide free health services to those who are unable to access the health care system. The APPLES service-learning program recently celebrated 20 years of combining classes with opportunities for outreach, such as legal advocacy for minors, tutoring in high schools and teaching English as a second language at community centers.
At Carolina, students reach out in ways that often go unnoticed by those they don’t impact directly. Students go on their own and in groups to serve food at the Interfaith Council kitchen, to clean and cook at the Ronald McDonald House and to mentor middle-school students in low-income neighborhoods. They give music lessons to kids who can’t afford them. They are Big Brothers and Big Sisters. They do arts and crafts projects with sick children and help cancer patients write journals about their experiences. They recycle. They take the bus. They help install smoke detectors in local apartments. They take toys and treats to needy children. They walk door to door at the beginning of the school year to remind students in off-campus housing to be good neighbors. They run and dance and bake and sell like crazy to raise money for all kinds of wonderful causes.
Yes, college students are young, and they are more likely to get attention when they do something foolish, like starting a bonfire on Franklin Street after a Carolina victory. But what doesn’t always get the attention it deserves is just how much these fine young men and young women do while they are here to make Chapel Hill, Carrboro and the surrounding area a better place to live. And they do all this, knowing that they are only here for a short time.
So when you see those bright-eyed young Tar Heels racing around May 8 in their new True Blue robes – made from 100 percent post-consumer recycled material because they are concerned about the environment – think about what they have contributed to make your year-round home a better place to live. These graduates will be taking away so much from their time at Carolina, but they also leave behind quite a legacy.