Serving up second chances with a smile in Raleigh’s hotel scene

By Katie Clark

He’s a vibrant and playful gentleman who is a self-described Gemini. You can tell he enjoys laughter by the smile that rests on his face after yet another joke. His blue eyes match the color of the tribal cross tattoo that circles his wrist. He is gentle, grateful and welcoming to everyone he knows, works with and cares for.

But like most people, he first went through times of unhappiness and struggle. His philosophy is now to believe in others because someone first believed in him.

In 1977, 12-year-old Daniel James McLaughlin worked as a delivery boy in New York City’s garment district. His father worked in a deli called Picnic Fair that sat across the street from the New York Public Library.

Though Dan was the baby of the family, he was the only child who helped his dad deliver food. His father, wanting him to be a hard worker, brought Dan along his delivery route for a year.

“I think that was always instilled in me as a young child, that nobody could ever take that away from you if you work very hard,” McLaughlin says. “People will respect you and you will respect yourself.”

After high school, McLaughlin wanted to attend college but could not afford it. Instead, he landed a job at a Parsippany, New Jersey, hotel run by the Interstate Management Company. He worked in the hotel’s pantry for a year before being promoted.

“My college, my internship was there,” McLaughlin said about his time in the pantry. “That turned out to be my school where I was able to graduate from.”

Challenges that lead to success

As McLaughlin climbed the career ladder, he slid into depression. At 21 years old, his father committed suicide. Shortly after, McLaughlin’s fiancee suffered a miscarriage. For the following year he coped with the losses through an alcohol and cigarette addiction.

“As I drank, it brought me closer to my father because with the hurt, it amplified that,” McLaughlin said. “The more I drank, the better I felt and the more that I was close to him because I had so much emotion. To keep him close to me, I drank very heavily.”

He met his wife, Kristin McLaughlin, in 1994. Dan would make Kris special drinks of Sprite, crushed ice and cranberry juice at the hotel where they both worked. Their first date was on the Fourth of July on Brooklyn Bridge. He met Kris while recovering from his addiction.

“You told me that right up front,” Kris told Dan from across the dining room table. “You told me, ‘I don’t drink.’ I was like, ‘Oh, well I do!’ It was fine; it was never an issue.”

“Yeah, I was a much better person then,” Dan said back with a smile.

McLaughlin’s struggle from ’86 to ’87 affected his work and personal life, and he knew he needed help to move forward. He soon went through a recovery period and began to focus on the career he had been building for years.

A life made new

Today, McLaughlin works as the food and beverage manager at the Marriott City Center in Raleigh, North Carolina. As a manager, he ensures that the hotel’s food and beverage division promotes guest satisfaction, revenue, profitability and an associate-driven business.

But he does more than just direct. McLaughlin, in his own words, “circulates and percolates,” doing everything from checking payroll, to helping employees cook, to serving guests through room service.

“When you can be the hand in there to be part of the success, instead of just dictating it, it’s very rewarding,” McLaughlin says. “People respect you when you’re working side by side with them.” He works along with his associates while also directing them.

McLaughlin speaks very highly of his employees and coworkers and says they are what makes the hotel business so wonderful.

“Every individual has an amazing contribution that they can give to a guest. Nothing beats the individual personality that people have to offer.”

Anthony Parise, executive chef at the Marriott Raleigh, said that McLaughlin finds the best in every situation presented to him.

“Dan is eccentric; he is a very calm and happy human being,” Parise says. “When he sees someone who has the ability to do a job, he lets that person own it and take pride in it.”

Guests at the Marriott Raleigh can tell that the food and beverage department is well directed just by attending hotel events. Joe Currie, board chairman of the North Carolina Business Travel Association, appreciates McLaughlin’s work at their association’s banquets.

“The event was extremely well received by all of NCBTA’s members based upon the wonderful selection of food, from breakfast to a takeaway snack at the end of the day,” Currie said. “There is no doubt that the entire staff took pride and care in the service that they provided.”

Giving as he received

After 30 years, McLaughlin still works for the Interstate Management Company at the Marriott Raleigh. He moved to North Carolina 13 years ago to stay with it, since Interstate had given him the ability to take care of himself and his family.

“I’ve always been very loyal and very thankful and appreciative of what they’ve given me,” McLaughlin says. “Thanks to my job, I can feed my puppy,” he said while smiling at Butters, his pampered mutt.

“Everyday, fresh,” McLaughlin jokes. “Are you kidding me? He has an acquired taste for finer food.”

McLaughlin said that Interstate helped him build discipline, organization and success into his life. The company also inspired him to believe in others because it believed in him.

“I’ll never forget it. Somebody believed in me at the pantry,” McLaughlin says. “Somebody gave me an opportunity, so I am going to give everyone else an opportunity.”

His hard work and life of service to his company is noticed by everyone in his life, but McLaughlin’s wife sees his work and services firsthand.

“I know the passion he puts into his work and the loyalty he feels he owes, as well as the reciprocal loyalty they give him for all that he has done,” Kris says. “Nobody works harder than Dan.”

He continues to give others the benefit of the doubt just as he received in the hotel pantry 30 years ago. Perhaps now, as McLaughlin cooks, serves and directs his employees, he can return to being 12 years old again. Serving others with his father and giving chances because he was given one so long ago.

Doing good, for the good of it.

Edited by Stephen Kenney

‘How I exist’: One woman’s experience with obesity and identity

By Emily Siegmund

For 15 years, Faith Newsome had no control over her body.

She had no say, no way to show the world how hard she was working and no comfort in her own skin. What she did have was a lot of guilt. Before she could even learn to drive, she was told she was clinically obese. It was said like an irrevocable fact, one she couldn’t change but should be ashamed of regardless.

Every exercise plan, every diet, every change she could possibly make — none of it changed the fact that every time she stepped on the scale, that number inched closer and closer to 300 pounds.

The day she and her parents, Shannon and Jonathan, went to support her brother in Science Olympiad should have been like any other day. They finally found three seats together in the wood-paneled gymnasium of Campbell University, filed in and sat down. Except Faith couldn’t sit down — she couldn’t fit.

She fought her body, squeezing and maneuvering to contain the space she was taking up. She begged the armrests to become just an inch wider, for the plastic to become just a little softer. But nothing worked — all she could do was fold in on herself, hope no one noticed and try not to cry.

She couldn’t rationalize away the relentless, self-degrading thoughts this time, not with the incessant reminder of hard, neon orange plastic digging into her hips, directing her attention back to her body, back to her weight.

That was the moment she took back control, the moment she decided to have the surgery.

Forced to grow up early

In second grade, the nurse at Faith’s school lined up all the students in her class and made them step on a scale. Afterwards, as all the other kids went back to their blissfully unconcerned second-grade lives, Faith was pulled aside and forced to grow up.

