For many years, a member of the GAA Board of Directors has presented a “My Carolina Story” at each of the board’s quarterly meetings. As our Carolina family seeks ways to stay connected during these challenging times, board members are sharing their stories with all of our alumni. Hark the Sound.
“The most enduring memories that I have of my time in Chapel Hill … are those thoughts and images of the wonderful people.”
Jan. 9, 2010
I saw the original agenda that had an either/or in this time slot. So, for all of you Draggan Mihailovich fans out there, sorry to disappoint you! You might want to take this opportunity to go take a pottie break or coffee break. Good morning, I’m Kraig Holt, and I’m here this morning to tell you about My Carolina Story. But before I begin, I’d like to first stop and thank our chair, Eleanor Morris, as well as Doug, for this opportunity to come before you today. And I guess I also need to give props to past-Chair Davy Davidson, who added this segment to our meetings during his tenure a couple of years ago. I’m not sure about you, but I’ve always found these segments to be very interesting and enlightening.
My congratulations to all of those who have come before me, because this isn’t the easiest thing to do for a couple of reasons. One, at least in my case, it was hard to get this old brain to reach back some 30-plus years to grab a hold of some of those old memories. And secondly, once I got there I got on a roll, and it was really hard to try to condense it all into 10 minutes or less!
My Carolina Story begins in Baltimore, Md. Unlike some of you, probably many of you, I didn’t grow up loving Carolina … bleeding baby blue … knowing that this was the place that I wanted to call my collegiate home. It was quite the opposite for me. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill wasn’t even on my radar screen as I entered my senior year in high school. I was looking at various Ivy League schools, UVA … and even Duke. But then one day I got this call from my high school guidance counselor. He told me that my school had nominated me for something called the Morehead Scholarship and that I would need to take a trip to Chapel Hill for an interview. Morehead Scholarship … never heard of it. And for a while my mom and I couldn’t get it right, we kept saying Morehouse Scholarship.
Well, OK, a trip down to North Carolina for a four-day weekend sounded like a winner to me. The letter that I received from the Morehead Foundation said that I would meet some fine Southern gentleman named Mr. Mebane (ME-bain) Pritchett (that’s how my mom and I originally pronounced it … not knowing any better) and others. For those of you who don’t know, Mr. Pritchett was the executive director of the Morehead Foundation for many, many years, God rest his soul. So I headed down to Chapel Hill, still not interested at all in the school itself but happy for a little getaway. Let me briefly explain my lack of interest: I was always very strong in math and science, so at the time I thought I might major in some form of engineering. And, of course, there is no engineering program in Chapel Hill.
When I got to Chapel Hill, Mr. Pritchett had ordered up a picture-perfect weekend weatherwise. You know what I mean: It was one of those weekends in February that we get now and then with a big taste of spring … beautiful Carolina blue skies and temperatures in the 70’s, coeds lying out on Connor Beach. And one of the very first people that I met that weekend is right here in the room today, Elbert Avery. He and Kelvin Harris felt the need to take this lonely out-of-stater under their wing, so they sort of latched onto me and showed me the ropes.
And I’m glad that they latched onto me, because I was different, and sometimes it’s lonely to be different. One of the things that was obviously different was the way that I talked. I can still recall that weekend and meeting all these different people as we went from spot to spot across campus. And I met this one young lady, who in the thickest of Southern drawls says to me, “You have such a cute little accent.” And I remember thinking to myself, really? I’m the one with the accent here? But in a sense, I was. I was the one who was different here.
As you might guess, I had a great time during that Morehead interview weekend — otherwise I wouldn’t be standing here talking to you today. So much so that Carolina quickly jumped to the top of my list. When I left to go back to Baltimore, I had a Carolina cap, sweatshirt, T-shirt, jacket … I think I may have even had Carolina socks and underwear, too. I mean, I was hooked! I was either very, very confident or very, very stupid for buying all of that stuff. Either way, I had to get in, otherwise I’d end up looking real silly. A few weeks later, I got that coveted acceptance letter in the mail, and I was well on my way to becoming a full-blooded Tar Heel … whatever the heck that is!
I’m sort of an organized, methodical guy. So as I sorted through my Carolina memories it helped me to try to define a few categories. One of those categories is food. You might not be able to tell it by looking at me, but I love to eat! Chase Cafeteria had to change their all-you-can-eat policy because of people like me. There were lots of new foods that I discovered when I came South. And no, I’m not talking about those Spam sandwiches that I used to load up on at the end of the semester when the money got low. I’m talking about some of those favorite restaurants like the Rat, K&W and The Porthole … man, I loved those rolls! And I’m also talking about my discovery of Southern delicacies like Carolina BBQ … preferably Eastern N.C. BBQ … hush puppies, banana pudding and pecan pie (I later found out that some folks north of Virginia do make it, but they call it pecan, and when you call it pecan, it just ain’t the same – gotta be pecan for me). I can recall going home with a fraternity brother one time, and his mom had fixed fried okra. When they offered me some, I kindly and politely replied that I didn’t think I would like that. Well, she insisted that I just try one, and once I did I proceeded to eat an entire plate full. I still see that family once or twice a year, and when they know I’m coming, they’re always sure to cook up some extra fried okra just for me. Yep, my Carolina story is filled with lots of good eating.
