October 28, 2019
Last Friday night, I received a wonderful honor at the Black Alumni Reunion at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. A truly wonderful honor.
When I climbed onto the dais to receive the Harvey Beech Award, I told the Light on the Hill Dinner audience that of all the honors I’ve received at UNC, this one was the most meaningful. I told them that when I joined the Board of Trustees, they were the people whose interests I always had in mind. I told them, for example, that my first order of business as a Trustee was to dig into the matter of African American male success rates. I told them that, though I was not taking credit, I was proud to report that the class that enrolled this semester contained the largest number of African American men in the 226-year history of the university. They responded to that statement with hearty applause, and I quickly added, “but we don’t just want more black men to come here; we want them to graduate.” Over more applause, I added, “And the class that graduated in May contained the highest percentage of black men of any class in history.”
The satisfaction of being able to share those two stats, and the hearty response those statements received, may mean more to me than the beautiful, framed award they gave me.
A very special moment occurred during my acceptance speech when I asked two tables of young men to stand and be recognized. Naturally, the audience received this group of good looking young men very enthusiastically. I bought tables for these young men to join me at the dinner because they are the best illustration of the commitment of which I spoke. It was also important for the students to know that I wanted to share that special moment with them. They mean a lot to me. I told the audience that if all I am remembered for is my relationship with those young men, that would be fine with me.
One of the young men, Brandon Gibson, is a second-year dental student. I told the audience how I bumped into him one night while I was walking out of an establishment that he was entering. Upon seeing me, he turned to the young woman who was with him and said about me, “This man is the reason I’m in dental school.” I quickly responded, “No I’m not. I didn’t take a single exam.” But I appreciated the credit he was giving me. While he was still an undergraduate student, I had introduced him to a member of the Dental School’s admissions committee. I knew he would show himself to be an excellent candidate. The introduction was easy for me to do, and why wouldn’t I have done it?
I mentioned another young man, Kolbe Hunter, who graduated from UNC in May. Kolbe attended a Board of Trustees meeting the previous year to talk about a program that he had benefited from. The Carolina Student Transfer Excellence Program, or C-STEP, provides a clear pathway for more students from the state of North Carolina to enrollment at UNC upon successful completion of their studies at selected community colleges. During his presentation, he said, “One of the best things I’ve gained from my experience at UNC is, if I hadn’t come here, I wouldn’t have met Mr. Bill Keyes.” Wow. I was shocked at his statement because I don’t recall doing anything special for him. My only thought is that I inspired him during one of my visits to the residence halls or more formal gatherings to take advantage of all of the resources UNC has to offer while he reaches for the highest heights. I really don’t recall, but I am thankful for the blessing of access to these outstanding young people so I can inspire them to be the best and do their best.
It is my sincere hope that other alumni in that room were inspired to commit themselves to supporting our current students in any way they can. Their involvement will benefit them students greatly. It will also bring tremendous fulfillment to those who serve.