Campus landmarks series – The origins of the clocktower

For the seventieth anniversary of UNC Wilmington’s founding, we are celebrating the landmarks and locations around campus that make the university what it is today. This will be a recurring series, with each entry delving into a certain aspect of UNCW’s campus and its prior history.
Tyler Newman

New flags fly high on light posts across the campus of UNC Wilmington, in commemoration of its establishment seventy years ago. Since its founding on Sept. 4, 1947, the university has grown from a population of 238 students to nearly 16,500.

UNCW has consistently been praised by students, faculty, alumni and visitors as one of the most beautiful college campuses. While the university also has well-known landmarks across campus that many claim add to its beauty, one such landmark is arguably the most notable of all.

The clock tower.

Standing fifty feet above Campus Commons, the clock tower has become a symbol of UNCW and almost universally recognized by its student and faculty body. Providing the backdrop for the freshman class photos every August, the tower itself is nearly synonymous with UNCW.

Donated seventeen years ago to the university by the Class of 2000, the idea for the clock tower was led largely by senior Shane Fernando, who now works as the Director of the Wilson Center at Cape Fear Community College. When reached out for the backstory on the project, Mr. Fernando did not shy away from details.

“I began this work in my junior year,” said Fernando. “I served also as junior class president and began laying the groundwork as well as fundraising that year. As a class at the turn of the millennium, we wanted something noteworthy to mark the occasion.”

Fernando recalled a fundraising yacht river cruise for students and the surrounding community, as a way to create the seed fund for the future gift.

“Since I was a freshman I felt that our campus was lacking a common gathering place, a central landmark. I also felt that every campus should have a public clock of some kind.”

According to Fernando, the area where the clock tower stands, was once a parking lot, instead of the ponds that currently exist today. In the Spring before senior year, a committee of students met to choose ten ideas for the senior class gift. The clock tower won by a good majority. The university administration at the time was very supportive of the idea.

“Vice Chancellor Pat Leonard, who still serves as the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs helped us lay the groundwork to move things forward. She did not even blink, or question that this undertaking might be too complicated for students to accomplish. She put her full trust into our work and supported us when needed. Also, Chancellor Jim Leutze was a major supporter and continuously showed us his full faith in our work.”

The project required $100,000 to move forward, and the clock tower needed to be completed by May, in time for the Class of 2000’s graduation.

Was the project completed in time? Indeed, it was.

“The clock was installed and ready to go the day prior to graduation,” said Fernando. “We held a gala reception and ceremony the evening before, with a public event, where we flipped the switch to light the faces of the clock and sound the bell system for the first time.”

The clock itself did not start keeping time until the next morning at 10 a.m., when the graduating Class of 2000 started their commencement march. According to Fernando, UNCW’s clock tower was the largest student led gift project in the nation, a title it still holds to this day.

“This project speaks as a testament to UNCW’s commitment to experiential learning and community engagement. It was one of the many rich learning experiences that I hold dear from my time at UNCW.”

The tower’s impact on students, faculty and the surrounding community and region over the past several seventeen years is evident in the landmark status that the structure holds today.

UNCW Senior Nick Burton gave his personal opinion on how the clock tower may also play an impactful role on returning alumni.

“I think the biggest impact it has is on returning alums, at least that’s how I see it.” Burton has only been at UNCW for a year and a half, but still recognizes the impact of the tower.

“I think when I return after graduation, that will be the time when I feel it’s true sentiment the most,” Burton said.

Mr. Fernando also noted that the clock tower plays a critical role on campus through convocation, memorials for students who pass on, military recognition programs, and other ceremonial events.

“It has become a prominent landmark for not only our campus but the Cape Fear region. It should be a point of pride for students, past, present and future, as it is a gift from students, to the students of today and tomorrow.