Commencement 2007 presented the full range of emotions for the approximately 530 graduates at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke.
Congratulations – Chancellor Meadors backed by the platform party congratulation graduate Lea Winfield of Rowland, N.C.
Graduate Erin Garceau of Sanford, N.C., summed up her feelings with a statement scribbled on her mortarboard: “Thank you Mom and Dad for the sacrifice you’ve made to give me this.”
“My parents have done a lot to make this day possible,” Garceau said.
On a cool and overcast May 5, perfect weather for an outdoor ceremony, the graduates were both boisterous and solemn as they observed a moment of silence in memory of their fellow students who were slain at Virginia Tech.
There was more sadness. Rev. Jerry Lowry, a church-building Methodist minister and 1970 UNCP graduate, was to receive an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters, but died hours before. Lowry’s daughters, Elena and Ana Locklear, received the honor in his stead.
“If he were here, my father would probably have said he was not worthy of this honor,” Elena said. “He would say God deserves all the glory.”
“Jerry had a burning enthusiasm to serve others,” Rev. Paul Leeland said in his introduction. “He often said, ‘When we experience hell, we must bring heaven.’”
One of the largest spring graduating classes in University history witnessed several firsts. The largest graduating class of nurses – 45 – received Bachelor of Science in nursing degrees. It was the first class from UNCP’s new four-year nursing program.
Also, the first six graduates of the revitalized Athletic Training program received degrees.
Philanthropist and business leader Irwin Belk of Charlotte, N.C., also received an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters.
“Mr. Belk has engaged in philanthropy on a monumental scale,” UNCP Trustee Dick Taylor said. “I could justify that statement merely by reciting the Belk name as it appears on the campus of The University of North Carolina at Pembroke.”
Belk and Taylor both have their names on UNCP’s football and track complex.
Commencement speaker Pat Conroy, one of America’s greatest contemporary storytellers, amused the crowd of more than 5,000 with tales of his life.
“There is nothing more boring on earth than a graduation speech,” the South Carolina author said. “But listen up kids, I plan for you to remember me.”
Conroy, an adopted southerner with Irish roots, talked about his Southern relations.
“We clean graves once a year,” Conroy said. “I cleaned one who was my great uncle ‘Jerry Mire.’
“My grandmother, bless her heart, she said ‘he is named after the prophet Jerry Mire,’” he said. “People up north think I made that story up. People down south know I didn’t.”
On a more serious note, Conroy talked about caring for his dying mother in a hospital room.
“And graduates, we will all be in those rooms one day, I promise you,” he said. “They did not tell me at The Citadel that beautiful, vibrant mothers could die at age 59.”
His final message to the graduates was about time and its passage.
“Time, that’s what graduations are about members of the class of 2007,” he said. “Go talk to your parents today. Every one of them will remember the day they brought you home from the hospital after your birth. They are feeling time more than you are today.
“Remember the first day you came to Pembroke?” Conroy asked. “Tell me it was not quick kids; tell me it was not fast.
“You got a college degree, and I am proud of mine,” he said. “Here’s what I want you to remember. What you do, do it well, do it great, do it in the name of Pembroke.
“If you are real lucky, if you’re real good, if you’re classy, here’s what I promise you,” he concluded. “You can teach the whole world how to dance.”
Commencement may be viewed online at www.uncp.edu/commencement/