2004 Harvey E. Beech Outstanding Alumna Award
Karol V. Mason ’79
Karol Virginia Mason grew up in Amityville, New York. When she began thinking about heading south for college, one of her high school teachers showed her his Carolina alumni magazines. She was fascinated and decided to visit Chapel Hill.
She loved it here, and when she was admitted as an out-of-state student, she was ecstatic. She arrived on campus knowing no one but quickly felt at home. There was a warmth to the place.
“My Chapel Hill experience was nothing like people expected the South to be,” she says. “It was a wonderful experience. I had relationships across racial lines, and it was a wonderful experience.”
Meeting a broad cross-section of people prepared her well, she says, for law school at the University of Michigan. She went on to become the first African-American woman to become a partner in a major Atlanta law firm. She is an expert in public finance law and is especially skilled at financing student housing at colleges and universities.
“College should prepare you for the real world,” she says. “I think that’s one of the reasons I’m so passionate about Carolina. I encourage people to go to a large public institution because that’s really representative of what the world is like, as opposed to a private college where you don’t have the diversity you have at Carolina.”
Karol serves on Carolina’s Board of Trustees, where she is making sure the University retains that character. She feels a sense of duty to the people of the state and to UNC alumni across the country.
She wins frequent praise for questioning how board decisions will affect students, not just the institution. She believes that a university must always challenge students and work to stay relevant to each new generation.
Karol has served on the Board of Visitors. She received the General Alumni Association’s Distinguished Young Alumni Award. She has been active in the Carolina First Campaign on the Minority Alumni Steering Committee
And the sense of adventure that brought Karol to Carolina drives her still. She enjoys European vacations filled with biking and hiking, and she dreams of retiring to Paris to work as a photojournalist. Ever a student, she is working on her French.
In the meantime, Karol is a philanthropist, volunteer, patron of the arts and a mentor to many bright young attorneys. One of them, a fellow Carolina graduate, said: “If you are hard-working, she is more than willing to bend over backward for you. She is an excellent person to have as a mentor and a coach.
Karol enjoys the special connection she feels when she meets other Carolina alumni. She believes it is a feeling shared by the graduates of no other institution.
“You feel something different here,” she says. “It’s hard to explain to other people.”
Extraordinary leaders like Karol ensure that the next generation of young students will be able to experience that sense of belonging..