I’m a North Carolina native. Most of us harbor an unwavering devotion to one of two major state universities located in the Research Triangle – the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) and North Carolina State University (NC State).
I earned my degree in English from UNC. I love the school for the fabulous education I received – something no one can ever take away from me. I love it for its particular shade of blue. I love it for the bell tower that watches over South Road and the football stadium. I love it for the pink azaleas that ring the Old Well each spring. I love it for the Forest Theatre, where a group of upperclassmen blindfolded me and walked me through an honor fraternity’s initiation ceremony after dark. I love it for the basketball team (I even loved them when they went 8-20). I love it for the frozen yogurt and NY pizza on Franklin Street, the town’s main drag. I love it for my favorite spot on campus – a sidewalk between the Wilson and Undergraduate Libraries that, three seasons out of the year, is shaded by a small tree. In the fall, that tree’s leaves turn a brilliant shade of gold, and in the late afternoon, the sunlight shines down and hits those leaves, and the glow lights up the entire world. And most of all, I love it for the friends I will have for a lifetime.
I spent the second semester of my freshman year at NC State. I love the school for its wonderful people, who rolled out their Wolfpack red carpet for me in my time of greatest need. I love it for the grassy hill behind the humanities building where I ate lunch on most sunny days. I love it for the memories of tailgating with my family of NC State grads and going to Carter-Finley Stadium for football games. I love it for Mr. and Mrs. Wuf – with deepest apologies to my alma mater, they’re cooler mascots than Rameses the ram. I love it for the week I spent playing as a scrappy point guard at the late Kay Yow’s basketball day camp in the sweltering but tradition-laden Reynolds Coliseum and making memories with my late grandmother each night after the gym lights went out. I love it for the great week I spent at the school’s soccer camp with my best friends and teammates from my high school years. I love it for the men’s basketball teams of my childhood – I wanted to marry the point guard, Chris Corchiani, and idolized the cheerleaders. I love it for memories of watching those games with my dad, an alum. I love it for the creative writing class I took on its campus – my first as a college student – where I had a teacher who believed in me and helped me build the confidence I needed to hold onto my lifelong dream.
I wish my little sister, Taylor, had a chance to go to college. I’d give anything to see her in Carolina blue, Wolfpack red, or any color her heart desired. I wish she had that luxury. I realized too late that my stints on both campuses were just that – luxuries. I’ve learned the hard way – by watching my sister’s decline since she was diagnosed with infantile Batten disease nearly seven years ago – that dreams cannot always be earned.
People sometimes ask me why I continue my March of Madness. They say that I should just enjoy the time we have left.
But if I quit – if we all quit – kids like Taylor will never walk the path I walked or live the dreams I lived.
They’ll always lose.
And so I keep on playing this crazy game. Call it fear, call it courage, call it faith…call it whatever you want. But I believe.
The whistle hasn’t blown. I’ll play till I can’t play anymore.