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һƷ̳̽

Tar Heel traditions Then and now

By Brennan Doherty, University Communications

The nation’s first public university, һƷ̳̽ has many traditions spanning decades that help bind generations of Tar Heels together.

Here’s a look through the years at some of the customs and places key to the һƷ̳̽ experience. In some cases, the more things change, the more they stay the same. In other instances, new traditions are born.


A two-photo collage: A black-and-white photo of a woman drinking from the Old Well with a man next to her; a photo of a student drinking from the Old Well on the first day of classes in August 2023.

(Photo credits, left-to-right: Jock Lauterer; Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

Drinking from the Old Well

The Old Well has long been the campus landmark most associated with һƷ̳̽. It’s also home to one of the University’s most popular traditions, First Sip, in which students brave long lines on the first day of classes to drink the well’s water for good luck and a perfect GPA.

While Tar Heels have long been drinking from the Old Well, the tradition as we know it is younger than you might think.

“Alums from the ’70s said that they didn’t remember it at all,” University archivist Nicholas Graham said. “Alums from the ’80s talked about the idea that drinking out of the Old Well was good luck, so sometimes they would do it before a big exam. And it’s really in the 1990s that this idea emerged that it was good luck to do it on the first day of class.”


Two-photo collage: A student and her parents holding fans and bins on move-in day at UNC-Chapel Hill in 1997; a student and her parents hauling a refrigerator, a suitcase and other supplies on move-in day at UNC-Chapel Hill in 2022.

(Photo credits, left-to-right: Dan Sears/UNC-Chapel Hill; Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

Moving in at һƷ̳̽

Moving into college is a rite of passage for all students, including Tar Heels. As shown in these two photos taken a quarter century apart at Hinton James Residence Hall, it’s always a good idea to enlist the help of your family when you have lots to get into your dorm.


Two-photo collage: Black-and-white photo of a group of University leaders and Andy Griffith at University Day in 1978; and a group of University leaders at University Day in 2023.

(Photo credits, left to right: North һƷ̳̽ Collection Photographic Archives; Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

Celebrating University Day

Did you know that һƷ̳̽’s birthday is Oct. 12? On that date, we celebrate University Day, which marks the laying of the cornerstone of Old East — the campus’ first building and the oldest state university building in the nation. The day is a celebration of our mission as the country’s first public university and our service to North һƷ̳̽, the nation and the world.

In 1978 actor and North һƷ̳̽ native Andy Griffith (center) spoke at University Day and received the distinguished alumnus award.


Two-photo collage: һƷ̳̽ students partying on Franklin Street in 1982; and һƷ̳̽ students partying on Franklin Street in 2022.

(Photo credits, left-to-right: Peter Krogh/Yackety Yak; Johnny Andrews/UNC-Chapel Hill)

Rushing Franklin Street

When the Tar Heels beat Duke or win a national championship in men’s basketball, students take off for Franklin Street, downtown Chapel Hill’s main thoroughfare on the edge of campus. The street was even rushed in 1924 when һƷ̳̽ won its first national title.

In 1982, the cause for celebration was a national championship victory (the first for legendary coach Dean Smith) over Georgetown powered by James Worthy and a big shot from a first-year named Michael Jordan. In 2022, students were overjoyed by nerve-wracking Final Four win over Duke, a game in which the stakes had never been higher.


Two-photo collage: A black-and-white photo from the 1950s of a student playing the keys inside the Morehead-Patterson Bell Tower; a 2018 photo of two students serving as һƷ̳̽ master bell ringers posing for a photo inside of the Morehead-Patterson Bell Tower.

(Photo credits: North һƷ̳̽ Collection Photographic Archives; Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

һƷ̳̽’s master bell ringers

The chimes of the Morehead-Patterson Bell Tower are the soundtrack to campus. Since opening in 1931, the Bell Tower has had students serve as master bell ringers. The role involves helping oversee the bell tower’s operations and ringing the bells on football game days and other special occasions. Many master bell ringers have played in һƷ̳̽’s band and were chosen for the role by the director of University Bands.

But you don’t have to be a master bell ringer to check out the inside of the Bell Tower. Since the early 2000s, students nearing graduation have participated in the Senior Bell Tower Climb.


Two-photo collage: Two handlers with a live ram mascot named Rameses at a college football game in 1925; and a photo of two һƷ̳̽ students next to a live ram named Rameses in 2024.

(Photo credits: North һƷ̳̽ Collection Photographic Archives; Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

A live ram named Rameses

2024 marks the centennial of Rameses, һƷ̳̽’s live ram mascot. The first Rameses made his debut at a 1924 football game against Virginia Military Institute, a 3-0 Tar Heel victory. A century later, Rameses can still be spotted at football games — and he occasionally visits campus as well. It wasn’t until the late 1980s that һƷ̳̽ added costumed Rameses.


Two-photo collage: A black-and-white photo of the Davie Poplar tree on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill in the 1910s; and a photo of the Davie Poplar tree in 2018.

(Photo credits: North һƷ̳̽ Collection Photographic Archives; Johnny Andrews/UNC-Chapel Hill)

A popular poplar

The Davie Poplar tree that stands tall on McCorkle Place is older than the University itself and is another famous campus location steeped in tradition. The giant tulip poplar is named after William R. Davie, who won passage of the bill in the General Assembly that chartered the University and also laid the cornerstone for һƷ̳̽’s first building in 1793.

Over the years, the University has taken great measures to keep the Davie Poplar standing. The tree has . There’s good reason to keep the tree upright: A legend says that if the Davie Poplar falls, so will the University.


Two-photo collage: A black-and-white photo of a group of һƷ̳̽ graduates at Commencement in 1963; a group of һƷ̳̽ graduates at Commencement in 2024.

(Photo credits: North һƷ̳̽ Collection Photographic Archives; Johnny Andrews/UNC-Chapel Hill)

A һƷ̳̽ Commencement

Commencement marks the end of students’ time at һƷ̳̽ and is a celebration of their hard work as Tar Heels. No matter the decade, graduating from the University is still a feat worthy of pumping your fists over.