PEMBROKE — The University of North Carolina at Pembroke awarded 720 graduate and undergraduate degrees during 2016 Spring Commencement ceremonies on Friday and Saturday.
More than 5,000 proud parents and friends gathered under a cool blue sky on the south quad lawn to witness the students “transform” into graduates.
“You now have a valuable tool and you have power and control over your future,” Chancellor Robin Gary Cummings told the graduates. “Don’t you dare waste it!”
“I hope that we have stoked your curiosity about the world around you, expanded your horizons and emboldened you with knowledge and skills that you need to make a difference,” Dr. Cummings said.
Tammy Locklear, of Pembroke, said she plans to continue making a difference in the lives of her patients at Southeastern Health, where she works as a respiratory therapist. Locklear and her sister-in-law, Frannie Jacobs, both earned degrees in biology and plan to apply to a Physician Assistant program.
“I had always wanted to be a physician assistant,” Locklear said. “So, after 15 years of working and raising four children, I decided to come back to school.”
“I wanted to advance in my career because I wanted to help the community more and enjoy working with my patients and helping others.”
Commencement speaker Sally McRorie advised the graduates to not get complacent.
“Keep moving,” McRorie repeated during her 20-minute talk. McRorie, a 1976 graduate of UNC Pembroke, is the provost and executive vice president for Academic Affairs at Florida State University. Her tenure at FSU spans 21 years.
“Your path forward is and will be transformed, even if you don’t know when or how,” she said. “All you have to do is focus your mind and heart in a truly mindful way. Keep your eyes open and keep moving!”
Kimberly Hunt, of Greensboro, proudly displayed two eagle feathers on her cap which featured hand-made bead work. Hunt earned a degree in political science and plans to attend law school with the ultimate goal of becoming an American Indian rights leader.
Steven Bourquin served as grand marshal. Bourquin is the 2016 recipient of the UNC Board of Governors Award for Teaching Excellence. Bourquin serves as chair of the Math and Computer Science Department. He joined the UNCP faculty in 2003.
W. Marty Kotis III, a member of the UNC Board of Governors, complemented the university on its unique commencement exercises reflecting the rich traditions of UNC Pembroke and the community.
“I have seen several commencements, but nothing like this,” Kotis said. “It’s a wonderful setting to look out and see all this energy among you.”
Listening to the processional and American Indian flutist, Kotis said he felt like he was “transported to another time and place.”
For most, the commencement exercise was a joyous occasion, but for the Paul family, the ceremony was bitter sweet. Eighteen-year-old Charles Paul crossed the stage and proudly accepted a diploma on behalf of his sister, Doris, who was killed in a car accident in April 2015.
Doris Paul was a junior studying biology. She was 21.
“I could feel her up there (on stage) with me,” Charles said. “This was truly a special day for all of us.”
Jeffery Paul struggled to hold back tears as he spoke about the three years his daughter spent at UNCP.
“Our daughter loved UNCP and we know that had she lived she would have been one great alumni,” Jeffrey said. “We are honored that the university did this for us today.”
Tyler Britt, of Raleigh, said he was attracted to UNCP because it was nestled around a “small, tight-knit community.”
Britt earned a degree in sociology. He said he enjoyed the small class size.
“The professors really got to know me and I really liked that, as well,” said Britt who was joined Saturday by his dad, Dallas, and girlfriend, Rachel.
Like Britt, Bria Mitchell, also enjoyed the personal connection with her professors.
“My experience here was great,” said Mitchell, a Pembroke resident. “I love this school and I love the faculty.”
Mitchell has applied to a Physician Assistant program with hopes of opening her own practice in Pembroke.
Meredith Shanahan remained persistent in her pursuit of a college education, which began at a small college in Texas. Following her husband, Sgt. John Shanahan, a paratrooper in the U.S. Army, Meredith also attended UNC Greensboro before landing at UNC Pembroke in 2014.
“This is definitely one of the biggest highlights of my career,” said Shanahan, who hopes to land a job teaching music to elementary kids at Fort Bragg. “It has taken me five years, so it’s definitely an accomplishment.”
Mark Locklear is the public communication specialist for The University of North Carolina at Pembroke.