William Augustus Keyes IV ’75, ’18 (PhD), Distinguished Service Medal Citation

(Editor’s Note: The GAA’s Distinguished Service Medal citations, such as this one, are read to the audience at the Annual Alumni Luncheon and then presented as a keepsake to the recipients.)

Bill Keyes hitchhiked from Washington, N.C., to Washington, D.C., after college, and good fortune rode along. He arrived in the nation’s capital with $5 in his pocket. Four years later, he joined the White House staff as a senior policy adviser to President Ronald Reagan.

He gives Carolina credit for his professional success, in particular his time spent hanging out at the Pit.

Bear in mind that Bill came to Carolina from a segregated town that was barely a third the size of the University. When he came to Chapel Hill, he found young people from all over, newly sprung from their parents’ values and mores, free to interact with whomever interested them. In the Pit, especially, he engaged with students of all races and cultures, and with Black students whose experiences were different from his.

The relationship-building he learned at Carolina benefits him to this day. He can walk into a room in Washington, D.C., with Supreme Court justices, senators and CEOs and interact with confidence. He’s comfortable conversing with the president of the United States or the person cleaning his office.

Bill understands the power of networking. Before he goes to a football game at Kenan Stadium, he sets his DVR to record it to watch later, then spends his time in the Blue Zone meeting new people and catching up with those he knows. He wants to teach coming generations of young Black college men those skills that have served him well.

Seventeen years ago, Bill founded the Institute for Responsible Citizenship to respond to the problem that so few Black men enrolled at Carolina, and even fewer graduated. Young Black men with promise become involved with the institute their freshman year and receive the support, encouragement and inspiration they need to do well in college, and learn to make the connections that could open doors for them professionally as they go out to make a difference in the world. They have an internship in D.C., where over the years Bill has arranged for them to talk face-to-face with leaders such as U.S. Rep. John Lewis, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and former Secretary of State Gen. Colin Powell.

Alumni of the institute have gone on to be named Fulbright, Rhodes or Truman Scholars, earn doctorates and receive awards and other recognitions for their achievements. Now Bill is expanding the institute to Charlotte, Greensboro, Durham and Raleigh.

Bill used his role as a member of the Board of Trustees to advocate for strategies and initiatives that would benefit students, particularly young Black men with the greatest potential. The role was more than an honorific for him. He did his homework — literally; he completed his PhD in communication studies from Carolina while he served as a trustee. He never missed a Board of Trustees meeting, and he wasn’t afraid to go toe-to-toe with more outspoken colleagues about issues in which he had expertise.

His work paid off. In 2019, the last year he was on the board, UNC enrolled the largest number of Black men in the school’s history.

Bill has been recognized for his impact on current and future generations. In 2019, he received the Harvey E. Beech Outstanding Alumni Award from the GAA’s Black Alumni Reunion.

He was named the first Local Legend by the Washington, D.C., Black Alumni Carolina Club in 2014. He has received numerous other awards from organizations working to improve education.

His board service at UNC includes the Board of Visitors, the Graduate School Advancement Board and the Journalism Foundation. For more than 20 years, he has served on the board of advisers for the Hussman School of Journalism and Media, and he created an internship program in D.C. for UNC journalism students.

When someone recruiting him to a UNC board downplayed the amount of time Bill would have to spend in Chapel Hill attending meetings, his wife, Lola, explained: “Bill doesn’t have a problem coming to Chapel Hill; he has a problem staying away.”

For nearly 40 years, Bill has built a career on Capitol Hill, in the White House and in public policy consulting. Noted for his inclusivity, he counts arch conservatives and arch liberals among his wide circle of friends. He’s not one to shy away from uncomfortable conversations.

Both of Bill’s parents were educators, and although he doesn’t have the formal title, Bill considers himself a teacher as well. He helps young people see their own potential and inspires them to work hard in pursuit of goals bigger than themselves, even though he may never know how their lives turn out.

He knows only that he has created a path for them to go out into the world and make an impact.


The Distinguished Service Medal is presented by the GAA Board of Directors.

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