The nurse told her she was obese, and that she should know she was at risk for diabetes, heart disease and death. She was 7.

After that, every other kid’s favorite day at school became Faith’s worst nightmare. She pretended not to see them roll their eyes when she got assigned to a team on field day or in gym class, but 7-year-olds aren’t known for their tact. Eventually one would slip.

“She’s too big to run.”

She would duck her head and do her best to stay out of everyone’s way, learning to apologize for the body she lived in before she even understood what it meant. She was conditioned to think she should do better, be better than who she was.

Faith had a riot of curly brown hair, a face that was meant to break into a smile and a nose that was perpetually tucked in a book. She was a straight-A student, a rule-follower and a sweet kid. But she was also fat, and that trumped it all.

A strong support system

“There was a day I picked her up and put her down for the last time, and it was a lot earlier than other kids,” Shannon used to say.

Growing up on 14 acres of land in the middle of Sanford, North Carolina, Faith was one of the lucky ones. In the rural, low-income and predominately white Lee County, her parents both had jobs and a close-knit family. Faith lived in one of four trailers on their property, with her grandmother in a house at the bottom of the hill and her dad’s siblings filling the other space. Until ninth grade, that is, when her family moved to a neighborhood so Faith could switch schools and escape the unrelenting bullying.

Faith grew up loved, protected and encouraged. Her family was always well-intentioned and well-informed regarding her weight management. Most of all, she went home to people who understood her. Four of the 12 adults that showed up to Thanksgiving were obese. Her uncle weighed 600 pounds and both of her parents had weight-loss surgery before she hit high school.

When she was 15, Shannon sat her down.

“I found a program at Duke,” she said.

At that time, there were only four pediatric bariatric surgery clinics in the country — not nearly enough to address the 14 million children and adolescents diagnosed with childhood obesity in the United States. The surgery was controversial and relatively new.

“I kind of thought weight loss surgery was something I would always pursue,” Faith said. “But I thought I’d wait until I was at least 18.”

Her parents never pushed, never wanted to pressure her into a surgery she didn’t want. Shannon, who had successfully maintained a U.S. size 6 since her operation nearly a decade earlier, knew that obesity went beyond weight — it was about perception.

“My dad kind of let my mom act as a conduit for those conversations,” Faith said.

And eventually, it worked. Faith didn’t have her license, hadn’t been to prom yet and was staring down a decision she thought she had three more years to make. Finally, they drove to Duke.

Taking back control

More than five years later, Faith has maintained a consistent 80-pound weight loss, is training for a 4-mile race and just got accepted to her dream doctorate program at the University of Florida’s obesity research lab.

She no longer looks anything like the girl who would answer her house phone in middle school, only to hear the snickering of little boys and the taunts of “whale” echo back at her.

But instead of choosing to forget the most painful time in her life, Faith has decided to make obesity her whole identity. She’s been featured in The New York Times, spoken at conferences and started her own nonprofit to raise awareness for the childhood obesity epidemic.

After Faith was interviewed for a local news station, commenters attacked Shannon and Jonathan, saying they committed child abuse by raising their daughter to be obese. That if they had just fed her different food, encouraged her to go outside and loved her more, it wouldn’t have been that way.

“People just don’t understand,” Shannon would say, crying on the phone to Faith.

“I know, that’s why I wake up and get out of bed every day.”

She can still hear the sentiments, the words repeated by condescending friends, teachers and doctors for years.

“Eat less, move more.”

“If you tried harder, wanted it more, you’d lose the weight.”

Some days, Faith wakes up and feels like she failed. Some days, she feels ashamed, like she still doesn’t deserve to take up the space her body is in. Some days, she wonders if she made the right decision at all.

But every day, she tells herself the same thing, a mantra that got her through the first 15 years and will carry her through the rest of her life: “My body is not a ‘success,’ it is not a ‘failure.’ This is just how I exist.”


Edited by Liz Johnson

UNC student moves beyond eating disorder, finds body confidence

By Molly Brice

Adjusting her headset, Joanna Kuang assesses the crowd in the studio, recognizing her regular attendees and noticing new faces. 

Kuang, a junior majoring in psychology at UNC-Chapel Hill and an aspiring psychiatrist, teaches weekly Pilates classes at Rams Head Recreation Center. On Sundays, she teaches her Pop Pilates class, a more cardio-intensive and lively version of traditional Pilates. 

Kuang’s thick black hair is tied neatly in a ponytail. The studio’s hardwood floor is covered by yoga mats with only small spaces peeking out between each participant. Even from the back of the studio, participants notice her contoured arms and toned legs.  

“The first few times was absolute terror,” Kuang said. “I felt like I was drowning.” That old but familiar trace of fear sits heavily in her stomach when she teaches a new section of choreography. 

Throughout the class, attendees watch Kuang closely to mimic her actions. Their inescapable glances follow Kuang with every subtle movement — any way she turns, she sees the reflection of their eyes in the studio’s mirrors.

Seven years earlier, Kuang would have shuddered at the idea of putting herself on display.

The slippery slope

During her freshman year at Horace Mann School in New York, Kuang slowly developed an eating disorder — joining the 2% of American females diagnosed with anorexia nervosa in their lifetime.

Like most high school freshmen, Kuang took biology. The teacher assigned a calorie counting lab that required students to track their food intake over a week. 

“No one came out of that lab understanding anything new about nutrition,” Kuang said. “All they knew was that they were eating too many calories.” 

“At first, I wanted to see how low I could get it and then it just sort of spiraled from there,” Kuang said. Like many people that suffer from anorexia, Kuang’s experience began with a quiet voice encouraging her to lose a couple of pounds, run a little more and eat a bit less.

“I’ve always been very hard on myself,” Kuang said. “When I want something, I go for it.”  Kuang’s internal drive has consistently motivated her to go the extra mile or two or three.

“Look at her Google calendar,” said Reeves Moseley, a junior who has been elected UNC-CH’s next student body president. “She is the epitome of a workhorse.”

In addition to managing Moseley’s campaign, Kuang has several other commitments: a part-time internship at the AHB Center for Behavioral Health and Wellness, a position on UNC Student Government’s mental health committee and a role as a research assistant with the department of psychology and neuroscience

“She works her butt off and never does anything halfway,” Sally Hammer, Kuang’s coworker at UNC-CH’s Student Recreation Center, said. 

Unfortunately, the same drive that has allowed Kuang to succeed in so many ways also detrimentally led to her eating disorder. 

“It’s a very slippery slope and all of a sudden you can’t stop,” Kuang said. 

Eating disorders develop gradually: skipping meals with friends, hiding food in napkins, lying about how much or how little one is eating, even diluting liquids to reduce calories.

