Chancellor Holden Thorp's Acceptance Speech, May 8, 2008

Following is Chancellor-Elect Holden Thorp’s acceptance speech at the Spangler Center in Chapel Hill after being introduced by President Erskine Bowles and elected by the UNC Board of Governors.

Members of the Board of Governors; President Bowles; Trustees Perry and Schwab and all of the UNC Board of Trustees; members of the Search Committee … Thank you!

This is an incredible day for my family and me. And I am so grateful for the opportunity to lead the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

I want to introduce you to my family:

My wife Patti and our children John and Emma.

My mother Bo Thorp, Carolina Class of 1956.

My brother Clay, Carolina Class of 1990, and his wife Laura, Carolina Class of 1991.

And my cousin, John, is here, Carolina Class of 1979.

A couple of weeks ago, President Bowles and I went to Greensboro to talk with Chairman Phillips about my candidacy for this position.

I guess it went OK. … On the way home, we stopped for gas. Erskine got out and put the nozzle in the tank. Then he leaned back in and said, “Holden, I know this probably isn’t the place where you thought you’d get the most important job offer of your life, but I’d like you to be the chancellor at Chapel Hill.”

And, so I said, “Erskine, I’m never going to forget the Exxon on Wendover Avenue.” I’m sure glad I didn’t run in and get some Nabs.

I know y’all are far more familiar with how these searches work than I was. So you know that I’ve had about seven months to think about whether I might be standing here today. And I tried not to think about it. I tried not to think about what it would be like to stand here before you.

But I did.

And let me tell you, it’s even better than I ever thought it would be.

Members of the Board of Governors, I truly appreciate this vote of confidence. This is the best job in American higher education, and it is a great honor to be chosen.

I see my mentor James Moeser here, and I am even more humbled. He has been a magnificent leader for Carolina, and he is leaving the University in a position of great strength.

Ever since I was a kid growing up in Fayetteville, Carolina has been that light on the hill. My father used to sing “Hark the Sound” to me at bedtime. Usually after a few choruses of “I Zigga Zoomba.” It sounds crazy now, but I only sent in one college application.

Thank goodness I was accepted.

Thank goodness I had the opportunity to attend a world-class research university, because I got to work in chemistry labs with some of Carolina’s best faculty. Those experiences inspired me to be a college professor and instilled in me the hope that one day I would get what I thought was my dream job – to be chair of the chemistry department at Chapel Hill.

Now, you’ve given me the opportunity to serve my University and my state in a way I never dreamed.

These are challenging times, I know. But North Carolina, in spite of the difficulties we face, promises a great future. Why? Because the idea of a research university – a place where research and teaching are done by the same people – is a bold and audacious idea, the very fabric of American prosperity and innovation.

And you know what? There’s one idea that’s even better than a research university – and that’s a public research university. Thank goodness our founders went down to my hometown of Fayetteville in 1789 to convince the Legislature that our state needed a university here at home.

And thank goodness we have a General Assembly that has long recognized the value of our universities.

President Bowles and the Board of Governors have shown great leadership in launching the UNC Tomorrow initiative. As a result, we all have a deeper understanding of the state’s needs. I pledge to you that Chapel Hill will work with our sister campuses to create solutions that will propel North Carolina into the future.

We have so much work ahead of us. Our to-do list is nothing less than the greatest problems of our time: Cure diseases, and get those cures to all the people who need them. Find and invent clean energy. Inspire students in our public schools. Feed seven billion people. Describe the world, and replace conflict with understanding.

Today a child of modest means was born somewhere in North Carolina. And despite the long odds of her circumstances, she’s going to excel in public school and have the potential to solve one of these big problems. She probably won’t want to go to college very far away from her family. And eighteen years from now when that happens, we’ll be ready. We’ll be ready to promise that she has a fair shot to get in to Carolina. We’ll be ready to guarantee she can afford to be here. And we’ll be ready to see to it that she gets a world-class education from a great research university right here in her home state.

And that’s why Carolina is today what she has always been … the light on the hill.

Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

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