When I think about my Carolina story, I also think about lots of fun times. Those undergrad years were proof that it doesn’t take money to have fun, because even though my pockets were empty those were probably the best four years of my life. Whether it be hanging out on the wall in front of the Undergraduate Library or just hanging out in The Pit and checking out the scenery. You talk about diversity? There are all kinds of people on this campus, and sometimes it was fun just to sit back and watch. And what about those quiet times in the Student Union? Yes, I said quiet times! I’m referring to weekdays from 3 to 4 when a couple hundred folks would gather to quietly watch General Hospital and would be hanging on to Luke and Laura’s every word. It was quieter there than it was in the Undergraduate Library. When I think about the fun times I think about the parties and the various venues on campus … the Hinton James rec room, The Great Hall and, of course, the sweaty, steamy Upendo Lounge. I even DJ’d a few parties back in the day … and yes, I was a child of the disco era and not ashamed to tell you that I still have some of those albums in my collection at home. I also think about my fraternity, Omega Psi Phi, and all of the great times that I had with my frat brothers. I know that a lot of times when we say fraternity people think in terms of a house. But the black frats don’t have houses here. Truly, it’s all about the fellowship, and those relationships last forever. And when I think back on the fraternity aspect, one of the highlights for me is the stepshows. As I made my notes it occurred to me that some of you might not even know what a stepshow is, especially if you were here before black Greeks came to campus in 1973. A stepshow is a choreographed, synchronized combination of marching and chants, which when done well can be very entertaining. My friend Avery, from one of our rival frats, can tell you what happens, when it’s not done well. Actually, that’s one of the things that goes on in a stepshow, we talk about how great our frat is and how bad the other frats are … all in good fun. And yes, good fun was definitely a part of my Carolina story.
The next thing I thought about was athletics. Not too long after being here, I went to my very first football game in Kenan Stadium. I remember it well — we were playing ECU, East Carolina University. And I remember my first thought being, maybe I should have taken more geography classes in high school. I was very familiar with South Carolina and North Carolina, but I wasn’t aware that the Eastern part of the state had seceded and formed the 51st state. That ECU football game was the first of many great memories associated with Carolina sporting events. There was Dudley Bradley’s miracle last-second steal and dunk against the Wolfpack, Al Wood’s 39-point outburst against UVA and Ralph Sampson in the Final Four, and many memorable battles with that school down the road. And, of course, the ultimate was the graduation present that Sam, Michael, James and company gave me, the 1982 national championship and the best party that I’ve ever been to all night long on Franklin Street. We were wild and crazy and foolish back then … as students tend to be … but I’m proud to say that we weren’t foolish enough to jump over bonfires and do some of the other foolishness that they do today.
I had my own personal athletic exploits as well. Like getting dunked on at the Hinton James basketball court by a skinny little high school kid named Michael Jordan. He was here as a high school junior for either a Project Uplift or Upward Bound weekend where minority kids get a chance to check out Carolina firsthand. By the way, our former chair, Randy Jones, used to rule that court at Hinton James back in the day, doing battle with his arch-rival, Archie. Our frat team was a perennial intramural powerhouse in basketball, and we seemed to always meet up with the football players in the campus Final Four. I was well-schooled in the Dean Smith way. Play smart, play good defense, take a charge now & then to motivate the team. Well one day I accidentally … and I emphasize that word … I accidentally took a charge from Lawrence Taylor. Taking a hit from him going full speed with no pads on, I’m just lucky that I didn’t end up in the hospital that day, but I survived.
One thing about being at Carolina, you’re around all these world-class athletes … Michael Jordan, Kelvin Bryant, Ethan Horton come to mind … and my suitemates were part of the lacrosse team that won two national championships. You’re around all these great athletes, and you find out that for the most part they’re just regular people, they’re just like everyone else. My footnote here is that this statement does not apply to LT … he was far from regular.
