Arguments in Arabic: Duke debate team wins national championship

By Renata Schmidt

A coin spins in the air, casting a small shadow against the projected blues and reds behind it. Majed Al Munefi stands still and follows the coin with his eyes, but there is a confidence revealed in his smirk. The judge turns to Majed for a decision: does the team wish to argue pro or con?

Majed and his teammates Danah Younis, Saad Lahrichi and Zeinab Mukhtar are representing Duke University at the U.S. Arabic debating championship at Stanford University. By the coin flip, the team has competed in five rounds — each win pushing them closer to a spot in the international competition for the second time.

QatarDebate Center runs these debates. The organization was created in 2008 and sponsored by the former first lady of Qatar at the time — Sheikha Moza bint Nasser — according to the organization’s website.

The organization hosts events across the globe from Doha, Qatar to Davos, Switzerland. Last year, the Duke team placed eighth in the international championships held in Istanbul, Turkey.

An experienced leader

A large part of the team’s win was due to Majed’s training. The team captain has been debating in Arabic since eighth grade and was captain of Kuwait’s national debate team in 2021. 

Danah recalls her initial reaction to Majed’s dedication to the team, even before they made it to the international event.

“This kid is so intense,” she said. “I don’t know if he knows who he’s working with. I was like, I feel so bad, like I’m going to disappoint him.”

On the contrary, Majed’s no-nonsense approach to feedback — on top of the confidence he has in his teammates — has created team chemistry that is a mix of late-night talk show repartee and academic rigor.

“When I say something and don’t get to finish it, I know for a fact that Majed is gonna come up and finish what I said,” Danah attested. “And when Majed doesn’t get to something. I know that Saad is gonna come up and say what he didn’t finish.”

Familiar faces

The team’s first debate was scheduled for Saturday morning Oct. 15 against the Islamic University of Minnesota, and the four Duke teammates arrived at the Citrine Hotel at various points Friday night, with Danah being the last to arrive at 2 a.m. Despite the little sleep and the looming competition, she said there is a feeling of camaraderie amongst the participating teams.

“It’s not that I was scared that they would beat us. It’s that you know these people really well, and you don’t necessarily want to go against them and lose against them, or have them lose against you.”

Danah and her teammates have competed enough to recognize faces at competitions like these. She said the teams take over the hotel. 

Maha Houssami, an Arabic professor at Duke and the team’s coach, said the lobby was a place for coaches and judges to debrief.

‘A language that is alive’

The competition is a mix of university students, many of who are Arabs. Some of these competitors are native Arabic speakers — but not all, by any count.

Debaters need to have an intermediate command of Arabic, Danah explained, but your grammar and pronunciation don’t need to be perfect. It’s a speaker’s argument and logic that the judges grade.

“Arabic is a language that is alive,” Houssami said.

Arabic dialects range from regional, such as the Egyptian or Levantine dialect, to classical Arabic, which is used in the Quran. Modern Standard Arabic, also called Fusha, is a dialect somewhere in the middle of the register spectrum. It is used by news broadcasters, politicians, and student debaters.

The rounds are structured so each of the three debaters has seven minutes to speak, and can be interrupted by questions from the other team. After both teams have spoken, each team gets three uninterrupted minutes to make their final points.

Support from the sidelines

Duke alumni from the area came to watch the debate — a show of support unique to Duke despite being on the opposite coast, according to Houssami.

 Houssami said the alums grabbed the team coffee and Advil during their breaks. One alum, a friend of Danah, doesn’t speak Arabic so he couldn’t understand what was happening during the 45-minute rounds.

 She said, “He was just going off the vibes the whole time.” And the vibes were high as Duke beat Yale, securing their spot in the final round.

‘And in first place…’

 Once again, a coin spins in the air, casting a small shadow against the projected blues and reds behind it. Duke wins the toss.

 A few minutes later Majed huddles with his three other teammates backstage in Stanford University’s Dinkelspiel Auditorium. The wood planks and switchboards scattered backstage remind Danah of her middle school theater days, but instead of lines, she reads the motion to start the debate.

Danah isn’t confident in her pronunciation, so the team’s alternate, Zeinab, grabs the paper and begins underlining words in different colors under the dim lights.

On the other side of the curtain, the audience is filling up. Seven judges sit in front, some of their knees brushing the underside of the small wooden desks attached to the chairs, no larger than a dinner plate. The carpeted auditorium may have once been as cardinal red as the school that owns it, but now is a muddy burgundy. As the students file onto the stage, the light on them casts a deep shadow on their audience.

Since Duke won the coin flip, Danah takes to the podium first to read the motion. Above her in clear script is “جامعة ديوك” and “جامعة هرفارد”:

Duke University and Harvard University.

The topic for the final round is climate change, and Duke is arguing that countries should take action against countries that allow environmental abuses. 

An hour or so later, the four students are seated in the front row of the auditorium with the Harvard students directly behind them. The announcer says the vote was not unanimous, leaving Danah to wonder what that could mean for her team.

“And in first place…” the announcer says in Arabic as the audience begins drumming their hands on the rickety desks.

 “Of the U.S. Universities Arabic Debate championships…” he laughs, drawing out the suspense.

 “Duke University!”

 Danah turns to hug Zeinab before the rest of the team collides in a group hug. The Harvard students are on their feet as well.

 “I remember waiting and knowing that we won, but I don’t remember the buildup or him announcing it,” Danah said. “It’s a blur.”

 Edited by Jasmine Baker and Hannah Collett.

 

UNC alum revives trivia, crowds at Linda’s Downbar

By Hannah Kaufman

The underground bar is teeming with people. Elbows brush up elbows. Beers slosh.

Students and adults alike attempt to squeeze just one more person—the last one, they swear—around their table.

The five wooden booths lined against the far wall are rivaled only by the high-rise tables, which, despite their small surface area, are covered with the arms, hands, pitchers and french fries of about 15 people per table.

No one says a thing about the claustrophobic atmosphere. It’s a Wednesday, after all.

Deep teal walls are hardly visible behind many pints of bold, crisp beer signs: “Budweiser: King of Beers.” “Samuel Adams.” “Yuengling.” “What’ll you have? Pabst Blue Ribbon COLD BEER.” “Bourbon Street.” And of course, the ivy-covered wooden plank that reads, in a delicate cursive font: “Linda’s.”

There’s a $1-off special tonight at Linda’s Bar and Grill, but that’s not the reason for the bustle.

Let the games begin

“Thank you for joining us tonight,” the steady announcer’s voice rang out through the clamor of shouts and laughter. “It’s now time to start Linda’s Wednesday trivia, as we do every Wednesday. The rules are up on the screen, make sure to tip all your lovely bartenders generously—and remember that the winner has the chance to win a $25 gift card.”

The voice belongs to Patrick Wiginton, a 29-year-old UNC-Chapel Hill alum. Patrick is of average height with a big straight-toothed smile and newly dyed blue hair. By day, he’s a remote data analyst at Cisco, but by night—Wednesday night, that is—he’s the star of his own show.

