When Dr. Richard Gay was temporarily overcome by emotion during his keynote address at UNC Pembroke’s First Year Student Convocation, the university’s newest students graciously bailed him out with a timely round of applause and cheers.
UNC Pembroke welcomed the members of the class of 2016 to college on August 13. It is one of the university’s largest freshman classes in history, although enrollment numbers are not final at this time.
Students returned to school on August 15, but first-year students were treated to several UNCP traditions including convocation.
The first-year students had their class picture taken on the Quad and embarked on the traditional walk northward over Jones Bridge to convocation in the Givens Performing Arts Center. A large contingent of faculty in full regalia welcomed them on the steps of GPAC.
“Crossing the bridge is a tradition at UNCP,” Chancellor Kyle R. Carter told the students. “It symbolizes your entry into the university community. When you graduate, you will walk south back across the bridge.
“This is a unique class,” Dr. Carter continued in his welcoming remarks. “You are entering the university in the year of our celebration of this institution’s 125th year.
UNCP’s chief academic officer Dr. Kenneth Kitts, Faculty Senate Chair Dr. Susan Cannata and Student Government Association President Brian Nunnery also welcomed the new class to the ceremony that starts each academic year.
Dr. Gay, who is chair of the Art Department, recounted his own life changing experience in college. He was the first person in his family to attend college, he said, and he worked his way through.
“Perseverance is the key,” Dr. Gay said. “Paying your tuition does not make you smarter or get you a passing grade. You will have to work for an education, and some of you will have to work harder than others.”
Dr. Gay reminded the students that the faculty are there to help them succeed. “We all want you to succeed,” he said. “There is help available, but we can’t help you if you don’t communicate. UNCP believes you can graduate, or they wouldn’t have accepted you.”
The speaker also reminded students to find something to study they are passionate about, just as he did. “I had a plan to major in biology, but plans often change,” Dr. Gay said. “When I took a class in art history, I didn’t know what it was.
“That one class changed my life,” he said. “Once I experienced art history, I couldn’t get enough. Today, I am living my dream. If I can do it, why can’t you?”
Somewhere in that sequence, Dr. Gay’s emotions got the better of him. The first-year students who were hanging on every word began to cheer and applaud as he recovered.
“Sorry about getting so personal,” Dr. Gay continued. “But this is UNC Pembroke, a place were ‘learning gets personal.’”