On Saturday night, I found myself rushing Franklin Street for the first time.

I’ve never run to Franklin Street before, much less late at night with a stomach full of strawberry and mango margaritas.

If I’m being honest, I’ve never found sports to be extraordinarily riveting, but my roommate decided to host a watch party for the game and I knew I’d regret not paying attention to the Tar Heels taking on the Blue Devils in the Final Four.

The game against Duke was tantalizingly close. I may not pay much attention to sports, but I am aware of the age-old rivalry. I found myself on the edge of my seat in the living room of my apartment—tight fists formed in my lap creating nail-shaped indentations on my palms, biting my bottom lip right up until the last second. The score remained interlocked. I sat glued with my eyes to the screen—afraid that I’d miss something if I looked away even for a moment—confidence faltering slightly when Armando Bacot limped off the floor with an ankle injury. With less than 25 seconds, Caleb Love scored a three-pointer.

The clock ran out and it was time: 81 to 77. Eighteen lead changes and 12 ties. The Heels came out on top in a historic upset against Duke. My roommate and I ran out the door, through the shortcut in the woods and onto Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, and into a sea of ice blue. Cars honked, people cheered and chanted.

When I transferred to UNC from Wake Technical Community College in the fall of 2020, I was under the impression that school pride would happen naturally. I bought the sweatshirts, baseball caps, and pins and waited for it to overtake me. At times, there were sparks, like when I attended the UNC-Florida State football game last fall or when I walk around the beautiful campus and study under my favorite tree—but never a full-fledged flame.

Flash forward almost two years. I’ll be graduating in December. I thought it was too late for me and that my college experience was just simply going to be different.

But as I ran uphill to join the crowd of thousands of students on Franklin on Saturday night, I was fueled by something I hadn’t felt before. A sense of belonging. A sense of pride.

There it was. That feeling I’ve been missing. I didn’t see any familiar faces as I looked around at other students holding up signs, popping champagne, and congratulating one another as fireworks went off above us, but we were connected on a fundamental level. The feelings rushed over me as it hit me that I go here. This is my team and we won.

I’ve come away from this weekend with a different perspective and a lot of school spirit. I was able to run on Saturday night for the girl who transferred into UNC in the fall of 2020 without friends. I ran for the girl who attended college through her computer screen for nearly two years, unable to form lasting connections with her classmates because of the isolation that has accompanied the pandemic.

I’ll be chasing the high from Saturday night for years to come. I mean, where else am I going to get splashed by champagne from multiple directions?

At the end of the day, I’m thankful that I’m a Tar Heel. I’m proud to sport my college’s apparel and be able to say that my basketball team beat Duke in the Final Four and advanced to the national championship.

And as for finally rushing Franklin Street, if there was ever a time to do it, Saturday night was that time. Let me tell you, it was one hell of a way to catch up on my college experiences.

Brooke Dougherty is a fourth-year student at UNC-Chapel Hill and an INDY Week intern.

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