Kuang learned to mix her milk with water, a tactic that allowed her to follow her mom’s rule of one glass of milk per day without the added calories. After experimenting, she found the appropriate ratio of water that kept the milk’s distinctive white color. 

Kuang worked through lunches in the library to avoid the questioning look of friends. She was happier alone where she could control what she was eating.

“Of course, this was reinforced because I would get compliments,” Kuang said, explaining how concerned friends also commended her slender figure and six-pack.

Journey toward recovery

This self-esteem high came to a crashing halt when Kuang’s body began to show physical signs of its malnourishment.

“My body just started to shut down,” Kuang said.  

Her hair, brittle from protein depletion, fell out. Her skin, callous from deficient vitamin intake, dried. Usually an exuberant person, Kuang felt her energy drain and her mood sadden. Sprains wouldn’t heal. No matter the temperature, Kuang felt a lingering cold in her bones that she couldn’t shake. 

At the end of her freshman year, Kuang was diagnosed with anorexia. As her friends traveled — eating whatever, whenever and however they pleased — Kuang’s parents monitored and prepared every one of her meals. 

“I was on a weight regaining journey,” Kuang said. As the rest of her family ate a bagel with cream cheese and eggs, Kuang ate two bagels, double the serving of eggs, a piece of fruit and an extra glass of milk poured by her mother. After a year of restricted eating, Kuang felt physically pained by this new diet. 

Eating disorder treatment is a long, arduous process of unlearning thought patterns and breaking detrimental habits. Eating and food is often only half the battle. 

“I couldn’t do anything that might resemble calorie burning,” Kuang said, “because they knew I would take it to an extreme.” 

Doctors advised Kuang to limit physical activity to the bare minimum. She could no longer run. She couldn’t even walk around the block. 

Behind closed doors, Kuang broke these rules. She retreated to her bedroom, locking the door, the doctor’s orders, her parents and the world out. Before falling asleep, Kuang would climb on her bed and start doing the math in her head, counting the number of crunches she’d need to do to compensate for the day’s calories. 

“Of course it did nothing, but it was psychologically soothing,” Kuang said.

Moving beyond

When Kuang started college at UNC-CH, she was in a  relapse prevention phase. This stage, as defined by the National Eating Disorders Association, is associated with the continued treatment of an eating disorder, which can be a chronic condition. 

Kuang wants to eat everything in sight some days, while on others, the sight, smell or even thought of food may feel overwhelming. “I don’t know if I’ll ever have an average relationship with food,” Kuang admitted.

At first, Kuang felt uncomfortable by the idea of a room full of people assessing her body’s movements during her Pop Pilates classes. Now, she embraces it.

“I think it’s been very healthy for my body image because I’m having to put myself and my body on display for people,” she said.

Panting internally, Kuang harnesses the adrenaline coursing through her muscles to push through the final workout. Kuang’s participants come to her class for the workout, but also her authenticity and ability to connect with her peers.

“One thing I really like about Jo is she’ll say when something hurts or is hard,” Jordan Killenberg, a UNC-CH sophomore and Pop Pilates attendee, said. “It really feels like she is taking the class with us.” 

Winding down, Kuang cues a slower song and starts to lead the stretches. To close her classes, she praises her attendees’ efforts, reminding them to feel grateful for their bodies’ hard work. 

Smiling, she looks out at their sweaty, reddened faces. “They’re looking to me for guidance,” Kuang said. “Being able to celebrate what my body is capable of doing is much more important than feeling self-conscious.” 

Edited by Rachel Crumpler and Maddie Fetsko


Program helps underrepresented students attain a higher education

By Molly Sprecher

Eesim Oon watched the UNC-Chapel Hill men’s basketball team win the national championship in 2009 from her house in Durham. Eleven years later, Oon still marks the date and score of every big game the team plays on a He’s Not Here cup she carried across the ocean to Madrid. She knew from that moment she wanted to go to UNC-CH. She knew from the first step performance she saw at Project Uplift that she finally could. 

Project Uplift is a two-day summer enrichment program that promotes higher education for students in underrepresented communities, often people of color. The University Office for Diversity and Inclusion sponsors the program, which is held at UNC-CH.

The program encourages students to apply to any four-year university that will best fit their needs. It also includes financial lectures that help put students in touch with resources for applying to college as well as for financial aid. 

“I realized then that there was maybe a group out there where I could belong,” Oon said. “I met a lot of mentors there because they were POC UNC students doing really incredible things. Now I’m older, and I’m sure they had their own doubts and struggles. But at the time, they were my idols because they seemed so amazing and attractive and as if they could do everything in the world.” 

No longer out of reach

Madison Boswell had always seen college as unattainable. She grew up following her father from one air force base to another, stressing over how to meet existing costs, let alone those that would come with a college education. 

UNC-CH was no longer just an idea. At Project Uplift, Boswell sat next to the one other person in the program who had  participated in speech and debate in high school. She explored parts of the campus she had seen in brochures and ended the day in one of the dorms.

“I knew I wanted to attend UNC when I felt at home on the campus,” Boswell said. “I was nervous at the start, but by the end I did not want to leave.” 

“The financial aid lecture was the moment that I knew I could go and wanted to go to UNC,” Elizabeth Ordonez, who participated in the program before enrolling, said. “As a low-income student, it was the first time I learned about the Carolina Covenant scholarship, and I felt like I could go to college without the burden of my socioeconomic status.” 

Boswell and Ordonez struggled to balance full-time jobs with their schoolwork. They mapped out what financial aid they would need and how many loans they could afford. They struggled throughout college to network and build professional skills while not being able to afford unpaid internships like many of their classmates. 

Project Uplift holds Tar Heel Talk Sessions to discuss these realities, along with identity, current events, and healthy lifestyles and relationships. 

Ordonez sat in the Latinx identity session and listened to others talk about how they had struggled with their own identity and found strength through it in a university setting. She talked to the president of what would become Mi Pueblo, the largest Latinx student organization at UNC-CH, which she herself would become president of four years later. She knew there was a space for her there. 

Other students could learn all they needed to at orientation. Ordonez needed Project Uplift to find diversity and resources to survive at UNC-CH.

Struggles with the goal

The diverse sector celebrated in Project Uplift is not reflected in the student body. Or even in the faculty. In contrast to 768 white professors, there are less than 140 professors of color. As 66% of the student body is white, many of the resources are not tailored for students of color.  

Oon attended UNC-CH from 2012 to 2016 after she participated in Project Uplift. She’d met a Nigerian student in the program who loved soccer almost as much as she did, and who also wanted to study abroad in Spain. They’d requested one another as roommates and moved into a room in Granville Towers. 

