In his commencement address, UNC Pembroke graduate and U.S. Air Force Brigadier General Allen J. Jamerson gave graduates a short piece of advice that he hopes will stick with them: “Do what brung ya,” he said.
Pepper Jenson, the man inside the BraveHawk mascot costume for the past two years, fires up the crowd one more time.
There is something about each and every one of you that got you here today,” Brig. Gen. Jamerson said. “Be true to who you are and build on that foundation.”
In two commencements on May 9-10, The University of North Carolina at Pembroke awarded degrees to a record number of 626 undergraduates and 157 graduate students, which is just short of a record.
The Givens Performing Arts Center was nearly filled to its 1,600-seat capacity on Friday evening for the graduate ceremony. Under partly cloudy skies Saturday morning, a large crowd of nearly 6,000 attended the undergraduate ceremony.
The long undergraduate processional streamed through the heart of campus across the bridge and into the Quad, the university’s most historic ground. Commencement is just one bridge to cross in life, Chancellor Kyle R. Carter reminded the graduates.
“I advise you to keep learning regardless of the instability and change of the future,” Chancellor Carter said. “Education is the best insurance. You are the people who will adapt to and lead the change.”
With two master’s degrees and continuous military-related training, Brig. Gen. Jamerson offered his life and career as an example of the benefits of lifelong learning. “Yes, generals still have to go to school too,” he said. “The Air Force believes in educating all of its people. Continuing education is the hallmark of a superior organization.”
The general, who was commissioned in 1986 after completing the Air Force ROTC program at UNCP, wondered aloud what his life would have been like if he had not returned to Pembroke to earn a second undergraduate degree.
“A degree is just a beginning, but Pembroke kick-started me on a mission to the stars – one that no one could have imagined,” Brig. Gen. Jamerson said. Today, he commands 37,000 security forces and is the deputy chief of staff for logistics, installations and mission support at Air Force headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Brig. Gen. Jamerson noted that he had a couple of very fortunate breaks in his life. He had a piece of digital age advice.
“Today, you are taking a big step in building your reputation,” he advised. “Do everything you can to protect that reputation. Be at your professional best all of the time – on duty or off duty; online or offline.”
Commencement speaker U.S. Air Force Brigadier General Allen J. Jamerson
Allen Jamerson came to Pembroke State University from Raleigh in 1979. He joined the track team, worked in the cafeteria and grew very fond of his “second home” at a university with a few more than 2,000 students.
Earning his first degree in 1983, Jamerson was part of a new movement that continued to diversify the campus. Returning to the university for his second degree, he enlisted in another shift in student demographics, this time as a non-traditional or older student.
As the university fulfills its role to provide lifelong learning in a diverse region and state, UNCP is developing ever more flexible ways to serve students. The university will continue to “do what brung ya,” as Brig. Gen. Jamerson advised, but it will do, and is already doing, a lot more.
Here is one example. U.S. Army Capt. La Tise Higgins, who was the MPA (Master of Public Administration) program’s Student of the Year, said she took classes on Fort Bragg, in Pembroke and online to complete her degree.
At the graduate commencement, Mary Peterman, Ben Wooten and Leslie Brinson O’Connor were on the Pembroke campus for the first time ever and were eager to meet the professors who taught them in the MPA program.
“One of my peer groups is also struggling with the brick and mortar question,” said Peterman, who is president of the Association of Government Accountants. “On-demand education is part of the future. It worked for me in this program.”
Both Wooten and O’Connor were promoted and got married while they were studying for their master’s degrees in the Triangle area. One of Peterman’s daughters is a traditional student at NC State University and one is working toward a four-year degree by starting in community college to save money.
Community college is a growing piece of the future of four-year colleges. When Brenda Oxendine lost her job, she restarted her career by earning an associate degree at Robeson Community College (RCC) and then a Bachelor of Science degree in special education at UNCP.
“It was a long road, but I graduated with a 3.97 GPA, and I am teaching at Red Springs High School,” Oxendine said. “I’m in a program that will pay my student debt through teaching.”
Community college can reduce the cost of a college education, said Bridget Smith, who graduated from RCC to save money before transferring her academic credits to UNCP. She said the transfer of credits went very smoothly.
A challenge for the future of UNCP and higher education, student debt is another part of the new normal, as Christine Jancso knows well. With college debt more than double UNCP’s student average of $18,000, she said it was worth every penny.
“I will be paying back student loans for a long time,” Jancso said. “Just to be here today was worth it.”