Again this year, Carolina’s newest alumni celebrate their graduation on Mother’s Day. The coincidence of spring Commencement and Mother’s Day has occurred often since first falling on the same day in 1972. While some regret that Carolina mothers are asked to share their special day with a son or daughter (who, adorned in a robe, perhaps are thinking not only about mom), others believe it can be particularly poignant for both mother and child to celebrate their big day together.
One mother in particular comes to mind. Not unlike most moms in Carolina’s first 150 years, she graduated from high school with little expectation that she would attend college. The youngest of six children born to immigrant parents, her father was killed by lightning when she was six months old. Of the six, only she and an older sister graduated from high school Both she and her husband worked while he attended college, during which time the first two of their five sons were born.
Pregnant with a third son, she received a telegram from Korea informing her that her husband had been badly wounded in Korea. With her encouragement and support and his persistence, he worked his way through demanding physical therapy, recovered and continued his career as a U.S. Army officer.
His military assignments required that she and their sons follow him to new assignments.With each move, together they repeatedly conveyed several absolutes to their sons — always be honest, play fair, always do your best, earn the right to stay out of jail and get a college education.
One June afternoon, when she was only 40, a cab driver delivered another fateful telegram. Near Pleiku, South Vietnam, her husband had been fatally shot in an ambush. With sons age 9, 10, 12, 15 and 17, she assumed the responsibility for seeing that their sons remained committed to their often-conveyed absolutes — including securing a college education.
Her first Carolina Commencement was in Kenan Stadium on a clear Monday evening five years to the day after her husband was killed. The only college graduation she had attended since her husband’s nearly 20 years earlier, it would not be her last.
The next year, the second son became the only one of the five sons not to graduate from Carolina. (He wanted Army ROTC, which was not then offered at UNC.)
The middle son received not one but two degrees from Carolina. (He also had the good fortune of meeting and marrying a Carolina coed.) The fourth son graduated in the humid discomfort of Carmichael Auditorium. And the youngest son received both his undergraduate and master’s degrees from Carolina. (He, too, married a Carolina student.)
While she had not attended college, she encouraged and nurtured each of her sons as they traveled the challenging road toward their college diplomas. She sent cards and care packages. She welcomed them home for holidays, cooked favorite meals, did their laundry, listened to their ups and downs, and they always called her when they were sick. She followed Carolina football and basketball almost as closely as her sons did. Her sons welcomed her involvement in their lives, often reflecting on another of their father’s absolutes — “always love your mom, because you are blessed with the best mom in the world.”
Now a grandmother with five grandsons and a granddaughter, she already has attended a Sunday morning Kenan Stadium graduation for the oldest of her grandsons and anticipates several more in the coming years.
Increasingly, Carolina moms will themselves be Carolina alumnae who can delight in sharing memories of their own UNC experiences with sons and daughters. For most of Carolina’s history, when the University had various restrictions on admitting women, that was not the case. But throughout all of the University’s years, it is the support and inspiration of all Carolina moms that remain vital to their children’s success.
To all Carolina moms, including the very special one whose story is shared above and whose support, love and inspiration my brothers and I were fortunate enough to enjoy, this year and always, “Happy Carolina Mother’s Day!”
Yours at Carolina,
Douglas S. Dibbert ’70