For the next two years, she dreamed of transferring out of the university she’d once dreamed of being a part of after being harassed by students because of her race. 

 “I believe that UNC as an institution is built to not support POC students,” Oon said. “I think UNC is doing well considering, but also, you know, the fact that they gave $2.5 million to the SCV [Sons of Confederate Veterans] doesn’t really indicate to me that they actually care about their students. UNC doesn’t do enough to address POC groups and concerns, especially considering how diverse they make it seem.” 

Oon stayed because of the Carolina Women’s Center, where employees like Cassidy Johnson help students of color identify cultural and gender violence that traditional resources at UNC-CH do not cover.  

While underrepresented groups struggle to find a community on a primarily white campus, diversity levels in post-secondary education are rising. 

In 1967, two years before the program began, less than .5% of the student body was black. Today, 11% of the student body is black or African American, a 2000% increase. The University Office for Diversity and Inclusion also created Uplift PLUS, a five-week version of the program. 

Hannah Isley, a first-generation college student who chose UNC-CH because of Project Uplift, is headed into her third year as a program counselor. 

“My goal as a counselor is to get to know the participants, and make sure that they know and feel like they belong at Carolina, or at college in general,” Isley said. “I want them to be encouraged and determined in their education goals, even if I’m the only person to ever promote them.” 

Counselors help organize culture shows where different groups on campus perform, as well as lead dance challenges that end in laughter. Like Isley, they all want to encourage the new students the way their counselors encouraged them. 

Isley listens to their stories. Their struggles and successes. She reads their essays and waits for each of their admission decisions. She smiles when she sees her students on campus, feeling like a proud mom.

“If someone wanted to get rid of the program, I would tell them that they’re giving up on thousands of students,” Isley said. “Students that deserve a chance but might not be offered one because of their circumstances. This program changes lives. Everyone deserves to attend college — not just a specific group of people.”  

Edited by Caleb Schmidt and Rachel Sauls

NC Botanical Garden’s beauty perseveres through all seasons

By Wilkins Swiger

 The chilling piano bars of Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” played over auditorium speakers. A handful of people sitting around fold-out tables furrowed their brows at the development. In front of them were foil packages of miniature cookies scattered around glass pitchers of water. The last song was a ‘90s boy band hit. The one before that was an old country love ballad.

Janna Starr, facilities and events manager at the North Carolina Botanical Garden, watched everyone from behind her laptop, concealing her knowledge of the playlist behind an amused smile.

“They all have ‘heart’ in the title,” Starr said. “We thought about just playing a heartbeat pulse, but that might stress people out.”

Eating some of the cookies and drinking some of the water, the donors at the table were content. They were recuperating after giving blood at the Botanical Garden’s February Bloodroot Blood Drive, named after the ephemeral bloodroot that blooms this time of year. Donors were eligible to view a patch of them in the garden on a tour after donating.

The winter garden

On the day of the tour, the temperature outside was 52 degrees.

The first review of the Botanical Garden, posted three days ago, reads, “While winter isn’t the best time to view the NC Botanical Garden, it’s still a lovely place to visit any time of the year.” 

Director of Conservation Programs Johnny Randall and his team work hard for assessments like those.

“Winter is one of my favorite times in the garden,” Randall said, sitting around the cookie table, looking up through the skylights of the auditorium. “You get to see the bones of the garden. You get to see the architecture of trees.”

Randall has a doctorate in botany. After a stint as a professor at UNC Greensboro, he has spent the last 22 years at the Botanical Garden. 

He enjoys the winter at the garden for several reasons.

“If you ask the horticulture staff, they might say, ‘because you don’t have to be out weeding and tending the garden so much,’” Randall said.

After a smile, Randall said that there was still plenty to do in the winter to prepare for “the growing season.”

Becca Wait, landscape curator for the Botanical Garden’s entryway, agreed. Standing in the courtyard of the garden, she pointed out a cardinal that had just landed a few yards away.

“Winter is a great time for birdwatching,” Wait said. “The absence of leaves allows greater visibility when birds perch up in the trees.”

Pointing to outcroppings of dead, barren stems from smaller plants, Wait said the garden leaves those as bird perches as well.

The entry courtyard managed by Wait is the first plant space at the Botanical Garden, just beside the classrooms and the Reeves Auditorium where the blood drive was being held. Specific plant species are showcased, surrounded by wooden benches and chairs to invite guests.

Although there are benches throughout, the rest of the garden is radically different. It is a series of habitats, all from North Carolina, curated to be as natural as possible for the species native to them. In the middle of Chapel Hill, the garden keeps a patch of mountain habitat and a patch of North Carolina’s coastal plain habitat. There are habitats for North Carolinian carnivorous plants and poisonous plants as well.

“These are the plants that have been here since before Europe came in, [before] exotics and invasives,” Jennifer Peterson, associate director of communications at the garden, said.

Apologizing for the pun, she added that the garden is a place to “get back to our roots.”

At the head of one of the paths was one bloodroot flower, alone, even though they usually grow in a patch. Wait suspected that an ant had planted the seed there.

“They help out a lot around here,” Wait said.

The work to build a garden

Descending into the crossing paths of the garden, it appears kempt, but not tidy. It is more of a beautiful forest than an estate garden – there are no grass lawns or neat rows of bushes. Instead, the Botanical Garden aesthetics serve realism and sustainability. However, it still takes just as much effort.

“They put a lot of work into making sure these habitat gardens actually mimic those natural environments as much as possible,” Wait said. 

She pointed out the mountain section of the Garden where soil was imported from western North Carolina. The Botanical Garden acquired it as it was being scraped away from the earth for highway demolition projects.

A few minutes later, Wait stood over a patch of bloodroot. Only about 6 inches from the ground, each stem boasted a white flower just larger than a quarter. They will stay in that patch, drinking in the sunlight that comes through the leafless trees. By the spring, when the trees leaf out and shade the garden’s floor, the bloodroot plants will have already seeded and withered, ready to retreat back into the ground until next winter.

On the way out of the forest, smoke was floating through the bare trees like a thin fog. It started to smell like fire. It was the first sign of the controlled burn happening in the grassland’s habitat in a separate part of the Botanical Garden. This time of year was best for it, Wait said. The grasslands need the heat, or some of the seeds won’t open and propagate in the spring.

Through the woods it looked like an enormous mid-day bonfire. Peering in from behind the orange cones that marked the burn site, silhouettes of scientists and students stood staring into a perfectly square patch of fire.

The forest fire safety instructions instilled in the rest of the world would sound off internal alarm bells at the sight – the floor of the entire rest of the garden could hardly be seen through a layer of bone-dry debris – but the figures around the flames were stationary, watching. Year round, it is their job to keep the garden vibrant.

