Executive Remarks, Student Body President Lamar Richards
First-Year and Transfer Orientations, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Good afternoon everyone. My name is Lamar Richards, and it is an honor to serve Carolina as its Student Body President for the coming year.
Today, I would like to formally welcome you all to Carolina. You may know Carolina as the nation’s oldest public university—the flagship institution of the UNC system—but today, I would like you to think of it as one other place: Home. By taking part in Orientation, you are beginning to familiarize yourself with your new home. Today, you are taking your first steps in an adjustment process, understanding what it means to be a Carolina student—what it means to be a Tar Heel—learning about the opportunities: both academic and beyond that are available to you.
In the process of making Carolina home, you will become a part of a larger community—the Carolina community. As students, we all are a part of this community, but it is important to recognize that although we have a shared experience at this University, we do not, should not, and will not have the same experience. To illustrate this, I am motivated by the words of former President Jimmy Carter, who stated, “We become not a melting pot but a beautiful mosaic. Different people, different beliefs, different yearnings, different hopes, and different dreams.” When I think about our Carolina community, I am inspired because I know the student experience is not universal; we are not a melting pot assimilating to one point.
Instead, we are a Mosaic, a campus community with different experiences, desires, and skills, and from that we can work to build something greater, not only for ourselves but beyond the individual.
No matter the path you took to get here, you have achieved, endured, and overcome obstacles. Now you have the opportunity to dive into your intellectual interests and passions, but also, to look inward at yourself and use your experiences and identity to engage, making an impact both within and beyond this University.
When thinking about my own identity and who I am, I can clearly see how it helped to shape my experience as a Carolina student. When I first stepped foot onto campus as an out-of-state, gay, Black student,I felt overwhelmed; it was so very easy to get lost in everything that was occurring around me, at times not feeling welcomed, immersed, or embraced. These moments were challenging, but led me to reflect on my own identity and values that have propelled me forward and have helped me find my place within the Carolina community.
You see, I grew up in Winnsboro, South Carolina, a small southern town, raised to value community, connection, togetherness, and respect—something larger than any one of us.
And so in those moments, first experiencing campus as an incoming student, I knew it would not be enough for me to advocate for myself—there was, in fact, a pursuit for something greater. My values and desire led me to divulge in service and engage with others. One of these avenues of engagement became Student Governance, first as a part of the Undergraduate Senate, later on the Campus and Community Advisory Council, chairing the Commission on Campus Equality and Student Equity, to now, serving as Carolina’s Student Body President and as the sole student member of the University’s Board of Trustees.
It is my hope that through empowering, uplifting, and serving ALL Carolina students, we are ensuring a Carolina that works for all—not some. Through the Executive Branch’s work we are committed to ensuring effective governance that is student-centered, student-focused, and student-driven. I have said many times that “students should not have to change who they are to fit into Carolina’s fabric. Carolina ought to be worthy of fitting into your story—it ought to be who you need it to be.” And so if you are passionate about joining us in this journey—to move towards a more perfect Carolina—for all Carolina students, I hope you will make your way to the Executive Branch, learn more about the work we do, and become involved.
But as you continue with Orientation and immersing yourself in the fabric that is Carolina, I challenge you all to honor your aspirations and—no matter how hard it might be—connect with others. The heart of our community is each other—having one another to turn to. Your peers will be an asset to you—you will all face challenges, but with the support of one another you will succeed and come out of this experience stronger.
Let connection empower you and bolster you on your journey in this next chapter.
Outside of the classroom, explore, learn, challenge yourself. There will be ample organizations, clubs, and teams to join—events, opportunities, and athletic events to attend. As you seek out these spaces, I encourage you to think about your own identity—your own values—and ask, what is important to you and what can you do to make an impact and move towards your aspirations? For all of you the answer to these questions will look different, but let your answers serve as your roadmap in finding new spaces on campus and leaving your Heelprint here in Chapel Hill.
No matter where your Carolina journey takes you, know that your Student Body President has your back. Your Student Body President is always free to connect with you—to hear you—to chat with you—and to get to know you. I hope you will feel encouraged and supported as you learn about the community here and what it means to be a student here. Like you all, Carolina can and should evolve. I am so very proud to be a student at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Not because of what we are or what we have been, but because of what and who we aspire to be. It is that aspiration—towards a new tomorrow—that will come from each and everyone of you.
It was great to be with you all today for these few minutes. I look forward to meeting many of you in August. Welcome to Carolina!