Higher Ed, North Carolina, Public Health, Students

Awesome day in Chapel Hill

August 22, 2017 |3:40 min read

Hundreds of new students fill our atrium

We had the second standing orientation in our atrium, and it was great! I loved looking up and out and seeing new students everywhere! Such energy, vitality, openness and excitement.

Some of our wonderful new students are pictured in the Armfield Atrium during Monday’s welcome event. Photo by Jennie Saia.

Melissa Hobgood, student services manager in biostatistics, and Rameses Jr. were on hand to greet our new students. Photo by Jennie Saia.

I’ll never forget how totally nervous and unconfident I felt my first days in public health at Michigan and Hopkins. I want our students to realize that they have had amazing experiences before coming here, that this is an extremely competitive school that is very difficult to get into, and that we wouldn’t have accepted them if we did not think they could make it. (Truly, many of us might not have gotten into school if we had to compete with today’s students!)

Even more, there will be a lot of support to help them succeed, including from their fellow classmates. Students’ successes are ours, as well.

I now feel compelled at orientation to say explicitly that there is no place for hatred at the Gillings School, no place for sexism, racism, Nazism or other isms. We don’t judge people on the basis of whom they voted for, where they came from or whom they love. We don’t have to agree about everything, and we can disagree respectfully. We’re One Gillings, and it takes a lot of people from many backgrounds, with a lot of different personal stories, to make One Gillings.

Our student leaders had wonderful words of wisdom to share, especially about the importance of making connections with other students (Thanks, Adante Hart!) and of being open to new experiences and views on the world (Thanks, Samuel Baxter!). In what was a great message for non-minority students to hear, Samuel talked about coming here for the first time, not having interacted with many white people previously. That cannot have been easy, and I was so grateful to him for sharing his experience.

Our students are such awesome people. They’re not only smart (and they really are!), but they’re also people with great values and ambitions who give of themselves in ways that are life-changing.


Members of Dr. Anna Schenck’s Public Health Leadership class were among many who ventured outdoors to view the eclipse, which appeared as partial (93 percent at maximum) in Chapel Hill. Photo by Linda Kastleman.

How amazing to have orientation on the same day as the total eclipse of the sun, the first one to have crossed the entire contiguous United States since 1918! By the way, it’s incredible to think about 1918’s being the year of the horrible pandemic influenza outbreak that killed more than 50 million people around the world. This year, as I have written, has had its own challenges – with violence around the world, health threats and wars, but not, thank goodness, a pandemic.

With a pair of ISO-approved glasses, I felt really thrilled and privileged to be able to watch the eclipse. It was like a big party outside the Gillings School and on the sidewalks around us, with so many people talking about the eclipse and looking at the sky with special glasses. I love the fact that we all were learning about the sun and the sky, that all over the world, citizen scientists were collecting data and contributing to knowledge.

We did something we rarely do around here. We took a break from a meeting—twice!—to look at different stages of the eclipse. It was awesome, mesmerizing and momentous. In the photos below, Todd Nicolet, our vice dean, and I looked at the sky from the front patio of Rosenau Hall, wearing the obligatory ISO glasses to protect our eyes. We then were joined by Senior Associate Dean for Academic and Student Affairs Laura Linnan.

Photo by Linda Kastleman

Photo by Naya Villarreal

To think that we were seeing something that hadn’t happened in 99 years was truly wonderful. I began to see why some people have called it a spiritual experience. Someone noted that for some period of time, almost none of us were looking at our cell phones. That, in itself, is cause for celebration!

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The views expressed in this blog are Barbara Rimer’s alone and do not represent the views and policies of The University of North Carolina or the Gillings School.