Edited by Suzanne Blake and Jess Bennett



Child actor finds ‘peaceful and structured life’ in Asheboro

By Savannah Cole

A bearded man often sits in the local coffee shop. He has blue eyes, dark hair and drives a black ’66 Mustang. Just by looking at him, people wouldn’t know that he was a childhood star.

Lane Toran, 37, is best known for his football-headed cartoon character, Arnold, from the television series “Hey Arnold!” He began acting when he was just 1 year old when he appeared in a J.C. Penney commercial.

At age 12, Toran booked his first lead role in the movie “Max is Missing.” Soon after, he became the voice of Arnold. He is also known for the voice of King Bob in the cartoon series “Recess.”

Toran became interested in acting as a kid. Both his parents were actors, so he got into the field at a young age.

His dad was on “Days of our Lives” for about a year and he did some other shows and movies. His mom did an episode on the original series “Beyond Westworld.” Toran had his first print agent by the age of 5 and his first voice-over agent by 11.

“I don’t know if I had a choice,” he chuckled.

Becoming Arnold

Toran loved cartoons as a child. “The Smurfs” and “Strawberry Shortcake” were his favorites. His mom would tape them on VHS and he would watch them over and over again.

He was beyond excited when his agent got him an audition for the voice of a character on the upcoming TV series “Hey Arnold!”

When Toran went in for auditions, he didn’t originally go in for the role of Arnold — that role had already been cast. When he finished the audition, they loved his voice so much that they decided to bring him back in for two or three more auditions to see if he could be their new Arnold.

When he got the call, he was ecstatic.

“I loved acting back then and it was sort of new to me,” he said, “so I was very excited when I found out that I was going to be the voice of Arnold.”

Being Arnold was “almost like playtime.” Toran went in once or twice a week to record. He got to hang out with the other kids that were doing voice-overs for other characters. They all became friends, so it didn’t feel like work to him.

Toran’s life was different than the average 12-year-old. He had to begin homeschooling in the seventh grade to accommodate his recording schedule.

Most of the time in an animated film or show, the actor comes in, records their part and leaves. But “Hey Arnold!” was different. Everyone came to record on the same day. Instead of doing the recordings in a booth by themselves, they all sat in a circle and recorded their parts together.

“Doing a voice-over is so much easier than acting in front of the camera,” Toran said.

Toran has done acting on- and off-camera, but found that he preferred doing voice-overs. When acting on-camera, the actors go through hair and makeup. When recording for animated works, actors come as they are. Since there’s not a camera pointed at them, they can always read off of the script if they forget their part, which is a privilege that on-camera actors don’t have.

Toran’s favorite episodes to record were “Arnold’s Christmas,” “Stoop Kid,” and “Breaking out Lockjaw”. He loved “Breaking out Lockjaw” because it was the episode where he and the grandma released the turtle from the zoo.

The actors that played Arnold’s grandparents were Dan Castellaneta and Tress Macneille, who both did voice-overs on the popular TV series “The Simpsons.” Castellaneta is the voice of Homer Simpson.

“It’s pretty cool that I got to work with so many talented people who went on to do shows and movies that are so popular,” Toran said.

“Hey Arnold!” was a great show for all ages — both children and adults loved it.

Sharon Culbreth, 45, remembers watching it when she was in her twenties.

“I remember the show very well,” she said. “I had my daughter in 1996 and remember watching it when I was at home with her after she was born.”

Sam Gribble, 20, said that he watched it when he was young.

“I remember watching it when I was little,” Gribble said. “Sometimes I still watch the re-runs.”

A change of scenery

Toran loved acting as a child, but when he was 16 he decided to take a break. He took a few more acting jobs until he made a big change in 2015.

He wanted to get away from the chaos of Los Angeles, so he moved to Asheboro, North Carolina, for a more “peaceful and structured life.”

“I’m not a huge fan of acting anymore,” Toran said. “I’d much rather be behind the camera.”

Recently, he directed, co-wrote, edited and colored an indie thriller called “Getaway.”

“The film is a typical horror film storyline but with many twists,” Toran said.

The movie will be available on iTunes and Amazon on April 14. Three to six months after it’s released, it will be available for streaming on Netflix.

Toran also creates Instagram content for various brands. When he isn’t behind the camera, he is working on his Mustang, Jolene, and blending in with the locals at his favorite coffee shop.

Edited by Anna Farmer

Full-time student, full-time mom: Navigating a new normal

By Samaria Parker

Crying could be heard from across the room. He was awake. Again.

It was the fourth time that night, and at this point Adele Williams wasn’t sure if her eyes were burning from lack of sleep or because she was about to start crying herself. It was probably both.

All she knew was that she had to do well on her psychology final and get Zeke back to sleep.

In the past few months, the ability to pull the all-nighters she had once been able to pull with ease had become more of a challenge.

Navigating z-scores, correlations and graphs was tricky enough, but combining that with the task of trying to understand the needs of the little human beside her was even trickier. Did he just want the pacifier? Did his diaper need to be changed? Was he hungry? He couldn’t be; she had just fed him. Did he just want to be held? This guessing game went on into the early morning as she tried to figure out how to best comfort her 5-month-old son. When all else failed, she would rock him, hoping he would take the pacifier, and quietly beg for him to fall back asleep.

Once he drifted back to sleep, Williams would settle back on the couch amongst her mess of notes, textbooks and highlighters, open her laptop and get back to the statistics.

As she stared at the screen, all she could think about was sleep. It was something she hadn’t gotten much of lately.

Not since all seven pounds, six ounces and 20.5 inches of Ezekiel “Zeke” Anthony Gipson came into the world, early in the morning, on July 8, 2019. It was like she traded in sleep for the new bundle of joy she held in her arms. It was worth it, but man, she was tired.

A change in plans

At the age of 20, Williams knew what her plans were: Graduate from UNC-Chapel Hill. Become a physician assistant. Get married. Have a baby.

But as Williams stood in the bathroom of the Campus Health Services building staring down at the positive pregnancy test in her hand, she knew her plan was going to be disrupted. The news brought no tears, just her silence and the buzzing of the fluorescent lights in the bathroom.

She imagined all the reactions she could have – crying, screaming, cursing. Instead, she stood still, staring down at the pregnancy test in her hand.

Without even giving it a second thought, she knew she was having the baby. The crushing guilt of getting rid of the child was enough to solidify her decision. So, as she came to terms with her new reality, she thought to herself: “Well, okay. Gotta get ready for it.” She grabbed her belongings, tossed the test in the trash and exited the bathroom.

Have a baby. Finish school. Become a physician assistant. Get married. Then have another baby.

Making calls for her future

Two weeks later, it was time to make the call. However, the call was not to her parents, for that call had already been made. This one was to her best friend, and somehow, she was equally as nervous.

