Office of the Student Body President and Undergraduate President
Suite 3109 Frank Porter Graham Student Union
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, NC 27514
March Meeting of the UNC Board of Trustees
Remarks by Lamar Gregory Richards, Student Body President & Trustee
March 24, 2021
Good Morning Colleagues of the Board and those in attendance,
As I reflect on my year as Student Body President there is only one word to describe this experience: blessed. I have been so truly blessed and fortunate to work alongside the most effective and talented colleagues while also having the distinct honor to represent the best student body on the face of the earth. So, yes, despite all of the challenges, adversity, hurdles, and headlines, I have been truly blessed to serve as our University’s 100th Student Body President.
So, today, since we heard a comprehensive and thoughtful presentation from Student Government yesterday, I figured I would deviate from speaking directly about our achievements and areas of improvement over the past year and, instead, speak to you all about my time visiting Stanford University last week.
While at Stanford, speaking about the success of our Richard Epps Emerging Leaders Program here at UNC and talking about ways of collaboration, I spoke to them about a concept that is ingrained in the work I’ve done over the past year of my term and should be ingrained in the work of every institution of higher education across the country – and that is, how do we support the wholeness of a student? How do we aid in the successful admission and retention of every single student, while bolstering our successes and continually addressing areas of weakness in tandem? And, while this sounds daunting, it’s honestly a simple question – how do we support the wholeness of a student?
What does it mean to revolutionize the Carolina experience so that every single student graduating from our university is empowered with the resources to become stewards of goodwill, upholders of democracy, and flamekeepers of our society? To be frank, it’s much easier said than done when you have to navigate the complex systems of shared governance – a term we say and write a million times a week, yet no single person knows the honest definition of what that truly means, including me.
Supporting the wholeness of each and every student means that our University must move away from the one-size-fits-all view on higher education and provide more modern and applicable opportunities for students to engage creatively alongside the University, both in the classroom and out. I have asked myself repeatedly how is it possible for UNC to have gone through periods of politically-charged scandal, extreme partisanship, negative and critical headlines, AND a global pandemic, how is it that this place has withstood all of that and is still remaining that shining beacon of light on the hill? It’s the students.
It’s the heartbeat of the first-year headed across campus for their first time, trying to find their classes; it’s the thrill of rushing Franklin Street for the first, or even second time, or the excitement of attending Fall Fest and registering for student organizations and events. And, yes, it’s the protests and advocacy and activism of this body of students that have also sustained the heartbeat of this great place.
There is so much more to our University than even what most people know; we’re more than a school for sports or a school with a billion-dollar research enterprise; we are the place where dreams are born, life-long friendships and marriages are cultivated, where the hopeless come to be revived and the creative comes to have their thirst quenched. Carolina is a special place for faculty, staff, alum, and the great state of North Carolina, but it is most special for the students that maintain the very flame of this university.
So, for those that didn’t know, I am a proud native of our sister state South Carolina and I figured, since we talk about North Carolina so much, and rightfully so, that I would bring forward something from my home state that has truly gotten through during my times of adversity and that is our state motto: which reads – while I breathe, I hope.
And I think this is how I would like to leave this role, with hope. A hope so everlasting and so sufficient that no matter what, I have faith in this place to focus, critically, on the wholeness of a student. And not just ask how do we get them here? Or even how do we keep them here? We, as a university, should be asking, how do we cultivate dynamic and thriving areas of student wellness, student success, and academic achievement? How do we bolster support for the social sciences and humanities while cementing our leading engagement in STEM? How do we address the critical pipeline and retention issues for graduate students of color by effectively paying them a livable wage? And, How do we create more intentional spaces of collaboration and where do we house these spaces permanently to ensure our university will always be a place where the richness of diversity, equity, and inclusion can flow into every decision we make?
While I, nor anyone here, has the answers to all of these questions – one thing is for sure, the answers start and stop with you, the trustees of our great University. You have inherited a task that many do not envy and even fewer truly grasp. So few understand the taxing, unpaid, labor that goes into this passion of love. Because I have to believe that’s why you all do this because you truly love this place. For whatever, divinely-ordered reason you ended up here and I have to believe that as a part of God’s larger plan, this is where you belong. You love this place, so in times of disagreement and untenable situations, and trust me there will be more than enough, remember that you all love this place, and no matter your differences or the situation at hand, you must always start and finish on that shared point – of your love for this place. And always renew your commitment to our Chancellor, his team, and the outstanding faculty, staff, and student leaders that support our University to carry out its mission, as they do every single day.
While I breathe, I hope. I hope for each of you, I hope for our students, and I hope that this special place, this shining beacon of light on the hill continues to be a place where dreams are realized. Thank you all for this amazing opportunity and my well-wishes are with each of you.