Patrick has been hosting trivia at Linda’s for 15 months, and he’s hardly missed a single Wednesday. He reignited a Chapel Hill tradition that had been lost to the isolating lull of Covid-19, a tradition that packs Linda’s basement bar, the Downbar, with up to 100 students, graduates and locals. And Patrick works for free.

“I’m just doing this for my own fun,” Patrick said.

What is … backstory

Unlike most trivia lovers, his trivia experience didn’t begin during college, but much earlier. At 12 years old, Patrick was an only child and avid reader. He and his mom began watching Jeopardy every night after dinner, competing fiercely to see how well they could do. One night, his mom proposed a challenge that she thought couldn’t be done: guessing the answer to the Final Jeopardy question based on the category alone.

“My mom thought it was impossible,” Patrick said. “I got it three times.”

At UNC-CH, he majored in public health and minored in biology. He met his roommate and best friend Aaron Gross sophomore year. By junior year, they were regulars at Linda’s. They befriended owner Chris Carini and cheerfully annoyed the waiters.

Patrick now lives 15 minutes from Chapel Hill but is often in town. He and Alya Butler, his girlfriend of two years, attend football games and occasionally stop by Franklin Street.

But two weekly traditions are set in stone: Linda’s on Wednesday nights for trivia and Sunday afternoons for what he and Aaron call “church day.”

Beers over bibles, right?

Spinning wheels of fortune

On the most recent church day, it was 3 p.m. and Love Island was playing on the TV. A few customers were mingling around but most of the noise was coming from the bar, where Alya, Patrick and Aaron were seated.

It was Halloween weekend and Aaron was wearing a cowboy hat with a red El Toro Tequila cap-turned-hat glued to the top. Patrick took a sip of his drink and looked up at a short-haired waitress inquisitively.

“Kirsten, when did you start hating me?” he called out.

“Must’ve been the first day I met you,” she deadpanned.

“Yeah, day one,” he agreed.

The staff doesn’t actually hate him. In fact, Patrick’s seven years of friendship with Chris was what landed him his trivia job in the first place.

In 2020, the pandemic forced almost all of the restaurants in Chapel Hill to shut down operations. Linda’s was no exception, and with its loss of business came the loss of a 20-year tradition: trivia in the Downbar.

After things opened back up again, trivia wasn’t the same. Turnout was low and the previous trivia host couldn’t work Wednesday nights. Linda’s had taken a massive hit. But there through it all was Patrick, the ever-so-loyal regular.

“I’ve known Patrick for a very long time,” Chris said. “He’s hilarious, he’s got a really honest vibe about him. He’s just a sweet guy.”

Sitting at the bar one day, Chris mentioned offhandedly that he wanted to start up Wednesday trivia again. Patrick volunteered without a moment’s hesitation. He had never hosted before, but he liked bar trivia and had watched a lifetime of Jeopardy. Plus, he wanted to help Linda’s however he could.

“How hard could trivia be?” Patrick said.

Becoming Wednesday Guy

He refused Chris’ offer for payment, instead opting for a guarantee of free food and beer, and began learning the Downbar’s ropes. His first Wednesday trivia night was August 25, 2021. Only six or seven teams showed up, and while Patrick had prepared the proper amount of rounds and questions, he didn’t even have a working PowerPoint. That didn’t stop him from coming back the next Wednesday, though. And the following. And the following.

Now, it’s November 2022 and Patrick just finished announcing the answers to the Current Events round, which is always the first round. Next might be a wordplay round called Before and After or maybe Movie Title Math. Patrick suspects that the crowd is rooting for Musical Numbers, in which he plays the first 30 seconds of eight different songs and teams have to guess the song and artist’s name.

What the 20 teams in the Downbar don’t know is that each trivia night requires around three hours of preparation. During the actual game, Patrick is also required intense concentration in announcing every round, displaying the answers and reading out each team’s score and name.

(A few weeks ago, Aaron chose the team name: “Terrible Trivia Host Says What?”).

At last, around 10 p.m., the so-called Terrible Trivia Host reads out the final scores. One team shrieks with joy while the rest pat each other on the back disappointedly. The crowd files out, but not before shouting a thank-you to Patrick, who is standing in his corner, face flushed from the past two hours. Somehow, he still has the energy to smile and wave at his fans.

“It takes someone like Patrick to create that type of community around trivia culture,” Chris said.

While generally humble, Patrick sometimes jokes that his trivia nights are gaining him something akin to celebrity status around Chapel Hill. He isn’t far off. Last week, he was walking to a UNC game and stopped by the Student Stores to buy a hat. At checkout, the cashier took a long, hard look at him.

“Oh, I know you,” the cashier said. “Trivia.”

“Yeah,” Patrick replied. “I’m Wednesday Guy.”

Edited by Caleb Sigmon

God save the pumpkin: One Raleigh resident’s Halloween tradition

By Meg Hardesty

When a celebrity dies, Kenny Krause receives a text message.

“It becomes a little bit morbid, because whenever someone dies, my first reaction is always like sad that they passed away,” his daughter, Katherine, laughed. “And my second thought is always – without fail – like I wonder if that is pumpkin worthy.”

His friends and neighbors in his Raleigh, North Carolina neighborhood nag him about his annual tradition.

“Good pumpkin.” 

“Oh, surely this will be the pumpkin.”

Kenny Krause is no artist. He neither draws nor paints. He doesn’t dabble in any other artistic medium except pumpkin.

Every Halloween, Kenny picks a celebrity who passed away in the previous year and carves his or her picture into a pumpkin. Neighbors and friends spend the year predicting and guessing whose face will be on the pumpkin come Oct. 31.

This year, a number of universally known celebrities died: Bob Saget, Olivia Newton John, Loretta Lynn and Queen Elizabeth II, to name a few.

Kenny’s pumpkin boils down to a choice; there can only be one.

So who will it be this year?

The magic behind it all

Each year on Oct. 31, Kenny sits in his sunroom with eye goggles on and a Dremel drill in hand. Elbows deep in it, he guts the pumpkin, ridding it of its pulp and seeds. His shaving and drilling are precise, and no surgeon could match his meticulous methods. 

From years of practice, he’s perfected his concoction of two-thirds water and one-third bleach that he soaks the pumpkin in. The bleach keeps it from rotting before the big reveal on Halloween. If one side is drooping, Kenny might add some shading for more support. But, it can’t be shaved down too thin or it will droop. It’s a race against time for Kenny.

He uses a computer software program to generate a pattern of the celebrity and reduces it down to three colors. When carved onto the surface, these three parts become pumpkin, shaved pumpkin or no pumpkin at all.

After years of perfecting his craft, Kenny knows what works and what doesn’t.

Selecting each year’s celebrity 

Kenny carved his first celebrity pumpkin when Johnny Cash died in 2003.

Kenny is an avid country-western fan, so he found a jack-o-lantern pattern for Johnny Cash “out in lonely internet land.”

