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The University will celebrate its history as the nation’s first public university on University Day, Oct. 12.

The featured speaker, Thomas W. Ross, president of the University of North Carolina, will give the keynote speech for the convocation, which begins at 11 a.m. Classes will be canceled from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. to all faculty, staff and students to participate. Chancellor Holden Thorp will preside.

In case of rain on Wednesday morning, faculty and staff participating in the processional should line up inside Phillips Hall.

University Day marks the laying of the cornerstone of Old East, the nation’s first state university building, in 1793 and the beginning of public higher education in the United States. The campus first celebrated University Day in 1877.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the 1971 consolidation of North Carolina’s public institutions of higher education under one governing body and president. Ross became the fifth president of the 17-campus UNC system on Jan. 1, 2011, and was inaugurated on Oct. 6 at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University.

A native of Greensboro, Ross earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Davidson College in 1972 and graduated with honors from Carolina’s School of Law in 1975. After a short stint as an assistant professor at the School of Government, Ross joined the Greensboro law firm of Smith Patterson Follin Curtis James & Harkavy. He left the firm in 1982 to serve as chief of staff in the Washington, D.C., office of U.S. Rep. Robin Britt.

The following year, at the age of 33, he was appointed by Gov. Jim Hunt as the youngest North Carolina Superior Court Judge at the time, a position he held for the next 17 years.
In 1999, Ross was appointed director of the state’s Administrative Office of the Courts. Two years later, he became executive director of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation and in 2007 he was named president at Davidson, serving in that role until he assumed leadership of the UNC system.

He has served on the boards of trustees at Davidson and UNC Greensboro, as well as the boards of visitors at Wake Forest University and Carolina. In addition, his many honors include Distinguished Alumni Awards from Davidson and the law school at Carolina, and an honorary doctorate from UNC Greensboro.

Other University Day convocation highlights will include the presentation of Distinguished Alumna and Alumnus Awards, a practice begun by the faculty in 1971 to recognize Tar Heels who have made outstanding contributions to humanity.

This year’s recipients are prize-winning songwriter Alan Bergman; Denise Jean Jamieson, a physician and national leader in promoting women’s reproductive health; Frederick Otto Mueller, professor emeritus and former chair of the department of exercise and sport science; Linda Ellen Oxendine, one of the first American Indian woman to receive a bachelor’s degree from Carolina; and Thomas Hart Sayre, co-founder of multidisciplinary design firm Clearscapes.

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