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laura rozo chancellor thorpLaura Rozo, center, with Hannah Nemer and Chancellor Thorp.
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patti and holden thorpPatti and Holden Thorp.
When I first proposed this column, I wanted to bring attention to the many unsung heroes (the Priceless Gems) on our campus. Now that Holden and I are leaving, I want to dedicate this last column to those true priceless gems of our university community – the students – who are no longer with us.
During Holden’s time as Chancellor, we lost 25 students – some a great deal more publicly than others, but all just as painfully. I wish I had the space to tell you about them all. At least I can tell you about one, the 23rd student we lost.
Laura Rozo grew up in Colombia until her family escaped their violent hometown and immigrated to the United States when she was 13. This smart girl soon mastered English and excelled in her high school studies. She came to Carolina as a prestigious Morehead-Cain Scholar.
In the summer of 2011, Laura led a service trip to the Azores Islands. Even though she began experiencing significant pain on the trip, she stuck it out for six weeks until doctors forced her to return home for treatment. She was diagnosed with a very rare form of cancer in her skeletal muscles that is particularly hard to treat in adults.
While the cancer went into remission briefly, it was back when Laura was taking Holden’s entrepreneurship class. That was last fall, when Holden said he was going to resign. The Tuesday after his decision, petitions and rallies to convince him to stay were already in the works. But when he walked into his noon class, a young woman approached him to say, “Chancellor, I know everyone is hoping you’ll reconsider, but I hope you don’t. You’re so much happier here in the classroom with us than you are out on campus.”
Who was this student who knew her professor so well? Laura Rozo. Running out of time herself, she was determined to spark as many people as she could into living the lives they only dared to dream. Laura couldn’t take her exam in December, but she came with us to the men’s basketball game against Miami in January with her friend Hannah Nemer. Our team lost that game, but it felt like a major victory to have Laura with us.
After Laura passed away in April, Holden and I prayed that she would be the last we would lose. Unfortunately, we’ve lost two students in the past two weeks. This is the hardest part of the Chancellor’s job, but it has also been so rewarding for us both.
As Holden said, “When you’re holding a parent who has lost a child, you never doubt that you’re in the right place or doing the right thing.” Hearing parents tell us how much their children loved this place and all it stands for has been an extraordinary gift for us.
Thank you. TW
Patti Thorp has lived in the Chapel Hill area since 1993. Her husband, Holden, was UNC’s 10th Chancellor This is her last column for The WEEKLY. We wish her and her family well.