In the following years, Kenny found patterns on the internet for Ray Charles, Johnny Carson, Steve Irwin and Luciano Pavarotti. All became pumpkin worthy, each in his respective year.

In Kenny’s opinion, no one of any prominence died in 2008, and there wasn’t a new pattern on the internet for him to use.

Creating the pattern for the celebrity’s face has become his biggest time consumer, making it an operation.

When Kenny selects the celebrity for a pumpkin, he believes the person has to span generations and interests.

“He’s a big baseball fan, and if somebody kind of obscure to the lay person dies – but it’s a real big baseball guy – I kind of have to talk him off the ledge going ‘nobody is going to know who that is,’” his wife, Leigh, said. “I mean he did do Ernie Banks one year. Ernie Banks is not just your normal baseball character.”

He stays away from politicians and suicides, although he did make an exception for Robin Williams in 2014. He avoids anything controversial or divisive, and often takes input from his daughters, Eliza and Katherine. But, he doesn’t always take their advice.

“When Amy Winehouse died – and I’m a big Amy Winehouse fan – I was so upset that she wasn’t the pumpkin,” Katherine said. “I remember being so upset at the time because that was my suggestion, and he didn’t take it.”

Amy Winehouse died in 2011; Elizabeth Taylor beat her for the pumpkin.

A neighborly affair

Neighbors and friends can suggest, plead and text all they want to. However, Kenny usually keeps it a secret until the reveal on Halloween night.

“I would always try and creep by the sunroom, and he would put things up so that I couldn’t see,” Katherine said. “Our neighbors would always ask us and try and get it out of us, but joke was on them because we didn’t know either, so it was kind of funny.”

Part of the spectacle of Kenny’s annual pumpkin is the secrecy; it’s all part of the fun. Katherine even suspects Kenny gets paranoid sometimes and carves from their basement.

Karen Rindge, Kenny’s former next-door neighbor, said she’s already heard who the pumpkin is this year.

“I told my husband, ‘Ooh, I got the word! I already know who it’s going to be!’” Karen laughed, admitting that there is a sneak peak some years. “Sometimes, I think since we were next-door neighbors, he couldn’t help himself, and he had to let somebody know.”

For each pumpkin, Kenny tries to find music to correspond with the person’s life.

When Michael Jackson died, he played “Thriller.” When Andy Griffith died, he played the Andy Griffith theme song. Neighbors anticipate whom they’re going to see on the pumpkin when they hear the music.

“I’ll always listen for the music,” his neighbor, Molly Simmons, said. “The year that Florence Henderson died, I was sitting over here and I could hear the Brady Bunch theme and I was like ‘Oh Lord he did Florence Henderson.’”

When Pavarotti died, opera music played all night long, accompanying the trick-or-treaters on Kenny’s doorstep.

“If you walk by our house on the street and you hear opera music on Halloween and you don’t know the tradition, you might be a little bit confused,” Katherine said “But, it pulls you in, I guess.”

Kenny has built a reputation and community around his pumpkins, bringing a lighthearted, fun and innocent occasion to the University Park neighborhood each year. 

 “They were always the neighborhood house where everybody gathered, and the pumpkin was the draw because everyone wanted to see the pumpkin,” Molly said.

Kenny and Leigh tag-team the celebration each year. Leigh prepares Brunswick stew and ham biscuits for their guests each year and hands out candy. Kenny serves beer and wine for adults and takes care of the pumpkin.

“I remember Halloween as getting home from school and we’re folding napkins, we’re getting soup ready, we’re working on the crockpot, Dad’s downstairs.” Katherine said. “It’s a whole production for sure.” 

Friends and family look forward to it. Kenny sends a picture of the pumpkin to his mother in Wisconsin, and she sends it out to more friends. Leigh sends it out to her father and his 88-year-old friends. Work friends in Wilmington and old high school friends text to ask about it. Even the head of Krispy Kreme texts Leigh each year asking who will be on the pumpkin.

“I get fussed at if I don’t get it on Facebook pretty early into the evening. I’m like, ‘Excuse me, I’m handing out candy,’” Leigh laughed.

To say it’s far-reaching sounds silly, but Kenny has added delight and tradition to his community for many years to come.

2022’s grand reveal

An animated Headless Harry stands to the left of the yard, removing its bloody head over and over. A blow-up coffin sits in the grass filled with beer and wine. Full-sized Snickers, Reese’s and Hershey bars lie on a fold out table next to the pumpkin. A British band plays over the speaker.

Kenny removes the tarp and lights a candle inside the pumpkin. Oohs and aahs fill the front yard.

None other than Queen Elizabeth II shines through the twinkle of the pumpkin.

God save the Queen. And the pumpkin.

Edited by Jane Durden and Mackenzie Frank

UNC transfer finds community and passion in niche sport, handball

By Harrison Clark

CJ Zavada and his fellow UNC-Chapel Hill teammates mobbed the court, jumping with joy; they finally did it.

After falling short in the college national semifinals, the Tar Heels finished the season with a U.S. Open championship against the San Francisco CalHeat, a team they had lost to in pool play. “Sweet Caroline” blared through the Adrian College speakers and the tightly knit squad sang their hearts out together. The final score read 25-17.

No, this wasn’t a basketball game. Or a soccer game. Or a volleyball game. It’s handball – a sport Zavada has come to love and hopes to grow.

The “natural”

Growing up in Windermere, Florida, Zavada played a plethora of sports but fell in love with the game of basketball. He always played up an age group, taking on older kids in both Upward Sports church leagues and AAU circuits. He had natural athleticism, allowing him to be successful in nearly every sport he played.

“He gets it from his mom,” Zavada’s father, Jay Zavada, said with a big laugh. Zavada’s mother, Yvonne, played collegiate basketball at Transylvania University, a Division-III school in Kentucky.

Known for his pesky defensive plays and quickness, college coaches gathered to watch Zavada play for Windermere High School. Zavada embraced defending the other team’s best players while also running the show as point guard — strategically calling and making plays. By the time high school ended, he accepted an offer to play at Gettysburg College, following in Yvonne’s footsteps of playing college hoops.  

As he entered college, two senior guards would graduate in front of him and loads of playing time would come his way, potentially even a starting spot. However, after spending his freshman year fighting for minutes on the court, Zavada decided to make a change. 

“It was a mix of feeling content with the sport I played my whole life and that I had reached a point where it is okay to hang up the shoes now,” Zavada said.

With a plan of pursuing dentistry, Zavada transferred to UNC in the fall of 2020.

Branching out

Due to COVID-19, Zavada’s first year at UNC was dominated by social distancing and a lack of gym facilities available for use. Desiring to “scratch the athletic itch,” Zavada randomly searched if UNC had a handball team. 

Before college, Zavada had only been exposed to handball once. As a seventh grader, Zavada’s eyes grazed a Team USA handball poster at a pizza place at Auburn University — he thought the sport looked awesome. He was impressed by the size of the players and it reminded him of “speedball,” a similar-looking game he played in middle school. Yet, the memory never recycled back through his mind.

