PEMBROKE — In two commencement ceremonies this weekend, The University of North Carolina at Pembroke graduated a record number of students and closed the book on its 125th anniversary celebration.
Baccalaureate degrees were conferred on 605 graduates Saturday morning, and master’s degrees were conferred on 184 graduate students Friday evening. Both numbers are university records.
The event marked the conclusion of the 14-month celebration of the university’s first 125 years. In attendance were several groups of people who played a role at special moments during the history of the institution.
On Friday, eight members of the class of 1979, who received the university’s first graduate degrees, were recognized. Twenty-eight students earned Master of Social Work degrees, which is one of UNCP’s newest programs. Next fall, the first class will enroll in the new Master of Science in Nursing program.
On Saturday, family members of the class of 1940, which was the first class to receive four-year diplomas, were recognized. The family of Christian White, who became the first white graduate in 1954, attended. And Sylvia Baugham Banks, who became the first black graduate in 1969, also attended.
Both events drew crowds that filled the Givens Performing Arts Center on Friday and the 5,000 seats outdoors on the Quad on Saturday. A cold misting rain stopped as the graduates processed, and an hour into the program, the sun attempted to break out.
It was the first time rain visited outdoor commencement ceremonies at UNCP, which left Chancellor Kyle R. Carter feeling nervous.
“What we’re going to do today is create our own sunshine,” he said bravely.
One additional degree was conferred Saturday. An Honorary Doctorate of Laws was awarded to Arlinda Locklear, a Washington-based attorney and nationally recognized advocate for American Indian rights. She served as speaker for both ceremonies.
A Pembroke native, Locklear argued two landmark cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, becoming the first American Indian woman to appear before the nation’s highest court. For many years, she represented the Lumbee Tribe’s efforts to win federal recognition.
Dr. Tim Ritter, a professor of physics and veteran of the Iraq War, was presented the UNC Board of Governors Award for Teaching Excellence by Frank Grainger, vice chairman of the UNC governing body.
The 2013 Chancellor’s Award of Excellence was presented to Lawrence Locklear and Patricia Fields, co-chairs of the 125th Anniversary Celebration Committee. Fields, director of GPAC, and Locklear, Web publisher for University Communications and Marketing, coordinated more than 75 events during 14 months.
In an emotional opening to her speech, Arlinda Locklear said, “It’s good to be home.”
“Now I will always be a part of the historic class of 2013, the class that graduates 125 years after the first students came to this school,” said Locklear, who was a two-term UNCP trustee. “I have always been somewhat apologetic about my relationship to this school, not being a graduate. Now, I’ll be apologetic no more.”
Locklear’s message to the graduates combined the university’s history with a message that encouraged the graduates to have “a life lived with purpose.”
In the founders of the university, she found men of purpose and “lives that are worthy of emulation.” They were visionaries, she said, who could never have imagined how well their dream turned out.
“A life of purpose begins with a vision, a goal, a notion of what is not now, but what could be,” Locklear said. “The founding fathers of this university realized that a vision required hard work, it requires dedication, it requires commitment and it requires persistence. When you apply these values, anything is possible.”
Locklear had words of praise for Carter’s new academic initiative in American Indian studies. During the celebration of the university’s 125th year, Carter launched the future School of Southeastern American Indian Studies, which will take advantage of the university’s roots and establish programs to expand the reach of its scholarship.
“This will become the premier center for the study of indigenous communities of the Southeast United States,” Locklear said. “UNCP is a natural home for such a school, and the presence of this program here will reinforce the uniqueness of this institution.”
Locklear returned to the graduates and their future.
“Where does the graduating class of 2013 fit into the rich history of this campus?” she said. “What will be your contribution as you soar toward your future? Will you create a legacy that is comparable to the founding trustees of this university?
“The possibilities are literally endless. There is among you a solution to virtually every problem that faces this region, the state of North Carolina, this nation and the world.
“A large measure of your success in meeting these challenges will depend on whether you live a life of purpose. What I ask of you now is that you take a leap of imagination into the future; imagine what you would like to see in the world and make it so.
“This is exactly what the founders of this institution did. Now 125 years later, we celebrate them and their accomplishments. Dare to be as bold as they were.”