The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill shows a video of big hits and memorable moments when the fourth quarter commences, now mostly big hits. However, a favorite of many is a portion of a speech Charles Kuralt of “On the Road” fame gave in Chapel Hill some four years before his death, at the university’s bicentennial celebration, Oct. 12, 1993. The portion of that speech, which is famous in those parts, commences: “What is it that binds us to this place as to no other?”
Kuralt was a UNC graduate and the editor of the school paper, The Daily Tar Heel. He, of course, rose to fame for his “On the Road” and other pieces on CBS.
Also, it must be added, it turned out Kuralt had a double life — families in two separate locations. His place in UNC history has not been downgraded, at least as of now, unlike Silent Sam.
I met Kuralt on the Santa Train many years back when he did an “On the Road” covering our Santa’s journey from Elkhorn City, Kentucky, to Kingsport. Indeed, Don Royston snapped a picture of Kuralt and me on the back of the Santa Train. A framed print of that picture hangs in my family room.
Though he was born in Wilmington, North Carolina, Kuralt’s family was famous for the Intimate Book Shop they ran on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill for many years. Like other Franklin Street icons, the Intimate is gone. It was about the only competition the Student Book Store had when students used to buy books.
On that train trip, I had the unique pleasure of walking into a railroad car toward the end of the journey and finding Kuralt alone. I asked if I could sit and introduced myself. He immediately mentioned he figured I was a Carolina guy since I was wearing a Carolina blue jacket. We discussed his road routine, his proximity to CBS in New York City, one of his family venues, and what he thought of covering Appalachia. He puffed on unfiltered Pall Malls. They contributed to his death, no doubt. We talked for about 20 minutes. He asked me about my life and my university experience.
Isn’t it interesting that people we hold in high regard may well have the proverbial feet of clay? Of course, I don’t know the circumstances, but the media has been less than kind to his overall memory over the years. Yet, his “what is it that binds us” speech remains.
Oh, and by the way, there was also another line in that 1993 speech that rings as true today as ever: “I speak for all of us who could not afford to go to Duke, and would not have, even if we could have afforded it.”
No doubt there are graduates of all institutions, the University of Tennessee, East Tennessee State University, Appalachian State University, etc. who have been bombarded by sage advice at commencements over the years.
One wonders how many of those new graduates took what they heard in those speeches to heart. Were there nuggets of wisdom that so imprinted themselves on those assembled that lives have been lived with those sacred words ever at the forefront?
I would hazard a guess that the vast majority of college students on graduation day have more pressing matters on their minds then the words ringing down from the podium: Where’s my beer? What time do we leave for the beach? Who can I talk into going out with me to celebrate tonight?
Nancy and I had been married almost a year when we graduated from undergraduate school. She, at least, had lined up a job with the UNC Medical School as a med tech. I was looking for a summer job to put some spending money in my pocket before law school started in the fall. We had one car, lived in a trailer, and had a blond Chow.
Frankly, I cannot share with you the wisdom imparted by our graduation speaker: I have no idea who it was!
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