While browsing UNC’s social site Heel Life, Zavada recognized the handball contact, Alex Irmscher, who attended Zavada’s rival high school in Florida along with having some mutual friends between them.

After reaching out, Irmscher invited Zavada to his house and made homemade chili. The rest of the night, Irmscher described some of the handball rules. 

Three steps, not two.

Dribble it like a 1920s NBA player with your hand on top of the ball.

Positions are like soccer but on an indoor court longer and wider than a basketball court.

Substitutions on the fly like ice hockey.

Goals can only be scored by throwing it in the net only from behind the big arc.

Zavada was playing with a “steep learning curve” while initially starting handball. Yet, he loved it.

With Zavada’s natural athleticism and his experience in various sports, he got the hang of the rules within a couple of weeks of practice, faster than most when first taking up handball.

And, he got to be quite good at it.

“People would tell me, ‘Wow, I do not understand how you are getting it this fast,’” Zavada said. “There are still people on the squad who have played much longer than I have who do not know all of the rules.”

After restrictions were lifted, Zavada played his first match for UNC in Fetzer Gym against the New York Athletic Club, a team featuring primarily grown adults who have played for years and are often respected as one of the best teams in the country. Due to the lack of many collegiate handball teams, UNC often plays semi-pro clubs such as NYAC.

“They had some guys in the middle who were around 6’4” and 260 pounds,” Zavada said. “It was intimidating, super physical, trash-talking the whole game. I absolutely loved it. 

In addition, Zavada scored seven goals in that game.

Moving forward

While falling in love with handball, Zavada came to a crossroads academically, where he rethought his original path of dentistry.

Zavada hated shadowing. He hated his science classes. He was not looking forward to completing his residency and potentially being poor for six years before hopefully owning a practice, which would likely lead to debt. So, he switched to business.

Fully focused on handball and his business major, The American Handball Company peaked both interests. After the company organized a well-run U.S. Open tournament in Detroit, Zavada reached out to the company to intern and share his visions for the sport.

In Europe and South America, handball is the second most popular sport following soccer. Yet in the United States, many people are unaware of what handball even is.

It bothered Zavada that only a few college programs have handball teams, along with the fact that young kids in the United States are not taught handball like in Europe or Latin America. 

Zavada wants a real league of professional handball teams, something that is long-lasting like the NHL or the NBA. He feels that down the road The American Handball Company could foster a new league and create excitement surrounding handball in the States.

“There is no NBA of handball,” Zavada said. “The UFC, the National Lacrosse League, they were nothing at one point. But if you can help grow it and build it up, that would be something really special.” 

 Zavada would not rule out the possibility of playing handball overseas one day, with the skill and exposure levels being far higher in Europe and South America. Thus, the chance to get trained by elite coaches and potentially breakthrough untapped potential is an enticing prospect. 

Zavada’s ultimate dream is to represent the United States handball team in the Olympic Games. While it seems more unlikely than likely due to the United States not qualifying for the next Games in Paris, the dream remains.

“It would just be cool to play for the U.S. in the Olympics,” Zavada said. “That would be why I would not mind playing in Europe.”

For now, he is focused on his senior season and carrying out his visions for the sport.

 

Edited by Macon Porterfield and Ryan Mills

Former lawyer creates haven for recovering addicts through Carolina Krave lounge

By Sara Raja

It was Elizabeth Gardner’s birthday, but she didn’t feel like celebrating. She was an attorney and had court in the morning. Her friend, however, was insisting they go out.

“I’ll take you anywhere,” her friend said. “Tell me where you wanna go, and we’ll go.”

Gardner was starting to give in, but she didn’t want to go to a traditional bar.

“I really can’t stomach looking at any more broken lives [having] a celebration moment,” she said.

She typed “bar alternatives” into Google and Purple Lotus Kava Bar popped up. So, they went.

The bartender explained to them how tea made from the root of the kava plant could have relaxing and euphoric effects. 

Even more than the tea, Gardner was impressed by the sense of community in the bar. 

“All the people knew each other by their first name,” she said. “And they were all talking to me, welcoming me, explaining what it’s about to me.”

Eleven years later, Gardner owns Krave, a Kava Bar and Tea Lounge, with three locations in North Carolina. 

Her life’s goal has always been to combat drug addiction. 

She used to do it as an attorney in Florida, but now she does it by providing a drug-free space where people can find community.

Gardner quickly became a regular at Purple Lotus and eventually became the owner’s lawyer. 

When she received her inheritance, she moved back to North Carolina with the goal of opening a kava bar.

Breaking out of her shell 

As a child, Gardner said she was shy a wallflower even.

She’s also a Hillsborough, North Carolina native whose grandparents worked in the textile mills. 

She attended UNC-Chapel Hill in the 1980s and was a member of Sigma Sigma Sigma sorority. 

Although she was a reserved college student, Gardner was appointed social chair of the sorority. 

Suddenly, she was meeting with fraternity brothers and organizing mixers. That time was pivotal in her life.

“It forced me to be me, and I’m so grateful for that experience,” she said. “It’s the discomfort in life that has led to my biggest growth.”

In college, Gardner wasn’t sure what career path she wanted to pursue and she sat down with a friend to pour over the list of majors at UNC-CH. 

Together, they envisioned the type of career that would come with each.

She settled on law and enrolled in a prep class.

“I thought ‘If it’s meant to be, it’s going to happen,’” she said. “Gonna throw the spaghetti on the wall, see what sticks.”

Law stuck. She went on to attend law school in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, eventually becoming a defense attorney. 

Her goal was to combat drug addiction by using the power of the court and improving the rehabilitation process.

For Gardner, addiction hits home

Gardner has an older cousin who still struggles with addiction. He has to rely on his mother, because he isn’t able to be independent.

A lot of other people in her family deal with addiction as well — with many of them becoming addicted after being prescribed opiates by a doctor. 

Gardner realized the problem was all around her. Most people were using prescription or illegal drugs, or at least drinking alcohol.

“Everything’s designed around it,” she said. “If you celebrate, you drink. If you are having a bad day, drink. You don’t realize that over time it’s killing your liver.”

She often represented clients struggling with addiction who got in trouble with the law. She hoped to use the court system as a way to help people turn around their lives. 

“You can force them to look at another way, and in their sober mind, they might choose to use that to make a better life,” she said.

She remembers spending a Thanksgiving sitting in jail with a woman, who was a prostitute that used drugs.

One person walked in to thank Gardner for sitting with the woman. “To me, [that] was worth all the other hundreds of people that I never saw again,” she said. 

She loved being a lawyer, from the thrill of the jury being seated to the trial beginning. 

But she didn’t enjoy the administrative work of running her own practice. So, when she received her inheritance, she set her sights on returning to her home state. 

By now she had met her husband, Joshua Pardue. They were introduced at a live-action role-playing vampire event.

She spotted him across the room and asked her friends who he was. 

