By Scott Bigelow
U.S. Senator Elizabeth Dole encouraged graduates of The University of North Carolina at Pembroke to be passionate in the pursuit of their goals.
Sen. Dole spoke to an audience of 4,000, including a record 406 graduates, during an outdoor Commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 8. It was the first outdoor commencement at UNCP since Bill Cosby spoke in 1998.
"If you are truly passionate about what you are doing, the sky is the limit," Sen. Dole said. "I do know what it is like to face challenges."
The senator from North Carolina has shattered many barriers during her long career of public service that began during the Nixon administration. In 2002, Sen. Dole was the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate from North Carolina.
"Long before I had a business card with 'Senator' in front of my name, I had other glass ceilings to break," she said. "The path I chose to take was certainly the one less traveled in Washington, D.C."
Besides being one of 24 women in a class of more than 500 men at Harvard Law School, Sen. Dole was the only woman to serve on the Federal Trade Commission and the first woman to head a branch of the armed services, the U.S. Coast Guard.
"There will always be daunting challenges, and when they say it can't be done, I can't wait to try, " Sen. Dole said.
There are several issues that Sen. Dole is passionate about today. One of those issues is dear to the hearts of many who attended graduation at the University that was founded in 1887 as the nation's first state supported institution of higher education for American Indians.
"I am passionately pursuing the recognition of the Lumbee Indians," she said. "I introduced this as my first legislative initiative in the United States Senate because it is the right thing to do - it is the fair thing to do."
Sen. Dole said the casino gambling issue poses a difficult problem for Lumbee recognition.
"Well, critics are now spending millions of dollars to derail the progress of this bill, based on the premise that passage will promote gaming on Lumbee land," she said. "This argument holds no water with me. Indian gaming has only been around since the 1980s, yet the tribe has been seeking federal recognition since the 1880s."
A buyout of federal tobacco allotments is another difficult battle that Sen. Dole is passionate about. She was speaking in the heart of tobacco country.
"I don't need to tell you all why a tobacco quota buyout is essential for North Carolina, but unfortunately I have to convince a lot of folks from places like Maine and Minnesota," she said.
Sen. Dole, who fought for public safety as Secretary of Transportation and against world hunger as president of the American Red Cross, said, when all is said and done, that passion makes the difference.
"The questions we will ask ourselves is what did I stand for? Did I make a positive difference in the lives of others?" she said. "That, UNCP graduates, is what truly matters."
"Just imagine what you can do in this journey called life," Sen. Dole said. "Place no boundary on your aspirations."
In his closing words to the graduates, UNCP Chancellor Allen C. Meadors urged graduates to keep their dreams in focus.
"Let your experience here at UNCP strengthen you for the journey ahead," Chancellor Meadors said. "Have clear and focused goals and make your long term goals part of your every day life."
Offering greetings to the graduates were UNC President Molly Corbett Broad, Dr. Dudley Ford, a member of the UNC Board of Governors, Gervais Oxendine, chair of the UNCP Board of Trustees, Dr. Thomas Dooling, chair of the General Faculty, Alphonza Thomas, vice president of the Student Government Association and Hal Sargent II, president of the Alumni Association.
Scenes from Commencement