I guess since I’m talking about my college experience that I need to mention some of the academic side as well. When I look back I have to chuckle at myself a little bit. I look like an intelligent guy, right? This is the interactive part … you’re supposed to nod your heads. So I’m going to try that again. I look like an intelligent guy, right? Well, believe it or not, it was not until after my first semester that I understood what drop/add was all about. I thought I had to stick with the schedule that was given me. So here I was with 8 o’clock classes Monday through Friday … and I had a 2-to-6 chem lab in the dungeons of Venable Hall’s basement on Friday afternoons. So when everybody else was heading to the stepshows or getting their weekends started on Friday evening, I was trudging out of Venable ready to wash the chemical smells off of me. When I made the decision to come to Carolina, one of the concerns was the potential to have some very large classes. I came from a private college prep school, where we had maybe 400 kids in grades 9 though 12. Well, in my very first of those 8 o’clock classes, Chem 11, we had about that many or more in the lecture hall. But I always got exactly what I needed out of my Carolina education. And I never, not once, felt like I was just a number. I was comfortable in the large, lecture environment, as long as I knew that I could get personal time with my professor and/or TA when needed. And I was just as comfortable in the small classes as well, like the sociology class where we had stimulating discussions about poverty in the U.S. and how it personally impacted the 15 or so people in the classroom. I loved the variety of course offerings here at Carolina, there was so much to choose from. And more than that, I loved the variety of people … faculty and students … who assisted in and contributed to my growth, learning and development. I loved my Carolina experience so much that I decided to stick around for a couple of extra years. 1982, you might recall, was a tough time from a job perspective. So I decided to be like my classmate, Harriet Morrison Loweth, and stick around to get my MBA here as well.
While I was at Carolina I obviously developed and grew intellectually. But in addition to that, I also grew spiritually. I told you all about that Morehead interview weekend and how I fell head over heels (pun intended) in love with Carolina. You know that bumper sticker, “If God is not a Tar Heel, then why is the sky Carolina blue?” I believed that bumper sticker when I left that weekend. Yes, contrary to what my mama had taught me growing up, I went back to Baltimore believing that God was in fact a Tar Heel. Fast forward a couple of years. Any chemistry majors here in the room? Well, there were two classes that stand out distinctly in my mind, and you’ll know what I’m referring to. One is the second organic chemistry class, I think it was Chem 62 back then. And then there was physical chemistry, P-Chem, I think that one was Chem 180. I don’t know how it is with most fraternities, but in black fraternities we go through something we call Hell Week. Well P-Chem was like Hell Week that lasts for an entire semester! Anyway, with both organic chem and P-Chem I got to a place where the only way that I could make it through was via prayer. … I had to ask God to help me. So as I got through my junior and senior years, in my warped spiritual world not only did I believe that God was a Tar Heel, I also believed that he must have been a chem major given that he helped me to pass those classes! Fast forward to graduate school. I was in Woollen Gym playing ball and by chance met this beautiful, smart, unselfish, loving woman who today is my wife. And that’s when I finally recognized the one true God … the one who is kind and loving and merciful and giving and who graciously looks out for silly, sinful, foolish, undeserving people like me. It is God and only God that could have blessed me with that wonderful woman. If you don’t remember anything else that I’ve said today, I want you remember to mention those kind words to my wife when she joins us here for our April meeting.
And finally, as I reflected on my Carolina story, the one commonality among the things that I’ve talked about today … the food and the fun times … the athletics and the academics … the one thing that undergirds it all is the people. The most enduring memories that I have of my time in Chapel Hill, the most indelible images that are sketched in my mind and on my heart, are those thoughts and images of the wonderful people that I’ve had the opportunity to interface with along the way. There’s nothing like good ol’ homegrown North Carolina folk. And I do mean nothing! When it comes down to it, that’s what got me here in the first place. Sure, Carolina was a school with great academics (but no engineering program!). Certainly, Carolina had some of the best athletic teams around, basketball and beyond. Yep, those periodic stints of 70-degree weather during the winter months were attractive to a Northern boy. And there were most definitely some beautiful, gorgeous and sweet coeds all over campus that weekend that I came to town. But in the end it was the people, the genuine warmth, hospitality and sincerity of the people that I met which lured me to Chapel Hill. It started with Mr. Pritchett and the wonderful Morehead staff. And continued with professors like Bill Little in the chemistry department and Jack Evans in the business school who cared about making sure that you developed critical thinking skills that would take you beyond the classroom, beyond Carolina. Add to that all the lifelong friends like Ave and Teresa and my frat brothers and others. And top it all off with folks that I’ve met in the 28 years since I graduated, dedicated folks like Stephanie and Tanea and Doug and other staffers here who love this great University and want to ensure that it continues to be great. It’s the people who made me want to come here, it’s the people who made it such a great experience while I was here, and it’s the people who make me want to stay connected year after year.
I thank God for presenting me with the opportunity to come to school here at Carolina and the opportunity to stay involved over the years. And I thank God for people like all of you around this room who make Carolina the great institution that it is and always will be. Thank you! And thank you, Eleanor, once again, for the opportunity to share a little bit about my Carolina story.