Building a community of love

In 2015, they moved to North Carolina together to open the Carrboro location of Krave.

The building is on Main Street. When you walk into the dimly lit front room, you’ll see patrons chatting at the bar while the bartender serves a range of kava and kratom teas. 

Pieces of art, many of them created by patrons of the bar, cover the walls. 

In the back room, there are comfortable places to sit and calming, somewhat psychedelic images are projected onto one wall. 

A mural of a purple lotus on the opposite wall is a nod to the place Gardner first discovered kava. 

The bar staff welcomes anyone who walks in, ready to explain the effects of kava tea. 

A variety of people can be found at Krave. 

Gardner said the bar tends to attract creative types of all ages. Some patrons have struggled with addiction in the past and use kava as an alternative to drugs or alcohol. 

Arod Rodriguez is one example. He said kava helped him quit using drugs. Rodriguez met Gardner at Purple Lotus back in Florida. 

Now, she is like a sister to him. 

Gardner helped him through a breakup and he ended up moving to North Carolina to work in one of her bars. 

He described her as the type of person to take the shirt off her back to help keep someone warm.

“There isn’t one wall she can’t climb or can’t encourage you to climb,” he said. “She’ll encourage you to overcome anything.”

Gardner is proud of the communities that form at her bars. Some patrons have been coming for years.

When something happens to a member of the community, such as a drug or alcohol relapse, everyone is deeply affected.

“I’ve seen people get jobs, spouses, roommates,” she said. “It’s a nice network of support.”

Jordan Browning has been a bartender at Krave’s Carrboro location since 2018. He said Gardner makes an effort to cultivate community in the bar.

“I’ve always seen Liz as someone that a lot of folks… have who’s good to talk to,” he said.

Since 2015, Gardner has opened two more Krave locations in Greensboro and Raleigh. 

The Raleigh location opened just a few weeks ago with a big celebration featuring DJs and Hawaiian dancers.

Gardner was excited to finally open the new location and pleased with the large turnout at the celebration.

She said she’s an example of why people should never judge others by their circumstances. 

“I’ve heard a lot of people say ‘Who would have ever thought you would have been a lawyer?’” Gardner said. “Maybe it’s because I’m from West Hillsborough, or maybe it’s because my family worked in the mills, or maybe it’s because I’m shy.”

“But don’t ever discount the underdog. We have a lot to offer the world,” she said.

Editing by Brianna Atkinson and Brooke Dougherty

 

Hockey commentary in a sparkly suit: High Point’s Graham Tuck

By J Banzet

The night before the 2022 Atlantic Coast Collegiate Hockey League tournament, color analyst Charles Crowell called his best friend and broadcast partner, Graham Tuck, to make sure everything was squared away.

The mid-February tournament was being played in Winston-Salem, N.C., and the two were the on-air talent broadcasting all 10 games. The tournament brought together the best college club hockey teams in the mid-Atlantic to determine its champion.

Everything needed to be perfect.

“Don’t forget any of the mics, and bring that sparkly suit,” Crowell told Tuck.

“Bro,” Tuck said. “I got it. Trust me.”

The next morning, Tuck, a junior at High Point University, wore the sparkly suit that matched his school’s colors, purple and black. His long brown hair — or “lettuce” as they say in the hockey world — flowed 2 inches past his collar and was pushed behind his ears when it was time to put on his headset. A black button-down shirt, purple tie and black pants finished the look. But the outfit’s signature piece was on his feet: a pair of glittery purple loafers matched his jacket to a tee.

Tuck arrived at the rink for Friday morning’s quarterfinals two hours before the first puck drop to set up all of the equipment on his own. Five cameras needed to be turned on and plugged in, so Tuck walked throughout the arena and meticulously checked each one. 

It’s not that he didn’t trust his color analyst Brian Coleman or director Tyler Cohen to do the job, it’s just that Tuck is a perfectionist — especially when it comes to his work.

“He cares about every little detail,” Coleman said. “It’s a little intimidating at first if I’m being honest with you.”

‘He’s got it all’

Tuck’s talent on-air shines more than each plastic sparkle on his suit. During the first three months of his freshman year, Tuck exceeded expectations so much that the league offered him a four-year contract to broadcast the conference tournament — before his first season at High Point had ended.

Though hockey isn’t nearly as big in North Carolina as it is up north, Tuck’s passion and skill level rivals broadcast voices from the sport’s hot beds (Toronto, Boston and New York) and even opposing teams are taking notice.

“He’s the only really good college broadcaster I’ve heard,” said UNC hockey forward Cole Kusowski. “Knowledge of the game, passion for the calls, simplicity for everyone to understand: he’s got it all.”

Tuck started broadcasting ice hockey games as a junior at Atkins High School in Winston-Salem for the local Carolina Thunderbirds, running the team’s social media during a championship season in 2018-19. He’s since founded Tuck Broadcasting LLC to take his voice to another level in the realms of hockey and baseball.

Barista by day, announcer by night

Tuck’s perfection stems from necessity.

His mom works for the local public school system and his dad referees high school football and lacrosse. And with two younger siblings still at home, Tuck funds his entire college experience. He earned a four-year sports broadcasting scholarship as part of HPU’s Communication Fellows Program, on top of having financial aid through FAFSA and another general university scholarship to cut costs.

Still, High Point’s roughly $58,000 price per year isn’t cheap, so calling games on contract helps him get close to breaking even.

And so does baristaing at Starbucks at 5:30 a.m. at the local Harris Teeter three mornings each week. 

“I’ve worked at Dairio, Brothers Cluckers, and now Starbucks because I have to,” Tuck laughed. 

In high school, Tuck never excelled at any sport, but he followed every major league like a part-time job. When his final baseball season ended in April 2019, Tuck put together his first broadcast reel in his living room on his iPhone 6’s “Voice Memos” app, commentating for a 7 p.m. Carolina Hurricanes and Washington Capitals matchup. 

He called the game into his headset at the same time as John Forslund and Tripp Tracy did for Fox Sports Southeast, narrating every explosive play. 

“Aho to Teravainen, drops it for Hamilton. Shoots, scores!”

Tuck has three semesters left at High Point and is under contract to call the school’s hockey games and HPU’s conference tournament every February. Just last week, Winston-Salem’s Carolina Thunderbirds offered him a full-time play-by-play role. However, Tuck turned them down to honor his High Point obligations. 

“I wanted it so badly but just couldn’t make it work,” Tuck said. “My time will come.”

Yes it will. Because the sparkly suit-wearing Starbucks barista has “got it all.”

He’s just that good.

Edited by Clay Morris and Kaitlyn Schmidt

Family-owned car wash provides community service as well as ‘quality service’

By Audrey Selley

Wiping sweat from his forehead, Bruce Tucker laughs as he scrubs dirt off the windshield of a Mazda3 sedan. His older brother Tom laughs back from the other side of the car where he meticulously sprays and wipes the windows like he’s polishing a trophy. 

