Chancellor Robin Gary Cummings borrowed a Mark Twain quote as he summed up his installation speech at the Givens Performing Arts Center on April 8.
“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why,” Dr. Cummings said.
“I have discovered my why, and I am honored and humbled to be on this journey at this time in the life of this great university, as together we change lives through education,” said Cummings, drawing a standing ovation from the more than 1,000 people in attendance.
UNC Pembroke faculty, staff and students were joined by community members, state leaders and friends to witness the historic ceremony. UNC System President Margaret Spellings presided over the ceremony. Other distinguished platform guests included U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson, N.C. Supreme Court Justice Paul Newby, Louis Bissette, chairman of the UNC Board of Governors, and the Rev. Bob Mangum.
Cummings, who began his new job in July 2015, was officially installed as the university’s sixth chancellor. In his 37-minute speech, Cummings vowed to maintain the university’s proud and rich history, promote a new set of core values and strive to achieve challenging goals for the future, while collaborating with local and statewide governments, institutions and businesses.
“Every decision we make will be based on the responses to three questions: Is it good for the student? Is it the best option for the university? Does it prepare UNCP for the future?”
A Pembroke native, Cummings earned degrees from UNC Chapel Hill and Duke University Medical School. He practiced cardiothoracic surgery for 12 years at Pinehurst Surgical Clinic and Moore Regional Hospital. He later served as medical director and executive director of Community Care of the Sandhills. In 2013, Cummings was named director of the N.C. Office of Rural Health and Community Care. He subsequently was hired as deputy secretary for Health Services and acting state health director. In February 2014, he was given additional responsibility for the Division of Medical Assistance, overseeing Medicaid.
Despite enjoying success in such challenging jobs in medicine and state government, Dr. Amy Davidian said her father’s newest profession has brought “a happiness that I have never seen before.”
“He is fulfilling his calling in life,” said Davidian, the oldest of Dr. Cummings and Rebecca Godwin Cummings’ four children. “He is following his passion. The installation was a great moment and we are incredibly proud. He made us who we are today. He has been my role model my entire life.”
As for Dr. Cummings, he said his parents, the late Rev. Simeon and Maude Locklear Cummings, impacted his life the most. The installation was dedicated to their memory.
“At an early age, they instilled in me the power of faith and the power of education,” the chancellor said.
Cummings and his nine brothers and sisters were raised on a farm in the Union Chapel community, north of Pembroke.
“Because of everything my parents did for us, I thought we were rich,” he said. “We had plenty of food to eat, clean clothes to wear, a good home. But I look back on it now, and I realize we were pretty poor as the world might look at it. But we were rich in the ways that really matter.”
Throughout his speech, Dr. Cummings interjected the new mission for the university – Changing Lives Through Education. It has become a familiar phrase for Cummings during campus events, faculty and staff meetings and daily conversations.
The university has also adopted a set of values: Communication, Collaboration, Accountability, Innovation, Integrity and Service. These messages have been etched on new pole banners that wave above campus.
Cummings also praised his predecessors, many of whom were in attendance, including chancellor emeritus Dr. Joe Oxendine, Dr. Allen Meadors and Dr. Charles Jenkins. He also recognized former chancellor English Jones’ son, Randall, as well as Dr. Gregg Givens, the son of the late Dr. Paul Givens.
Cummings, who is a member of the Lumbee Tribe, is the third American Indian to serve as chancellor at UNC Pembroke. He said he was proud to continue the vision that seven American Indian men undertook in 1887.
“These seven men, with the assistance of a state legislator from nearby Red Springs, went to Raleigh and asked for the right to build a school in their community to train teachers to teach their children,” Cummings said. “True to the native wisdom that decisions should be made with the next seven generations in mind, these men knew education was important to the survival of their children and their children’s children.”
The seven men returned with $500 and built a one-room school which was named Croatan Normal School. It opened on March 7, 1887, with one teacher and 15 students.
Following the two-hour ceremony, Cummings greeted nearly 200 well-wishers during a reception at the English E. Jones Center.
Dr. Charles Humphrey, ’65, and his wife traveled from their home in New London to attend Friday’s ceremony.
“I’ve had some interactions with Dr. Cummings and they have all been extremely positive and this event was indicative of that because it was extraordinarily moving,” Humphrey said. “I am really touched by a hometown guy and someone with so much credentials coming back home … it’s just wonderful.”
The installation ceremony was a culmination of a week-long, whirlwind of events to honor Cummings and his wife, Rebecca. They both threw out the ceremonial first pitch at the Braves baseball and softball games to kick-off Installation Week. The Cummings proceeded to make appearances, host and speak at 15 signature events in five days. Some of the events included the inaugural Staff Council Awards, Graduate Studies Research Symposium, An Evening with Elvis and Chagall, Southeast American Indian Studies Conference, and the Entrepreneurship Summit, which attracted more than 1,000 people.
The morning after his installation, Cummings joined more than 250 students and community members for the Community Action Day at the Lumbee Cultural Center. Volunteers helped clean up the grounds while other groups took part in roadside cleanups on major highways leading to campus.
Later in the day, Cummings and the first lady hosted the university’s elite donors at the second annual Lifetime Giving Society event at the Entrepreneurship Incubator in downtown Pembroke.
The historic week was capped at the University Center Annex – draped with university colors - where more than 200 guests joined the Cummings’ family for the sold-out Black and Gold Celebration. The black-tie banquet featured a toast, serenade, fine dining, live music and dancing. University officials would like to give thanks for the generous support of friends and donors of the university. No state funds were used to support installation celebrations.
Dr. Gregg Givens, son of former Chancellor Paul Givens
Gregg Givens proudly donned his dad's academic regalia which has handmade by his mother, Lee, in 1954.
“The Givens family is very honored that Chancellor Cummings included us on this special day,” said Givens, a professor emeritus at ECU. “We have such fond memories in our heart for UNC Pembroke that will never go away. We love this institution.”
U.S. Rep Richard Hudson
“Under his guidance, UNC Pembroke will continue to lead the way in strengthening our economy, supporting job creation, and improving the quality of life for people all across southeastern North Carolina.”
Candace Locklear, SGA presidentat UNC Pembroke
“Dr. Cummings is a strong advocate for the students. He has a true passion for the growth and the advancement, of not only our university, but our community as well. He always keeps the students in his heart and mind when making decisions.”
Rudy Locklear, president of UNC Pembroke’s Alumni Association
“The chancellor made a promise to be supportive of this university when resources are bountiful and when they are scarce. This may seem like a recitation of marriage vows. As a North Carolina magistrate, I can tell you this … they are.”
Dr. Joseph Oxendine, UNCP Chancellor Emeritus
“This is a continuing of a great program. Sometimes programs diminish, but UNC Pembroke is getting better and better. Dr. Cummings will do a great job. I’ve known him since he was a youngster and he continues to grow. He’s going to build this university even more.”
Randall Jones, son of Dr. English Jones, UNCP Chancellor Emeritus
“It was an honor for me to represent my dad here today. It was such a great occasion to be part of the inauguration of Dr. Cummings, the third American Indian chancellor. I am extremely proud to be a part of his installation and to be part of a family who had so much influence with the university, as well.”
UNC Pembroke is a constituent institution of the University of North Carolina system. For more information, contact Joanna Warner, interim executive director of University Communications and Marketing, via email (email@example.com) or by phone (910.775.4587). Connect with UNC Pembroke online at uncp.edu or on social media to learn how the university is changing lives through education.