More than 830 freshmen at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke received a dose of encouragement and advice during the 2017 Convocation.
Keynote speaker Dr. Bryan Brayboy mixed humor and a history lesson to inspire the Class of 2021. He explained how in 1995 wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park after being absent for more than 70 years. Biologists wanted to study what happens when a top predator returns to an ecosystem.
Brayboy, a professor at Arizona State University, said 31 wolves recolonized and restructured the Yellowstone ecosystem over a seven-year span.
“Yellowstone is two times the size of Delaware and these wolves changed this ecosystem,” he said. “The presence of the wolves triggered a still unfolding cascade effect among animals and plants.”
The deer and elk were forced to move and allowed the park to come back to life. The research shows how an ecosystem can be influenced in mighty ways by seemingly small changes, Brayboy said.
“You belong here, like the wolves at Yellowstone,” Brayboy said. “Your presence here at UNCP will make a difference in ways that you may not fully understand.
“Find your way, be bold, and engage in trying new things. Be a wolf.”
Convocation marks the official start of the academic year. The ceremony was held in the Givens Performing Arts Center on August 24.
Brayboy serves as senior advisor to the President for American Indian Affairs and the President’s Professor and Borderlands Professor of Indigenous Education and Justice in the School of Social Transformation at ASU.
He was the keynote speaker during UNC Pembroke’s winter 2016 Commencement. He is the son of Dr. Bobby Brayboy of Lumberton and the late Dr. Mary E. Jones Brayboy, both UNC Pembroke alumni.
Brayboy is a direct descendant of two of the university’s founders, Preston Locklear and Isaac Brayboy.
Dyrrin Ray, a freshman from Raeford, said he was moved by Brayboy’s speech.
“His message was very positive,” said Ray, who is double majoring in Theatre Arts and Applied Physics. “It gave me the drive to push forward and made me feel like, ‘I can do this. I can graduate in four years with both majors.’”
Ray, who holds an associate degree from SandHoke Early College High School, said he has high hopes for his college career.
“I feel like UNCP has a big community of like-minded students.”
Chancellor Robin Gary Cummings challenged the Class of 2021 to envision themselves in 2087 – the year UNCP celebrates its bicentennial.
“Most of you will be in your 80s,” Cummings said. “Think about the impact that you will make on this world between now and then, through your career and through your public service.
“Anything is possible and in your next four years we will prepare you to achieve your vision.”
Cummings asked the students not to hesitate to ask for help with issues related to their health, transportation, academics, or difficulty paying for college.
“As you start your journey, don’t take your eyes off your destination and ignore the distractions of this world,” he said. “The UNC Pembroke experience is designed for you to achieve, but it will require hard work, sacrifice, commitment and focus.”
Other convocation speakers included Provost David Ward; Dr. Aaron Vandermeer, Faculty Senate chair; Gordon Byrd, Staff Council chair; and Dajer Fernandez, student body president.