It’s a Wednesday close to closing time at Carolina Car Wash And Detail in Carrboro, which sits right on the corner of Brewer Lane and East Main Street. Alongside the co-managers, Bruce and Tom, is the usual team of employees, including Chello Hernandez. Hernandez has been working at the car wash for 15 years, exactly the age of her daughter, Donna, who comes back from school just as the sedan is engulfed by the mechanical scrubber cylinders.

Donna greeted Bruce and Tom’s 85-year-old mother, Willey D. Tucker, behind the register just as Bruce walked into the lobby. 

“Donna! How was your quinceañera?” Bruce asked.

To Bruce, his employees are extended family. He’s lived with them through their ups and downs. He has watched as their kids grew up and learned how to ride a bike, and even as they got their first job— which, for a few of them, was at the car wash itself.  

However, it’s not exactly like Bruce needs more family in his life. He grew up with 11 siblings on the west side of Chicago with his mom. Although they had just enough money to keep the lights on, it was a golden childhood. It was one where school clothes were immediately changed into play clothes when they came home. 

They would play cops and robbers, tag and kickball until dark, waiting just long enough until their mother would whoop their butts for not being home by dinner. On weekends, they’d all squeeze into a station wagon and visit their grandparents, who also lived in Chicago.  

“Those were the good old days,” Bruce said. “Some people can’t imagine having 11 siblings, but it was one of the most beautiful experiences I could imagine.” 

Carolina Car Wash and Detail

When a 25-year-old Tom bought Carolina Car Wash and Detail in 1997 and called Bruce, 23, to ask him to help with the business, Bruce didn’t want to. He was living his best life, constantly traveling as a project engineer for the United States Postal Service and golfing on his days off. 

Three weeks later, he was in Carrboro learning how to put on a proper coat of Chemical Guys Extreme Bodywash & Wax— family is family. Even though he would curse out his siblings in a heartbeat, he would even more quickly uproot his life for them. 

“It was so hard to sacrifice that; I was at the peak of my career. But Tom needed someone to help out, and I was one of the only siblings who could,” Bruce said.  

Tom’s purchase of Carolina Car Wash and Detail coincides with his founding of Peregrine 9, a real estate development company based in North Carolina. As Tom began working towards his goals of expanding throughout the southeastern United States, Bruce stepped up as co-manager of the car wash to handle the day-to-day operations.

Family Ties

But beyond the real estate incentive, Tom bought the business to give his mother a job where she didn’t have to stand all the time. Despite the gentle urging of Tom and Bruce for her to take some time off, 25 years later, she still greets customers behind the register every day.

Their mother has always supported her children. Throughout their childhood, she somehow managed to keep all 12 of her kids busy with museum trips, summer camps and sports teams.

“She’s always been our biggest fan; she would do anything for us,” Tom said.  

Working with his mom every day is his favorite part, but only as long as he remembers she will always be the boss, he said laughing.

In fact, Bruce not-so-jokingly jokes that their faithful customer base is because of Willey D. Her smile would make the Grinch’s heart grow three sizes. Her motherly advice has calmed generations of UNC-Chapel Hill students, and her impressively deep breadth of sports knowledge has engaged customers like former UNC-CH men’s basketball coach Dean Smith and current coach Hubert Davis.

“We actually thought about getting her picture on the side of a city bus because there are so many people that know her,” Bruce said.

Community Connections

The brothers also believe that they have an opportunity and responsibility to impact the community around them. Tom served as the president of the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership, which advocates for policies and projects to support businesses. In addition, Tom serves on the Northside Neighborhood Conservation District Advisory, which was created in response to the increasing gentrification in the historically Black Northside neighborhood in Chapel Hill. 

In terms of their business philosophy, the brothers aren’t trying to squeeze every cent out of their customers. They would rather spend their time providing quality service and ensuring the happiness of their customers, Tom said. 

Their upbringing taught them that it’s not about having all the money in the world. Bruce said at the end of the day, they want to focus on what’s most important, cultivating relationships with their customers.

He will surprise customers with a free car wash if they are having a particularly bad day and gives away complimentary car washes to local schools and charities as well. Beyond the car wash, Bruce loves engaging with the customers and swapping life stories. 

“If we send customers out of here with that warm and fuzzy feeling, and they feel good about everything that happened,” said Bruce. “I’m just convinced that that’s going to replicate itself, and it’s gonna repeat and pay itself forward.”

To Bruce, a successful business only means one thing:

“Our family is growing.”

Edited by Chloe Teachey and Collin Tadlock

Climbing on: Kameron Thomas’ interesting, uninteresting life

By Hannah Kaufman 

Kameron Thomas reached for the next purple grip, his hand calloused and caked in the white powder that has now stained most of his good pants. 

“On belay?”

“Belay is on.”

Easily maneuvering his feet to the left, he stood and pulled the rest of his body up. Climbing a 5.11, which is a harder rock-climbing route, Thomas hurdled the overhang with ease. He wiped his dirty blonde hair out of his face with a grin and looked down at the other climbing staff confidently.

Thomas is a sophomore at UNC-Chapel Hill and a second-year climbing staffer at the campus’ rock walls. Lean and muscular, he’s happiest when using his hands. He sews sweaters for his girlfriend, he sculpts ceramics in art class and sometimes, he even flies planes, having earned his pilot’s license at age 17.

And last year, Thomas was diagnosed with a brain tumor.

A growing solution

The headaches began junior year of high school. Thomas went to 10 different doctors, each one telling him he was crazy in the same way a cheating spouse reassures a panicked partner: repeatedly, nonchalantly and with confidence.

Then, one doctor noticed something unusual after looking closely at his eyes: a malignant tumor on his pituitary gland. 

The tumor is the source of Thomas’ headaches, as well as heightened hormone levels that affect his mood and cause kidney stones. But for now, it’s too small to be taken out immediately.

 So, Thomas is waiting for it to grow. 

He goes through scans every six months, but as the tumor grows larger, the time between Thomas’ appointments will get shorter.

The day he found out about his tumor, Thomas felt glad. At least then he could define the problem, as his strategic, rock-climbing mind prefers clear-cut problems and solutions. 

“I thought it was a little funny,” he admitted. “I went through all this s— in my life, I keep on trudging through s—, and then ‘Oh, maybe I’ll get a break.’ Nah, you have a brain tumor now.”

Although frustrated with the hormonal impacts of the tumor, Thomas is not worried about its presence. His biggest fear is that it’s pushing against his eyes, which could cause him to lose his eyesight — and then his ability to fly.

His first experience on a plane was at 5 years old. Thomas was on a flight from Colorado to North Carolina by himself, so the staff let him walk around, racing through the aisles and meeting bemused passengers. Eventually, the pilots told him he could sit in the cockpit while they flew the plane.

Thomas watched, his eyes wide as he took in the stretching sky and array of flashing knobs and buttons. Perched in the pilot’s seat like an anxious baby bird, he fell in love with the feeling of freedom that being in the cockpit gave him. 

