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I love our state, and I want students across North Carolina to grow up wanting to call this state home as they become our leaders of tomorrow.

At EdNC’s first public policy boot camp we asked the students,

“What would it take for you to want to call North Carolina home when you graduate?”

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Kwani, an 11th grader at Enloe High School, wants access to the hardest, best courses our public schools have to offer. She connects her course offerings now to her opportunities to hold the hardest, best 21st century jobs.

Most students don’t connect that desire to our future economy, but I do.

People ask me often about my undergraduate university and my law degree, but for many of us it is the skills we learned in public school that define us as professionals. All of the skills I have needed to succeed – from my first job in sixth grade as a Kid-to-Kid columnist for The Charlotte Observer to this job now – I learned in the public schools of North Carolina.

I learned to think. I learned to write. I learned to lead. I learned to work across difference.

Yesterday was the anniversary of the attack on Nation, and his wife, Jamie Kirk Hahn. Part work, part escape, we went on a road trip across North Carolina, and along the way, we crossed paths with people of all races, all ages, all socio-economic levels, lots of faiths, and many sexual orientations. Some were native Tar Heels. Some moved here from other parts of the country and the world. All of them choose to call our state home.

I have been thinking about the political transformation of our state for as long as I can remember. I grew up in downtown Charlotte on a block with Democrats Harvey Gantt and Mel Watt and two doors down from them Republicans Sue Myrick and her son Dan Forest.

On Monday the short session of the N.C. General Assembly will convene, and there will be no shortage of divisive education issues that may be addressed, including freedom of speech on campuses, possible revisions to House Bill 2, funding for vouchers, teacher pay, pensions versus 401Ks, an achievement school district, and changing how charter schools are funded given the upcoming 20th anniversary of charter school legislation on June 21.

But our state is culturally too rich and diverse and complex for politics alone to be what defines us. Our state is defined by our geography, our beautiful places and spaces, our music and our film, our poetry and our books, our religious traditions, and most importantly our people.

Olee Joel Olsen doesn’t just build solar farms. He intertwines sustainable agriculture. And he teaches students about how to do both and why both are important for our future.

On a Friday earlier this month, Donnell Cannon became the principal of North Edgecombe High School. He asked me to pray for him.

This second grade teacher, Karen Struebing, at District 7 Elementary in Wade is taking classes to teach her students how to code.

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These students from Hatteras and Conetoe are working together to create a food exchange.

Photo Credit: Alex Granados/EdNC
Photo Credit: Alex Granados/EdNC

Rachel Roberts, a plant biologist with a degree from Cornell, and her husband, Chris Roberts, a fourth generation apple grower, choose to teach in the Clay County Schools.

Have you been to a ramp festival?

Have you listened in on a hootenanny?

Have you hiked to a waterfall?

Have you watched a train flatten a penny along one of our railways?

Have you seen our cross country runners from across the state pounding the trails at Moses Cone Memorial Park?

Have you enjoyed the ribs at 12 Bones in Asheville, the Laotian Pad Thai at Asian Fusion in Morganton, the dipped chicken at Keaton’s BBQ in Cleveland, or a shrimp burger at The Big Oak on our Crystal Coast?

Instead of relying on polling, I have long thought a better predictor of the mood of voters and the outcome of elections in our state is to walk around the Dolphin Motel in Nags Head, to eat BBQ at Lexington #1, to sit on the back porch of the Mast General Store in Valle Crucis and just talk to people. And then I check in with a couple of folks who are homeless as well as a couple of CEOs.

State leaders are working together to create a forum for civil dialogue, but those conversations also need to happen informally as we are all out and about our state.

Next time you are pumping gas, ask the person next to you why they call this state home.

Ask them what keeps them up at night.

And then over dinner have that same conversation with your children, our students.

Let’s remind our students and the world why we choose to call this state home. We are all North Carolina. Use the #WeAreAllNC to share your favorite things about our state during this important election year.


From the mountains to the coast, place names in North Carolina can be confusing. Talk Like a Tarheel from UNC-CH’s Wilson Library is a great resource for pronunciation.

Mebane Rash

Mebane Rash is the CEO and editor-in-chief of EducationNC.