As Williams waited for her friend of 14 years to pick up, she just knew she was going to be mad.

“I have something to tell you,” Williams paused for a moment before continuing. “I’m pregnant.”

To William’s surprise she didn’t sense any anger from the other side of the phone. Instead, Kianna Wilder fell quiet for a moment before saying, “Don’t let a baby be an excuse for you not to do the things you want to do.”

Williams wouldn’t, despite the number of questions that came with the following pregnancy announcements.

Are you dropping out? How are you going to stay in school? Are you planning on going back home? How do you plan on graduating?

The rounder her belly became, the quicker she was able to answer each question.

“No, I’m not dropping out.”

“Yes, I am going to stay in school.”

“No, I am not planning on going back home.”

While peers weren’t sure how she was going to be able to do it, William’s confidence remained unshaken. Baby or no baby, she had goals. Now, she had someone else to share them with.

It was no longer as simple as just wanting to graduate. Now, she needed to. She no longer just wanted to become a physician assistant. She now needed a job that would allow her baby to have everything he ever needed. She wanted the house, the husband and the career, and she planned on having it.

As her feet swelled and stomach grew with each passing week, Williams stayed in school. She studied hard, passed all her classes and kept her job at the school’s financial aid office. When July rolled around, she had Zeke.

The new normal

She was still a college student, but the baby she was now responsible for made her so different from her peers. She no longer had the luxury of thinking solely about herself.

While her peers are waking up, rolling out of bed, brushing their teeth, throwing on some clothes and heading to class, she is waking up twice as early to do the same routine for two. Brushing her and Zeke’s teeth, getting them both dressed, making sure they both eat and dropping Zeke off at daycare – all before she heads to campus for class.

The hours that Williams spent alone were most often spent in classes or at work. The rest of her time was now spent alongside Zeke. They do everything together. They watch YouTube videos together, play in the little ball pit set up in the living room together, they laugh together, cry together, take Instagram pictures together.

These are the moments, both good and bad, that she couldn’t imagine any other way.

No matter how many sleepless nights, missed parties or challenges Williams faced, the hard times always faded away as soon as she looked down at that cute little nose and those big eyes staring right back into hers. She knows life is just the way it should be.

“I always wanted to be a mom,” Williams said. “I didn’t think I would be one this early, but I look and I can’t believe I made this little person.”

Edited by Elisabeth Beauchamp

North Carolina’s race to revive the red wolf species

By Anna Grace Freebersyser

“Red wolves? Yeah, baby!”

         A preschooler darts away from his family to get closer to the exhibit faster. He joins a gaggle of other kids howling at the top of their lungs and pressed up to the plexiglass.

         That is exactly the kind of enthusiasm Chris Lasher likes to see from visitors at the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro       

The wolves on display are just two of the 245 red wolves in captivity spread out across 40 facilities in the United States. Lasher is responsible for all of them. As the coordinator for the Red Wolf Species Survival Plan, his responsibility is to ensure that the species survives in captivity —a real concern with only 20 left in the wild.

         But he has not always been watching them, caring from the sidelines.

         Years ago, with the Red Wolf Recovery Program under the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, he pioneered a method of direct fostering and cross fostering red wolves —a way to boost the wild population.

         “If a mom has a litter in the wild, and we have a litter under human care that was born about the same time, we can take some of the new litter, born under captivity, and place them with the female in the wild,” he said.

         And it went as he had hoped.

         “Every single time, she raises them as her own,” he said..

         Red wolves are family-oriented. They mate for life and care for their young into maturity. So, when more pups showed up, the moms took it in stride. Sometimes, Lasher finds it hard to wrap his head around..

         “Can you imagine, just coming home from work one day and you have two more kids?” he asked.

         That part of the program is on hold for now. There are no longer enough wolves in the wild to sustain it.


‘Ambassadors:’ Red wolves in captivity

         For now, there is no crawling inside dens. But there is standing, hands in pockets, talking with guests about the red wolves.

         The male wolf on exhibit shows some interest when he hears Lasher’s voice, but it’s not until zookeeper Curtis Malott shows up with a purple plastic bucket that the wolves get up.

The male is young and curious, pacing the width of the rocky enclosure. The female is old and cautious, standing on thin legs. She does not take a step until Malott throws a hunk of meat over the fence onto a rock directly in front of her.

         “They’re great ambassadors,” Malott said.

The zoo’s red wolves are beautiful examples of their species, even if the female’s coat has faded with age.

“She’s a little bit more about your typical wolf. She’s a little bit more cautious around us,” Malott said. 

That fear is natural and makes the captive wolves good candidates for release into the wild, if it’s ever needed. 

The male wolf is a different story.

“He wants to be right alongside us, to potentially play with us,” Malott said. “We don’t give him the chance.”

         As Malott speaks, the male trots back and forth in front of a  water feature and the plexiglass that separates him from his keeper. The female grabs her food and retreats —eyes ever watchful.


Raising big concerns in a small town

Four hours away, in Columbia, North Carolina, there is a red wolf with unseeing, glass eyes in the window of a little yellow building.

Its fur is sun-bleached. Its hide is scraggly and worn. But it’s eye catching all the same, and Kim Wheeler says that’s often what gets people in the door of the Red Wolf Coalition.

Red Wolf Coalition is home to one taxidermied wolf, one taxidermied coyote and one full-time employee: Wheeler. As the executive director, she travels to schools and puts on programs to educate people about red wolves.

She uses the preserved animals to educate guests about the difference between red wolves and coyotes, which they are often mistaken for.

After all, both have pointy ears and noses. The color of their coats can be similar. Both live in Dare, Hyde, Tyrrell, Washington and Beaufort counties in eastern North Carolina. But only one is the most endangered canine in the world.

Columbia is a small town full of hunters. The Red Wolf Coalition is on main street across from Sandy’s Place, one of two restaurants in town. The lunch crowd is full of men in camo. Plenty of women wear the forest pattern too —on baseball caps, hoodies, even purses. Wheeler eats her lunch, greeting neighbors and friends as they go by.

But as friendly as the townsfolk are over lunch,  , they’re not always comfortable with her mission.

Once, Wheeler remembers the window wolf catching the eye of a little girl walking past with her mom. The girl was no more than four, Wheeler thinks. As she passed, she pointed, excited, thinking it was a dog.

“And her mother says, ‘No, that’s not a dog, that’s a wolf. We hate wolves,’” Wheeler remembers. Even now, the incident gets to her.

“You’re entitled to your own opinion. But, my first thought was, ‘Why do we want to teach a child to hate anything?’” Wheeler said. “Hate, to me, is a strong word. Her mother has not had any bad experiences with wolves. She just hates them because she feels like they’re eating all the deer.”