It was a relief that he had yet find anywhere else, including his home.

The path to a ‘sense of self’

Thomas’ parents were never married. His father lived in North Carolina and was often in and out of jail for drugs or violence, so Thomas and his brother lived with their mother in Colorado. He has seven other siblings, but he has never met most of them.

Growing up, his mother was always drunk and regularly did meth, heroin and crack. They moved around a lot, causing Thomas to miss kindergarten. By the time he was six, his mother had been reported to social services multiple times as teachers noticed bruises on his face, and after slamming her high heel into his brother’s head, the two boys were put into foster care.

In each of the six foster homes the two lived in, they were subjected to varying degrees of neglect. When a foster family was especially bad, Thomas’ brother would run away, and they’d be sent somewhere new.

 At 9 years old, Thomas was adopted by his father’s parents and went to live with them in Leasburg, North Carolina. His grandparents owned a logging company and had the means to support almost any hobby Thomas was interested in, such as glassblowing, metalworking, wood chopping and furniture building. 

But soon, real friends trickled in through his sturdy walls. He attended a local high school for two years before transferring to boarding school at the highly competitive North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics.

Although it took a while for most students to get to know him in high school, people were drawn to his strong sense of self, his friend Lauren Subramanium said.

“It was funny because when I saw him around campus, he always wore these cowboy boots,” Subramanium said. “I thought of him as ‘cowboy boots guy.’”

Something as cool as luck

Now, Thomas has a couple of close friends, but prefers to operate alone. Strangers find him reserved, while friends find comfort in his kind blue eyes and easy laugh. Yet, most of them couldn’t tell you more than a few basic things about him.

He’s traded his cowboy boots for a pair of Blundstones. He wears brown wide-legged pants, a cropped sleeveless shirt and has chipped matte green polish on his fingernails (he plans to repaint them soon). Thomas works at the climbing wall a few times a week, studies art and computer science and regularly bakes cookies with his girlfriend.

The raging headaches haven’t stopped. He still doesn’t tell friends about his tumor or his childhood because, honestly, people never know how to react to that sort of thing. And he finds himself wishing he had reached out to his mother before she committed suicide last year.

He still doesn’t know if she had a funeral. 

Sometimes when the hubbub of school and distractions goes away, he feels sad and angry. Thomas doesn’t feel unlucky — he wishes it was something as cool as luck. He thinks that bad things just happen.

“I don’t think my life is very interesting,” Thomas said.

“Sure, I don’t have parents, but other people don’t have parents, too,” he said. “I have cancer, but other people have cancer, too. So what? I think the only interesting thing is that I know how to do things.” 

Thomas sets his jaw and looks up at the asymmetric pattern of blue grips above him. He’s attempting a 5.12 at the rock wall. 

Smiling once he’s found the perfect route to take, Thomas puts his hand on the wall, like he’s done a million times.

“Climbing?” 

“Climb on.”

Edited by Kaitlyn Schmidt and Clay Morris

UNC-CH students and alumna reflect on Disney College Program experiences

By Anna Neil

While Jade Earnhardt did own items essential to a university student’s wardrobe, such as a school spirit shirt and basketball jersey, she made just as much use of a floor length, bubblegum pink dress during her time as a UNC-Chapel Hill student.

This easily distinguishable frock – with sheer pink sleeves, an off-the-shoulder neckline and a crown adorned with blue jewels – belonged to Princess Aurora, a character Earnhardt grew to know during her time in the Disney College Program.

Earnhardt, a UNC-CH alumna who graduated in spring 2022, spent two semesters in Orlando, Florida working at Walt Disney World Resort.

The Disney College Program allows students to work full time at Disney World, typically in a restaurant or gift shop. However, Earnhardt dreamed of landing a role as a face character since her eighth grade trip to the parks.

“I was just watching the little girls looking at princesses and just the gleam in their eyes, and I was like, ‘I want to do that.’ And my mom was like, ‘Yeah, that would be so fun’. But I was like, ‘No, I literally want to do that,’” Earnhardt said.

Auditioning for her dream job

Earnhardt auditioned to be a face character – a character who does not wear a mask – three times in high school. By the time she entered her final audition the summer before her freshman year of college, the casting directors already knew her name.

Earnhardt did not hear back from the casting directors before school started, instead launching into her career as a UNC-CH student. However, as she sat in Davis Library during an ordinary October day, a ding in her email inbox alerted her that she had been selected to become part of Princess Aurora’s story.

“Does that mean you’re leaving?” Earnhardt’s roommate Nikki Salazar asked.

“I guess it does,” she responded.

Disney Auditions casts face characters based not only on performance, but the auditionee’s height and physique. This selectiveness makes it common for character prospects to go through the casting process and never hear back, Earnhardt said.

Earnhardt’s Disney career begins

With only one semester at UNC-CH under her belt, Earnhardt set out for Disney World to live alone in Florida. She was only 19 years old.

“A lot of people thought I was insane for leaving my freshman year,” Earnhardt said. “Because basically, if you want to study abroad or anything, you do that your sophomore year, never your freshman year.”

Just as Earnhardt had waited years to be cast, guests at the parks had waited just as long to meet the beloved Princess Aurora. On her first day, a 5-year-old girl in a matching pink dress offered her blanket to the princess as a gift.

“I was doing the twirl, and I was just looking around. And this little girl comes up from the back and just rams into me,” Earnhardt said. “She’s like, ‘Princess Aurora! You’re my favorite princess. I’ve waited 6 years and I’m 5 years old.’”

A range of student opportunities

Tucker Watson, a UNC-CH junior majoring in sports administration, completed the Disney College Program during the second semester of his sophomore year. Unlike Earnhardt, he attended to learn about the Walt Disney Company as a business, hoping to one day own a company himself.

Watson spent his semester selling lightsabers and droids at Galaxy’s Edge, a Star Wars-themed gift shop in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Although Watson was focused on the inner workings of the business, he found opportunities to immerse himself in the magic.

“We had a whole day of training that was just based off of coming up from our stories of living on the land and stuff like that,” Watson said. “And so that was really, really cool getting to kind of immerse yourself into Star Wars and kind of become a character.”

Watson attended the Disney College Program alongside UNC-CH junior Taryn Knudsen, a nursing major and friend of Earnhardt’s. Knudsen appreciated the diverse environment at the parks, as it was different from the small town she grew up in.

“Within Disney World, you have so much diversity and you’re gonna come into contact with every different kind of person that there possibly is,” Knudsen said. “And so, I think learning about different cultures and perspectives while we were there was really important for me.”

Knudsen worked at Amorette’s Patisserie in Disney Springs, where she made crepes and educated customers on their pastry offerings. In her free time, she enjoyed riding Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and meeting Cinderella, another princess Earnhardt grew to know.

Logistics behind the Disney magic

Earnhardt refers to herself as a friend to Princess Aurora and Cinderella, terminology that Disney employees use to separate themselves from the characters and avoid suggesting that someone is simply dressing up. These meticulous efforts protect the magic.

