Tar Heel Traditions
As the nation's first state university, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was chartered in 1789 and opened to students in 1795. Carolina was the only public university to award degrees to students in the 18th century. Since those first few years, this special place of learning has blended its own traditions with those of the state.


What is a Tar Heel?
The University not only uses the nickname "Tar Heels," but the entire state does as well. One version of the nickname's origin has the name first being applied to North Carolinians during the Civil War. One record talks of a battle in Virginia, where their supporting column retreated, but North Carolina troops fought alone. The victorious troops were asked in a condescending tone by some Virginians, who had retreated, "Any more tar down in the Old North State, boys?" The response came quickly: "No, not a bit; old Jeff's bought it all up." The Virginians asked: "Is that so? What is he going to do with it?" The reply: "He is going to put it on you'ns heels to make you stick better in the next fight."


Origin of the University Colors
As symbols of unity among Carolina students, alumni, and fans, the school colors of light blue and white were first used around 1800 to distinguish between members of the Dialectic and Philanthropic Literary Societies. Throughout the nineteenth century, students were required to be members of either the Di or the Phi. The Di's color was light blue, and the Phi's was white.

At University commencements, balls, and other social events, the student officials, managers, and marshals wore the color of their society, blue or white. Because the Chief Marshal or Chief Ball Manager represented the whole student body, not just his society, he wore both colors.

When the University fielded its first intercollegiate athletic teams in 1888, the question of what colors to wear had already been answered. Light blue and white had come to symbolize membership in the University, not in a single society.

Light blue and white have been considered the University's colors for more than a century. With the tradition so firmly established, a popular bumper sticker states that God must be a Tar Heel because he made the sky Carolina Blue!



Why a Ram for a Mascot?
In 1924 Vic Huggins, UNC's head cheerleader, decided that Carolina needed a mascot like N.C. State's Wolf and Georgia's Bulldog. At the time, Jack Merrit, known to his fans as the "Battering Ram," was a popular member of UNC's football team. Making use of this nickname, Huggins hit upon the idea of a ram as the Carolina mascot.

The cheerleader went to Charles T. Woollen, the University's Business Manager, and asked him to find twenty-five dollars to buy a ram. They ordered UNC's first mascot from Texas.

The 1924 team had been in a slump and Carolina fans were looking for something to break the jinx. The Tar Heel sports staff joined the campus in hoping that the new mascot would bring the much-needed luck.

The mascot, who was named Ramses, arrived in time for the UNC-VMI game on 8 November 1924. The fans saw a defensive struggle. No one scored until late in the fourth quarter when a UNC player executed a perfect dropkick for a 3­0 victory. Carolina fans credited the first Ramses' presence for pulling Carolina past VMI, and giving birth to the long line of rams who have witnessed Tar Heel games.

 

University Day Processional


President John F. Kennedy joined Carolina in celebrating University Day in 1961.


University Day: A Celebration for All Times
Each University Day serves as a celebratory reminder of the University's beginnings, and some ceremonies have been particularly memorable.

The University first celebrated University Day on October 12, 1877, after Governor Zebulon B. Vance ordered that "the anniversary of the day on which the cornerstone of the University was laid be made a college holiday to be observed with appropriate ceremonies under the direction of the faculty." Gerrard Hall, decorated in ropes of evergreens, was the site of the first ceremony. The Glee Club performed and President Kemp Plummer Battle spoke for an hour on the University's origins.

University Days have served as convocations for new chancellors; William B. Aycock in 1957, Paul F. Sharp in 1964, J. Carlyle Sitterson in 1965, N. Ferebee Taylor in 1972, Christopher C. Fordham III in 1980, Paul Hardin in 1988, Michael Hooker in 1995, and James C. Moeser in 2000.

The Bicentennial University Day in 1993 was particularly memorable. President Bill Clinton addressed a capacity crowd at Kenan Stadium. On that chilly evening filled with pageantry, the University celebrated its 200th birthday.

In 1906, Dr. Edwin A. Alderman, a former school president, received the first honorary doctor of laws degree given on University Day. The practice of awarding honorary degrees later evolved to the presentation of Distinguished Alumna and Alumnus Awards, first given in 1971 to "alumni who had distinguished themselves in a manner that brought credit to the University."

One of several sesquicentennial events, the 1943 ceremony featured addresses by Dr. Harold W. Dodds, president of Princeton University, and University President Frank Porter Graham. With America in the midst of World War II, Graham called on Carolina's sons and daughters to "repledge ourselves to (the University's) great hopes as boundless as the humane hopes of mankind." Afterwards the Carolina Playmakers, replete in period costume, reenacted the laying of the Old East cornerstone.

The 1961 celebration was a shining day as President John F. Kennedy spoke to a crowd of 32,000 people in Kenan Stadium. Kennedy and Governor Terry Sanford received honorary degrees that day.