But for Wheeler, there’s no reason for hating the wolves that is good enough. She loves them too much. Her office is covered in photos of them, figurines of them, books about them. She even volunteers to feed a pair of wolves, named Manny and Sierra, kept down the road at Pocosin Lakes Wildlife Refuge.

“I always take time just to watch them. And I look and I think, ‘Why are people so afraid of them?’” she says, as she puts her hand to her heart. “They’re beautiful to me.”


To name the wolves or not

Joe Madison pays a visit to those wolves before his return  to Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. He is in charge of the Red Wolf Recovery Program. The program is hoping to put together three wild pairs before mating season ends in March. They’ve been unlucky catching females, despite setting and checking traps for over a month.

Here at Pocosin, he stands inside the pen. There is nothing between him and the wolves.

“You can see how menacing they are, how much they want to tear us apart,” he jokes, motioning to Manny and Sierra. The wolves nearly skim the opposite fence in their eagerness to be far away from the human in their space.

“Don’t tell me the names,” he says, averting his eyes from the plaque where the names of the captive wolves are emblazoned.

“As a wildlife biologist, you don’t name wildlife,” he says. But, Madison admits,  he understands why they name them. It’s easier for educational purposes.

After all, the wolves in fairy tales like “Little Red Riding Hood” and “The Three Little Pigs” don’t have names except for their descriptor: Big Bad Wolf. If naming the wolves makes it easier for people to connect with them and want to save the species, that is fine with Madison.

Edited by Meredith Radford and Claire Ruch

Overcoming struggle, facing opportunity and challenging opposition

By Michelle Li

It was an anxious afternoon in 2018 as Sheel Patel did his routine walk home from the bus stop in quiet suburbia, Morrisville, NC. He had been checking the mailbox every day for the past few weeks.

At the time, Patel was a senior at Panther Creek High School with a dream to be a diplomat and entrepreneur. As college acceptance letters kept coming in, one fear kept looming over him. Without a green card, the proper paperwork or a visa, attending college was almost impossible. But, he risked it all and had applied anyway.

Sifting through the mail, there it was—his family’s long-awaited green cards.

“I opened the mail and started to cry tears of joy,” Patel recalled. “I think I went into my room and cried for a week or so,” He had received an acceptance letter to UNC-Chapel Hill a few days prior.

Sheel Patel was going to college.

An outward and inward journey

Patel, 19, has been on the move since he was 1 year old 1. He is an Indian-Canadian-American immigrant and with that, comes a blend of culture, identity and inevitable crises. Sheel’s English is a culmination of learning from other Indian immigrants, the Canadian accent and American slang. “I had just moved to Houston, Texas from Ohio and was talking about hail. With my accent, everyone in class was shocked because they thought I was casually bringing up hell,” said Patel.

Patel was born in Dahod a city in Gujarat, India. to Rinkal and Ashish Patel. One year later, the Patels immigrated from Gujarat to Brampton in Toronto, Canada. They moved into the basement of an acquaintance’s’ home and tried to make a life there. Patel remembers placing murtis of Hindu gods in the living room, walking around the fixtures seven times with his best girl friend. It is symbolic of marriage and a fond memory of his time in Canada. His parents, struggling to find work, packed up their bags and crossed borders once more, to America.

Now a sophomore at UNC-CH, Sheel is majoring in business and public policy.

From the moment his parents saved enough money to purchase Country Store Foods in South Webster, Ohio, Sheel knew he wanted to be an entrepreneur. “It was a big accomplishment,” Patel said. “The store was the town’s mini Walmart. My parents were so happy.” Patel reflected on the steps his parents took to get to where they were: “When we first immigrated to America, my mom was working two jobs at Burger King and Tim Hortons.” The stark lifestyle difference for the Patel family inspires Sheel to keep pushing.

“There’s never been a place where I fully fit in because I am a bucket of contradictions,” Patel said. “I’m Indian, but I’m also Canadian and American. I grew up in America, but I’m not a citizen. I’m gay, but I’m not white, which seems like the blanket in the gay community. I’m Hindu, but I’m not necessarily theistic.”

Tyler Dunston, Sheel’s college roommate, said, “I think that as college progresses, he’s immersed himself more in his Indian and Gujarati identity. In America, there are a lot of things that we just inherently assume everyone knows. I know he just tried coleslaw in the past year, and it did surprise me when I found out he didn’t know what it was beforehand. I think it’s admirable and interesting to see someone gain a grounding in a non-western-centric identity while also still being able to engage in certain aspects of American culture.”

Not only has the college opportunity allowed Sheel to explore his Gujarati identity, but it has also allowed him to “explore his sexuality more,” Dunston added.

Patel was in second grade when he realized another facet of the many identities he holds that he must wrestle with.

In the back of the classroom sat a dark, curly-haired Sheel and his friend Ethan. Moving images from “Peanuts” filled the screen in the front of the room. Almost everyone had their eyes transfixed on Charlie Brown’s next move. Everyone but Sheel. Instead, he was mesmerized by Ethan’s soft smile. Without warning, he leaned over and planted a small kiss on Ethan’s cheek. Embarrassed and filled with guilt, he handed Ethan three Crayola markers as a peace offering and said to never bring this kiss up to anyone, not their friends or family, let alone the teacher.

It was the day before Valentine’s Day when Patel, now 13, came out to his father through a YouTube video titled “Your Son is Gay”. Anticipating his father would be open-minded, the response of his father’s threats to send him to boarding school took Patel by surprise.

“I immediately retracted my coming out after I saw my father was angry. I just started laughing and saying, ‘I got you, it’s a prank!’ and that I had a crush on a girl in class,” said Patel.

It was not until high school that Patel bravely came to terms with his sexuality: “My dad asked me ‘Are you, are you gay?’…they both started hysterically crying,” Patel said. “But I had hardened up at that point.”

Patel’s parents have slowly accepted his coming out saying, “My dad tolerates it now, but my mom is eons ahead of where she was to the point where we are going to see a Bollywood movie together that features a gay couple.”

What’s next?

The challenges did not end there.

Dev Patel, Sheel’s younger brother, remembers the day his family received their green cards. It had been a 14-year wait: “We had finally done it. We had gotten our green cards. Sheel was probably the happiest as he has always been passionate about politics and could apply for citizenship in a mere four or five years, so he could vote,” Dev Patel said.

Those five years are the supposed five years it will take Sheel Patel to gain his American citizenship. But, with Patel’s hopes of going abroad through the GLOBE Program at the Kenan-Flagler Business School at UNC-CH, his path to citizenship could be greatly impacted. “I’m not sure what will happen,” said Patel, “I will meet with a lawyer soon.”

However, Dev is not worried. He believes Sheel has “learned to conquer his problems.”