Earnhardt’s process to put on her dress and accessories and make it to her set location took a total of one hour. With this fast turnaround, she would often put on her foundation makeup before coming to work.

Outside of twirling across Disney’s Magic Kingdom to greet guests, Earnhardt took several academic courses while in the program. One of these classes was about marketing, connecting directly to her advertising and public relations major at UNC-CH.

Bidding farewell to Princess Aurora

After her semester in the Disney College Program, Earnhardt was hired to work seasonally and stayed in Florida for the remainder of 2019. When she came home on Dec. 24, she expected to see Disney World again in the spring. Instead, she and approximately 28,000 others were laid off due to the pandemic.

“I feel like I didn’t really appreciate my last shift, you know,” Earnhardt said. “I was like, ‘Oh, last shift and then my flight is tomorrow,’ you know. I was just kind of going through the motions just because I was just so used to it.”

By 2020, Earnhardt was back at UNC-CH, wearing school spirit shirts and her basketball jersey. Since graduating, she has traded this wardrobe for a blazer, working as an account strategist at a Colorado marketing agency. And while she no longer sees Princess Aurora every day, Earnhardt will always remember walking with her “once upon a dream.”

Edited by: Mackenzie Frank and Jane Durden

Tennessee native and activist uplifts UNC community as co-president of Campus Y 

By Guillermo Molero

Sometimes they’re blue. Other times they’re green — a little corduroy number stretching from head to toe. Or maybe burnt orange or bright yellow, like leaves falling from trees.

Whatever color they are, Megan Murphy always wears overalls. 

For the co-president of Campus Y, a student-run advocacy group at UNC-Chapel Hill, they’re more than just a fashion choice. Overalls have long been a symbol of her willingness to take charge and do what she must to get things done. 

The Nashville native was always involved in something.

Murphy’s road to activism

When she was a young girl, her mother, a local chaplain, founded an initiative to help women who had been the victims of violence and trafficking. 

These women were all around Murphy during her childhood. They were her babysitters. They watched her and her friends build makeshift towns out of old cardboard boxes and other junk in her yard.

They were farmhands, by her side as she tilled the soil in her overalls. They were at Thanksgiving, passing mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce along a crowded table. 

They were family and Murphy did everything she could to help them.

“I was 8 years old with a very complex understanding of injustice, inequality and systemic reasons why people would end up in the situations that they were in,” Murphy said.

“And it made me really fiercely angry, honestly.”

That fire kept burning all throughout high school, even if she wasn’t the liveliest kid when she first started there. She was an aspiring ballerina, whose most distinguishable trait was her good posture — that is, to those who didn’t know her better. 

“I wouldn’t say she was shy,” said Spindel, a friend that Murphy met in seventh grade.

“This is still Megan Murphy we’re talking about.”

Spindel, who prefers to be referred to by their last name, talked about how Murphy eventually garnered a reputation for activism, even if she was quieter than most. 

A baby radical in a sea of plaid-skirt conservatives, Murphy found herself blacklisted by the “cool girls.” They often made group chats to make fun of Murphy’s more “liberal” beliefs. 

They added insult to injury by including her friends in these toxic text groups. 

After being cast aside because of her body type at an audition, Murphy permanently stepped away from ballet. It was difficult for her, she said. 

But the dance she once thought so beautiful and graceful had become repetitive and repressive. 

Murphy’s pointe shoes felt like shackles; her tights were suffocating. She needed to break free. 

And through her activism, she did.

The 2016 election came around the same time as that audition. Spindel talked about how the moment marked a turning point for Murphy. It was almost an enlightenment.

Murphy had become fed up with the toxic rhetoric of that election’s eventual winner. She was shocked by the apathy displayed in those supporting him and how they treated disadvantaged communities. 

She couldn’t just stand by as the world around her became nastier. Murphy had to do something. She had to help them. 

She had to make a change — and she had to do it right then and there. 

“The thing that’s unique about her is that it’s not about her at all,” Spindel said. 

“It’s not about Megan Murphy.”

 And it wasn’t.

It was about those battered women she had helped as a child and who she still works with today. Murphy is committed to helping them move on from their painful pasts and start a new life that is filled with love. 

It was about the victims of gun violence. She helped rally 300 classmates to walk out of school during the March for Our Lives.

It was about people in Nashville struggling with homelessness, whom she went to bat for at all those Town Council meetings. She sought to help them cope with the onset of gentrification in their neighborhoods.

“And that was what I lived and breathed,” Murphy said.

“It was everything to me.”

From Nashville to Chapel Hill

Murphy eventually applied to UNC because of the Campus Y, which she saw as the perfect place to continue serving her community. 

But this time, she’d have more help doing it — help from people like Laura Saavedra Forero, who joined the group last year. 

At the same time, Murphy was in charge of recruitment for the group. Both Murphy and Saavedra Forero ran into each other often at meetings for first-years and other new members. 

Not long after, they started hanging out outside the confines of the Y and quickly became close friends.

November of 2021 saw another turning point for Murphy, this time while sitting in her home alongside Saavedra Forero. 

The two of them were eating tomato soup and grilled cheese. Murphy slightly burnt hers, but it still tasted good. 

They talked about what their experiences had been like at the Y, all of the great work they’d done so far and what they wanted to do in the future. 

Murphy shared her thoughts, good and bad, with her legs stretched out on the floor where they sat. Then Saavedra Forero. Then back again to Murphy. 

Eventually, Murphy and Saavedra Forero decided they could do more than they were doing at the time. So they both ran for the group’s co-presidency. In the spring of 2022, they won. Then it was back to work. 

Only just getting started

Saavedra Forero said the start to this year has been a dream due to the word that she, Murphy and their executive team have been able to accomplish.

They have supported their campus community and helped those seeking affordable housing in Chapel Hill.

But she also said that it’s Murphy’s kindness and her effervescent energy that has made the job all the more fulfilling. 

“She’s stepped in and showed up, especially during some of the hardest times that I’ve had, both as a friend and as co-president,” Saavedra Forero said.

When Saavedra Forero went through major surgery this summer, Murphy was always the first one to ask how she was doing and tell her she loved her.

And when her friend Sam Toenjes needed a roommate this semester, Murphy was there, too. 

He met Megan at first-year student orientation in 2019, and the two have been good friends ever since. 

Murphy’s current achievements would probably surprise many of her high school friends, but Toenjes said he knew immediately that Murphy had a knack for that sort of thing.

“I mean, the overalls at orientation were a pretty dead giveaway,” Toenjes said. 

He said living with her has been simple. Murphy always knows when to step in, whether to do chores around the house when Toenjes is studying or to ask if he wants to get coffee when he’s having a bad day.

“She’s so intuitively helpful. She can always sense when something’s off,” Toenjes said. 

“She has a sixth sense for these things.”

Murphy deeply knows what it means to help other people and is more than willing to put her ego aside to do it. She always has.

Edited by Caleb Sigmon and Brooke Dougherty