It was an atypical February Sunday yesterday in Chapel Hill. It was 72 degrees in the afternoon–it was sunny and warm and windy and bright. Some students lounged on their roofs in tanks as they smoked blithely on cigars; others rested heads in hands as their sprawled bodies coated the quad grass. Students ran and biked and threw Frisbees and did everything but think about classes. Things were as beautiful and quaint and lovely as they were that late spring day five years ago when I first stepped onto this campus. It was as charming as it was that first time I smelled the pink and crimson flowers surrounding the great white Well and breathed the sweet Carolina air and decided that if, through some great predetermined deistical means, I managed to receive an acceptance to this University, I would attend.
And a little over a year later, I lay on the floor of an indoor track, still in my uniform, on the phone with my parents as they read aloud a sweet Carolina acceptance letter and as my high school teammates hoisted me above their heads and as I witnessed my dreams finally come true.
And six months later, I drove to Chapel Hill for my freshman orientation. And I met future classmates, and we befriended new faces, and we discussed everything from high school drama to our futures to sports. And, as words turned to Carolina sports, I, as I was first beginning my life in North Carolina, asked the silly question:
“So, who exactly is Dean Smith?”
I should have had the foresight to realize the responses this question would cultivate.
And immediately, my recently made friends barraged me with gasps and with words of his prolific coaching career–they bounced from stories of his national championship wins to his head coaching record to his national coach of the year honors. The story of his Four Corners basketball offense was told. His relationship with the great Michael Jordan was idolized. And I, the Marylander in the group, felt a fool. I never again mentioned my unfamiliarity with Dean Smith–and, from that day, I never felt the need.
Because two months later, I moved into the Ehringhaus dormitory and bought my first textbooks and first went out on Franklin Street and painted my face and chest for my first home football game. I met my future best–and now lifelong–friends. And Dean Smith was everywhere. His name ornaments the entrance of our historic basketball stadium–the “Dean Dome.” His photograph adorns the walls of the Franklin Street classic eateries. His voice resonates through the stadiums before every sporting event as he gently reminds us “My name is Dean Smith, and I am a Tar Heel.”
He is in us, in the students–he is in our passion and our drive and our love and our character. We strive to achieve balance and success and good-valued morals and happiness in our lives. And we live with ever compounding loves for this brilliant University. And we live through a precedent, not set by but continued by Coach Smith, one that yearns us to find the things and the passions–and the people–who we love, and to keep those things close. And for all of us, one of these things has become the Carolina family. And I fell blindly and headfirst into this family, a family that runs seamlessly from me to Coach Smith and through the whole of this beautiful place.
And on this Sunday, February 8, 2015, overlooking the idealistic Chapel Hill scene, the sky beamed its flawless Carolina blue– although a little deeper and a little heavier than usual. The school lost one of its harbingers, a man whose character and passion envelop the thing we call “The Carolina Way.” His passing comes with mourning and loss. But his legacy has provided a clueless Marylander with a North Carolina home. And his passion for this lovable little college town has contributed greatly to this fine Carolina blue skies above our heads. And his love for everything Carolina finds itself in the love we have and always will share for each person as we share study rooms in the libraries of finals week and seats in the bustling Pit and Quad on a sunny day and screams as we jump wildly over fires on Franklin Street after a sweet basketball victory over rival Duke. And his spirit has shown me what it truly means when, for the rest of my life, I call myself a Tar Heel.