When asked how Sheel has made the best of his legal situation, Patel’s longtime friend Arya Kode said that “Sheel has often taken his feelings on not having a U.S. citizenship and funneled them towards active social work because he knows he can’t do normal civic things like vote.” Sheel and Kode have known each other since they attended middle school together and are in the same fraternity at UNC-CH.

Regardless, Sheel is thankful for his experiences and for his parents. For Patel, holding many identities pushes him to exist out of the boundaries, revealing inherent uniqueness and perspectives that nobody can match. “It’s almost better that way,” he said.

Edited By Caleb Schmidt

Fanatic or nonchalant?: Student responses to UNC-Duke game day

By Jazmine Bunch

The darker specks of blue rejoiced throughout the arena. Tears exposed trails of skin as they rolled down Carolina blue-painted faces, and mouths dropped in horror. Duke players rushed the court and swarmed the Duke forward who transformed an air ball into a buzzer-beater shot to top the Tar Heels by two points in overtime.

Jamal Smith, a freshman at UNC-Chapel Hill, stood in the nosebleeds with a dead phone and broken spirit. Suddenly, the gaping hunger from not eating all day began to gnaw its way through his Michael Jordan jersey.

And while an estimated 21,500  fans of one of the fiercest rivalries in college basketball stood in the Dean E. Smith Center—some on cloud nine with triumph while others were picking their jawlines off the ground— freshman Treasure Rouse didn’t even know or have the slightest care in the world that the Blue Devils had just won.

The typical Duke celebration consists of burning benches and bonfires, but post-win festivities were halted by Duke’s Dean of Students, who planted herself on top of one bench, because students didn’t have a permit to burn them. When Nneka Nwabueze, a junior at Duke University, heard that a student shouted, “Burn her too!” she was reminded of why she doesn’t participate in game day rituals.

Fueled by the rivalry

Not everyone’s fire is rooted in family feuds and divided houses like Smith’s.  Before attending UNC-CH, he was a Duke fan for 12 years. He and his mom rooted for Duke while his dad and sister loved Carolina. Every game day they’d watch the game from different rooms and come together in the last quarter.

But after his Carolina conversion, he has new game day rituals.

He hopped out of bed at 7 a.m. with no time to eat and threw on his UNC edition Air Jordan 11’s, Michael Jordan jersey and UNC jacket before barreling down the hill from his Horton dorm to the Dean Dome in preparation for ESPN’s College GameDay.

As a member of the sports administration team, he didn’t have to brave the cold for hours before the 11 a.m. entry time. Instead, he got to marvel at the behind-the-scenes magic inside the arena until the floodgates opened, and then he got to watch thousands of eager fans pour in.

He remained at the stadium until 1 p.m., took a nap in between the seats, grabbed a quick bite with the sports administration crew and hopped in line outside at 3 p.m. to wait for his Phase 3 entry time into the game.

His ticket confirmation from Carolina Athletics didn’t feel real. He was numb to the game day buzz throughout the week. Even his early morning alarm didn’t completely jolt him out of this dream. He’d been to plenty of UNC basketball games this season, but this was Carolina versus Duke. He couldn’t believe he’d gotten a coveted ticket his first year.

But when the horns from the “Jump Around” intro blared through the stadium, he felt that this was real, and this basketball game was about to be “real different.”

It’s an even bigger game when you’re rooting for both blues.

“It was exciting at home or watching it in my room,” Smith said. “But being in the Dean Dome and you’re a part of it, and being nervous because you don’t know if you’re about to rush Franklin Street or go back to your room and cry… it was better than anything.”

Smith cycled through all the normal game day emotions as Carolina led most of the game.

Even after the shot that narrowly snatched away the win from UNC, Smith said being in the stadium, experiencing those last seconds in slow motion and sharing pride and pain with thousands of other fans was surreal.

It’s hard to imagine how anyone wouldn’t want to be here.

Oblivious to the game

Rouse woke up at 11 a.m., hours after some fans had been waiting for hours just to gain admission into the Smith Center for ESPN’s College GameDay. She strolled through the thick of game day madness on her way to her boyfriend’s dorm, initially oblivious that there was a big basketball game.

“I didn’t even know we had a game… until I walked to go to Ehaus and there was a radical white man,” she said between laughs, “and he goes, ‘GO DUKE!’ He was like the Pit preacher, but it was just him cheering on Duke. And I was like ‘Woah, this is not what I signed up for.’”

She and her boyfriend, Jordan Roberts, would be confined to the four walls of Ehringhaus dorm. With butterfly lights illuminating the dim room, they cozied on the comforts of a 36 inch by 80 inch twin bed, and  judged couples on “House Hunters” at tipoff.

They’d just be fine with that.

“I knew there was a game, and I planned to catch some of it,” Roberts said. “I was at work early in the day, so game day was a no-go.”

It’s a part of the Carolina experience to anticipate rushing Franklin Street after a win over Duke. But the passion and immediacy of a Tar Heel-Devil rivalry didn’t exist in their dorm room. In this moment, it was just Rouse, Roberts and “House Hunters.”

A normal day

The nonchalance stretched 10 miles down Tobacco Road to Nneka Nwabueze, a junior at Duke. When the battle of the blues ensued at the 6:05 p.m. tipoff, she was eating pizza and preparing for step practice.

Her day started when her alarm woke her up at 10 a.m. She was going to be busy with laundry, lunch at IHOP, an event with her modeling organization, step practice at the Bryan Student Center until 9:30 p.m. and a party she planned to attend that night.

She’s only been to one basketball game since freshman year, and she tries to stay out of the way on game day. Her hate for Carolina goes as far as a solicited round of trash talk, but there’s no true hate for the Tar Heels in her heart, nor any major allegiance to the Blue Devils.

“For me, I didn’t grow up around the rivalry. I probably didn’t know what the rivalry was until I got to this school,” Nwabueze said. “I don’t think I could tell you the players that are on this team.”

In combination with a lack of passion, Nwabueze described the process of getting student tickets at Duke.

Tents will line K-Ville— also known as Krzyzewskiville, the line where Duke students camp for tickets—weeks before Duke basketball games, housing student groups who undergo freezing temperatures and unpredictable weather to gain access to conference games. Carolina games always guarantee that students will make themselves at home in these temporary dwellings for weeks at a time.

For Nwabueze, that just isn’t worth it.

Around 9 p.m., other students in the student center erupted into cheers at what Nwabueze realized was the end of the game. Even though she didn’t ride the game day wave, after she left step practice, she casually threw on a Duke jersey and—not really needing a reason either way— partied as planned.

Although the nation may stop for the Carolina-Duke game, some students on the 10-mile stretch of Tobacco Road aren’t even phased.

Edited by Rachel Crumpler