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To Chancellor Thorp, President Ross, Chairman Hargrove, Platform guests, Campus community.

In my quest to want my speech to fit in, I was going to deal with the water theme.  My original speech was entitled:  “Water, water everywhere: Water, water, why should we care?”  I am sure our speaker for today will sufficiently address that topic because, from all indications, that is his passion.

My passion is people.  Especially downtrodden people, people who feel invisible, people who feel they don’t have a voice.  So I will stick with who and what I know.

The Employee Forum celebrated its 20th anniversary in March at the fabulous Friday Center.  The event featured remarks from the four living Chancellors—Hardin, McCoy, Moeser and Thorp—with the keynote address by Kay Wijnberg Hovious, chief organizer and first Forum chair. We also had a featured presentation by retired employee Jeffery Beam.  In 1998 Jeffery wrote a poem entitled “Song of the University Worker”.  In 2008 the Forum adopted it as our official poem.

The poem begins with a quote by Martin Luther King, Jr.:

If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry.  He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, “Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”

The poem goes on to highlight many occupations that university workers do (cutting grass, scrubbing floors, typing letters, pushing papers, designing systems, managing processes, directing traffic).  In the heat, in the cold, in the hurricane, in the snow.  The constant refrain in the poem is:  Behind you before you beside you with you.  It is a continual reminder that although sometimes overlooked, the staff’s presence is both incalculable and invaluable to the successful running of this great university.

So to the students we say:   Behind you before you beside you with you

The staff at Carolina will keep the halls, labs, grounds and classrooms clean and safe and functional to help provide you with the ideal learning environment.  We will protect you, nurture you, serve you.  That’s what we do.  That’s who we are.

To the faculty, we say:  Behind you before you beside you with you.

The staff at Carolina will keep this University running and clean and safe, even during severe economic conditions.  Or inclement weather conditions. We will do everything to help you flourish because when you succeed, we succeed.  That’s what we do.  That’s who we are.

To the Board of Governors, Trustees, Alumni, and the Administration we say:  Behind you before you beside you with you

The staff at Carolina will continue to give you our best until UNC is the BEST.  Scandals don’t  rock us, storms don’t shock us, allegations don’t stop us because we know that fundamentally-at our core-we are better than what we’ve experienced the past few years.  We know that we are one of the premier learning institutions in the world and we will do our part to keep it that way.  That’s what we do.  That’s who we are.

Let me conclude my remarks by being a little non-traditional.  This is one of the few events where faculty, staff and students convene together, so I am going to ask my friend and colleague, Jan Boxill, and the student leaders–Will and Michael–to come and join me as we salute our Chancellor.

To our beloved and beleaguered Chancellor, Holden Thorp, we say that for the next 8 months:  Behind you before you beside you with you. 

You have been a true champion to us and have given us unprecedented access to you, your office and your resources.  Your commitment  has been unfaltering and your support has been unwavering.  You will always have our commitment and support in return.  That’s what we do.  That who we are.

Behind you before you beside you with you.

We are the University of North Carolina and we are Tar Heels.

Thank you,

Jackie Overton, Chair

Employee Forum

Watch the video here:

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