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692 graduates earn UNCP degrees


PEMBROKE, N.C. – Brandon Lee Locklear plans to write a book about his life experiences.

The first chapter is sure to include his time as a student at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke. Locklear was among the 692 graduates who took part in two commencement ceremonies on Friday and Saturday. The remaining chapters in Locklear’s biography will include his next move – the U.S. Army.

He will begin training to become an operator of unmanned aircraft systems.

“I am going to fly drones,” said Locklear, who lives in the Prospect community.

Graduation, for Locklear, was bitter sweet.

“It is good in a sense that I can go on and do bigger and better things,” he said. “At the same time, I am not a kid anymore. That’s the downside. I am not in school.”

More than 7,000 people filled the Quad on the south lawn of campus to cheer on their loved ones on this cool Saturday morning.

Keynote speaker Judge James E. Lockemy, a 1971 graduate of UNCP, urged the graduates to seek a career that represents their passion, not just the need for a job.

“As you go forth, go forth with passion,” Lockemy said. “Whatever you choose to do, keep passion in your life. It does not matter what profession you choose or what road you take, passion is the important ingredient in happiness and a productive life.” 

“If you are fortunate enough to be paid to do what you are passionate about, well that is wonderful. If you are not, you have duties to meet and your profession provides the means to do so. Then do your duty, but do not forget your passion. Keep the flme burning. Engage in your passion as you do your duty. Know what you ache for and don’t forget your dreams.”

Lockemy is the chief judge of the South Carolina Court of Appeals. The Dillon, S.C. native served 18 years as a Circuit Court judge before he was elected to the Court of Appeals in 2008. He served two terms in the South Carolina House of Representatives and retired as a full colonel with the S.C. Army National Guard.

“As you now approach your career and challenges, do not forget that the piece of paper that you received today is just that – a piece of paper,” he said. “It represents what you achieved, but it is not the achievement. You have made the achievement and it lives within you.”

Charles Tyner’s passion is broadcasting. Tyner earned a degree in Mass Communication and is actively looking for a job as a production assistant. He eventually wants to work as a producer.

“I felt like I was really challenged here at UNC Pembroke,” said Tyner, a Fayetteville native. “This is a real special school. I enjoyed the small class size and the personal interaction with my professors. It was a great experience.”

Chris Szabo was among the 37 nursing graduates whose name were called Saturday. He has been offered a position in the Cardiovascular Thoracic unit at FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital. Szabo spent an extra year at UNCP after switching his major from chemistry to nursing.

“I always wanted to be a dentist, but I decided to change my career path because I prefer more face-to-face interaction with my patients,” he said. “Pembroke has been a unique experience that has tested me every step of the way while helping me grow as an individual and allowing me to meet some of the most wonderful friends I have ever made.”

During the ceremony, long time physician Dr. Martin Brooks was bestowed an honorary Doctor of Laws degree. Brooks is considered one of the most influential physicians and most respected community leaders in Robeson County. He opened the first medical practice in Pembroke in 1958. For more than 60 years, Brooks has dedicated his life to caring for others regardless of ethnicity, religion or disability.

Dr. Cherry Beasley served as grand marshal. Beasley is the 2017 recipient of the UNC Board of Governors Award for Teaching Excellence. She is the Anne R. Belk Endowed Professor of Nursing and has been a member of the faculty since 1992. She is the first American Indian professor at UNCP to win the award.

After earning a biology degree, Mena Issa will pack his bags for the Caribbean Island of St. Vincent. It may sound like a sweet reward for four years of labs and research, but Issa will not have time to soak in the island life. He has been accepted into the Trinity School of Medicine with plans to become a surgeon.

Saturday was a proud moment for Frida Rodriguez and her family, who came to the United States from Mexico. She was the first in her family to receive a college degree. The Sanford native plans to join the U.S. Army. Rodriguez will be training as a human resources specialist. Rodriguez’s long-term plans include becoming a detective.

Chancellor Robin Gary Cummings asked the graduates think back to their first day at UNCP. For most, it was an extremely hot day in August of 2013. Recalling that day, he asked they each think about the ways they have changed.

“Every class you’ve had taken, every club you’ve participated in, every service project, every concert, every research poster or paper, every relationship you’ve made has changed your life in subtle ways that result in a profound transformation in the way you see yourself and see the world, whether you realize it now or not.” Cummings said.

More than half of the graduates are from southeastern North Carolina. Cummings said he hopes many will choose to remain in the region and serve their communities in fields like teaching, nursing, business, social work and public administration.

Diona Covington of Rockingham was among the 155 graduate students who crossed the stage at the Givens Performing Arts Center during the Graduate School ceremony on Friday. Hours earlier, Covington received a phone call.

“I was offered a job as a licensed clinical social worker!” she said with a big smile.