Generations of Tar Heels come together at Carolina Legacy Pinning Ceremony

By Sarah Gray Barr


Third grade Sarah Baker sat outside Morehead Planetarium and Science Center in Chapel Hill, wearing a Carolina blue zip-up and waiting to load onto a big yellow school bus. She stepped onto the bus and immediately headed for the seats in the back. After all, the cool kids rode in the back.

“Duke is puke. Wake is fake. The team I hate is N.C. State,” Baker chanted, accompanied by her fellow tiny future Tar Heels. The Carolina fans taunted their Blue Devil devoted peers.

What happened next was much like a scene out of “High School Musical.” The children sang back and forth about which school was better, causing a ruckus.

Carolina and Duke were born to hate each other– a tradition of animosity sparking a rivalry that endures time. 

“I remember being on the playground or bus and using the word ‘hate’ because it was such a bad word back then. But it was true, I hated Duke,” Baker said.

Hating Duke, rushing Franklin Street, drinking from the Old Well. While semesters, students and even buildings change, the traditions at UNC-Chapel Hill remain the same.

Now a Carolina sophomore, Baker found herself sitting in George Watts Hill Alumni Center, surrounded by students, siblings, parents, grandparents and just about every type of person that can sprout out of a family tree. It is a far cry from her days starting schoolyard bouts over basketball and the best shade of blue. Baker was there to be pinned by her mother and father, both graduates of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

When asked what made her choose UNC-Chapel Hill, Baker replied, “Why would I want to go anywhere else?”

“A lot of people I know are in-state, they’re from North Carolina. You grow up going to UNC football games and watching basketball, there’s so many legacies and traditions. It makes the most sense, I think, for people. It’s the best school in North Carolina and all the United States, in my opinion. It’s ingrained in me,” Baker added.


A time honored ceremony

Baker is not the first in her family to go to Carolina, and she certainly hopes not to be the last.

Several hundred gathered for the annual Carolina Legacy Pinning Ceremony on October 3, held in concurrence with Carolina Family Weekend in Chapel Hill. Last year, the pandemic prevented the UNC General Alumni Association from holding a ceremony. This year, there were three different ceremonies to reduce the number of people in the building at one time. 

The ceremony is a UNC tradition that celebrates the ties that bind generations of families to the school. With Carolina blue skies above them, parents and grandparents pinned their respective students, marking them legacies of the United States’ first public university.

The Tar Heels honored within the Alumni Center spanned decades, from the newly convocated class of 2025 to the most senior of seniors, alumni from the class of 1964. 

As the president of the GAA, Doug Dibbert had the honor of speaking to Tar Heels, past and present. Dibbert described the energy in the room as enthusiastic and said many were misty eyed.

Dibbert was the first in his family to go to Carolina, and countless generations of family members followed in his stead. As part of the class of 1970, Dibbert can still remember when rushing Franklin Street was not in celebration of beating Duke, but instead in protest of the Vietnam War.

Dibbert said the university has become larger, more diverse, more global and more competitive during his four decades with the GAA, but that it is still constantly called back to its roots, especially with the legacy ceremony.

“We think that one of the ways universities can distinguish themselves from one another is by their history and by their legacies. We know that there is great pride within families over how many Carolina graduates there are in the family, how many degrees had been received, how far it goes back,” Dibbert said. “To give a ceremony and an opportunity of occasion for that to be tangibly acknowledged with a pinning ceremony just seems very appropriate for an alumni association.”


A lifelong Tar Heel

Mary-Kate Appanaitis is not the first in her family to go to Carolina, — that honor belongs to her parents — but she most definitely will not be the last.

She brings a new meaning to Tar Heel “Born, Bred, Dead.”

Her parents, Mariedith and Alex, met at Chapel Hill and got engaged at the Old Well. When Appanaitis was brought into the world, her father decided that not only should she bleed blue, but she needed to be baptized by it.

Alex Appanaitis sent his sister, who was at UNC completing her master’s degree at the time, to the Old Well to get water. The parents took the well water to be blessed by their Methodist church and christened infant Appanaitis with holy well water.

Not only does Mary-Kate Appanaitis bleed blue, her first encounter with Carolina was literally a religious experience.

“For most people, if you have a parent or grandparent that went to Carolina, you grew up hearing a ton about Carolina. Then suddenly, you’re here at that school you’ve heard about for forever. It’s an exciting moment, both for the people being pinned and the people doing the pinning,” Appanaitis said.

Appanaitis attended the pinning ceremony as a freshman in 2018. She remembered being ecstatic to take part in one of her first Carolina traditions and thinking of the rest of the traditions UNC had in store for her.

“Our school is really proud about being the first public university, although they’ll fight it out with UGA. They take a lot of pride in being historically significant and continuing that significance,” said Appanaitis. “There are obviously schools that are better than Carolina and worse. But there’s only one Carolina. It’s its own entity.”

The 2021 Carolina Legacy Pinning Ceremony concluded with a smashing applause and “Hark the Sound.” But instead of shouting the scripted “Rah, rah, rah,” listed on the back of the program, every single person bellowed the unofficial but traditional “Go to Hell Duke!”

Because at Carolina, legacies are Tar Heels born and bred. When they die, they will be Tar Heel dead.


Edited by Brian Rosenzweig and Sara Raja