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Chapel Hill, Oct. 12, 2005
Comments by English Professor Bland Simpson ’70
“October has come again,” wrote Thomas Wolfe ’20.
Four hundred and twenty Octobers ago, Sir Walter Raleigh’s first colony was settled in at Roanoke Island, with mathematician-scientist Thomas Harriott and artist John White exploring the sound country. Harriott’s words and White’s drawings created the first portrait of the New World published in the English language, a striking report of the place that became North Carolina.
About halfway between their time and ours, visionaries founded this University, making formal the indefatigable enterprise of inquiry that inspired Harriott and White out on our coast in 1585 and ’86. Five years after the laying of the cornerstone of Old East, in 1798, a student died and was buried at the top of the knoll just to our west, which came to be known as the Old Chapel Hill Cemetery and which now holds so many of the builders, teachers, leaders and just plain makers of our beloved school.
Though author Wolfe is not among them, his classmate Paul Green ’20, the great dramatist for whom the theater is named, is. So is their teacher, Proff Frederick Koch, whose folkplay movement initiated modern imaginative writing at Carolina and whose name graces the Forest Theater just down the road. And there, also, lie another two of Wolfe’s favorite teachers – Edwin Greenlaw, whose name is upon the home of our department of English, and Horace Williams, whose old Franklin Street house is central to our community’s life and whose name is on the airport and the woodland tract where soon will rise a grand campus for the University’s third century.
Now, here in this small woods at the eastern edge of Chapel Hill, we gather on a new ground where departed Tar Heels may be interred and where we may return in remembrance of them. Whether in life they were students, faculty, staff or family, those who hallow this ground will all in some way have been joined in the great, moving and joyful purpose of the University. Lux, Libertas, each word on our seal is a guiding principle: our devotion is to the light of truth, the illuminating power of inquiry, and the liberty of unfettered imagination, free expression and enterprise.
Henry David Thoreau, who exalted liberty, ended Walden with the remark: “The sun is but a morning star.” For those who come here in grief, bearing the last of their loved ones, their dust, let the bereaved take comfort knowing that when the sun lifts up out of the Atlantic, as it did for Harriott and White so long ago, and sends its long dawn lines coursing across the coastal plain, a portion of the very first eastern light to strike Chapel Hill of a morning illuminates these oaks and these pines and warms this, our Memorial Grove.
Bless all those who return to the earth in this place, and may infinite light and liberty be theirs forevermore.
The sun is a morning star.
– Bland Simpson ’70