UNC Pembroke awarded 673 degrees in two graduation ceremonies on May 6-7.
Combined, more than 5,500 friends and family watched as degrees were awarded to 163 graduate students and 510 undergraduate students. It was the first time UNCP held separate ceremonies.
Undergraduates crossing the campus bridge
In another first, the Undergra- duate Commence- ment on Saturday morning was on the Quad, the University's most historic place. Graduate Commence- ment was held on Friday evening in the Givens Performing Arts Center.
The 1,600 seats in GPAC were nearly full for the graduate commencement. Turnout for the ceremony was high, with approximately 130 of the 150 graduates in attendance.
The weather on Saturday morning was cool and misty, but the sun broke through just as the graduates processed. Chancellor Kyle R. Carter presided over his first spring commencement.
"This is truly a glorious day," Chancellor Carter said. "This is the first time we have held commencement here adjacent to our most historic building, Old Main. This is a place worthy of commencement because it reminds us of our glorious history."
In delivering his charge to the graduates, he reminded them of the founding of UNCP by American Indians who believed that education would improve the lives of their people.
Chancellor Kyle R. Carter
"It is my charge to you to carry on UNCP's tradition as an institution founded to improve lives," Chancellor Carter said. "Upon graduation, contribute to something beyond yourself; all of you can make a difference in the lives of others."
Dr. Kenneth Kitts, UNCP's new provost and vice chancellor for Academic Affairs, revealed that his wife's family has many UNCP graduates. He admitted to feeling some pressure in offering remarks at his family's alma mater.
In demonstrating his familiarity with UNCP's history, Dr. Kitts noted that some universities use diversity as a slogan for their websites. "UNCP wrote the book on inclusiveness and so should you," Kitts said. "Remember this special legacy. UNCP is a unique institution and so are you."
Former Interim Chancellor Charles Jenkins was the keynote speaker for the evening program. He was "the right speaker for the right audience," Chancellor Carter said, because as provost, he played an important role in launching most of the 17 master's programs at UNCP.
"I am still proud to be part of this University, said Jenkins, who continues to teach in the graduate school administration program. Like a veteran educator, Dr. Jenkins continued to teach to final bell.
"As a graduate, you have the responsibility to be a leader in your field and in your community," he said. "Leadership is about doing the right thing, at the right time, and in the right place."
"Always maintain high ethical standards," Jenkins continued. "The ethical crisis our nation is facing at this time is even greater than the economic crisis. Have high expectations for yourself and for others, and remember, that devoted leadership is what leads to happiness."
Graduate students, like Sheila Harris who received a Master of Business Administration degree, appreciated their special ceremony. "I've loved the idea of a graduate ceremony since it was first mentioned," she said. "This is special for us."
It was special for Wendy Mitchell, who came all the way from High Point to pick up a Master of Arts degree in art education. "This has been a great experience," she said. "A graduate degree is a more specialized education, and at UNCP, it's been a very individualized education."
Scott Lamm of Lumberton, who was recently named UNCP's outstanding MBA student, echoed those thoughts. "After being out of school for 20 years, nobody was more nervous than I," he said. "The University is awesome, and with the help of professors who care about students, I excelled in areas I only dreamed of."
On Saturday morning, graduates told some remarkable stories of unique lives. Student Government President Arjay Quizon literally stepped off a plane from his native Philippines to enroll at UNCP. He was the first international student to serve as SGA president and the first president to serve for two terms.
"It's hard for me to talk about it," Quizon told graduates, wearing his emotions on his regalia sleeve. "It's been a great honor to serve as student government president but an even greater honor just to be able to study here."
Cilia Mazaza Iluku graduated with several honors in chemistry. Before that, her mother brought the family to Charlotte from the Congo. "I fell in love with UNCP at the very first and got connected in so many ways," Iluku said. "I'm going to take a short break, then get a Ph.D."
Few stories were more remarkable than that of Cassie and Tamra Henderson, who live in nearby Shannon. Mother and daughter graduated together Saturday with degrees in nursing. They took many general education classes together.
"She's the better student," Cassie Henderson said of her daughter.
"She was working full time with a family," Tamra Henderson said of her mother, who is a Registered Nurse at the Robeson County Health Department.
"We did not know if we would finish together, but this is great," Cassie Henderson said. "I am really proud of my daughter, who I have been able to watch blossom into a professional nurse."
With the weather perfect and the trains in front of Old Main holding off, UNCP put to rest two historic commencements.