CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WNCN) – The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill celebrated 230 years on Thursday. Hundreds of students, alumni and faculty members took part in recognizing the school’s history. 

“Happy birthday to our beloved university,” UNC Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz said to the crowd at Memorial Hall.

UNC-Chapel Hill celebrated its anniversary with a ceremony recognizing alumni who have made outstanding contributions to humanity and to the State of North Carolina. 

“It’s about servant leadership and serving the people of North Carolina and serving our students,” Guskiewicz told CBS 17. “We’re always going to be strategic, bold and student focused.”

The birthday, also known as University Day, marks the laying of the cornerstone at Old East, which is the school’s first building on campus and home to the original classroom.

During Thursday’s ceremony, faculty members played a song to remember Professor Zijie Yan, who was killed in a shooting on campus back in August.

The school also recognized a handful of former students and highlighted some in a panel discussion.

“What UNC gave me the ability to do is to strike common ground with people who have different opinions and different backgrounds,” alumnus Alex Lassiter told the crowd. “I think that’s one of my favorite things about a liberal arts college.”

UNC-Chapel Hill promotes itself as being the nation’s first public university. 

“We are passionately public,” Guskiewicz said. “We are committed to serving the public good. And it’s a day to remind all of North Carolina that we are university, a great public university, for the people of North Carolina.”

During the University Day ceremony, Guskiewicz also made a statement regarding the Israel-Hamas war.

“I want to acknowledge the heartbreaking pain for members of our community who have been affected by the terrorist attacks of Hamas in Israel and the devastation in Gaza,” he said. “We condemn all forms of violence and mourn the many lives lost. Rest assured, we are focused on our people and supporting them during this difficult time.”

heated pro-Palestinian rally that included counter-protestors also took place on UNC-Chapel Hill’s campus around the same time as the ceremony Thursday afternoon.