Founders' Day: UNC Pembroke celebrates 137 years of academic excellence

Founders Day
Catherine Locklear (left) Dorothy Blue, Rosa Dial Woods, Bernice Brooks Lowry, Sally Locklear, Earline Locklear, Tim Brayboy and Chancellor Robin Gary Cummings

Tim Brayboy was beaming with pride as his eyes fixed on a giant banner prominently hanging from historic Old Main on the campus of UNC Pembroke.


The banner displays the names of the institution’s founders––Isaac Brayboy, James E. Dial Sr., Preston Locklear, Rev. W.L. Moore, James “Big Jim” Oxendine, John J. Oxendine and Olin Oxendine.


“This university means so much to my family and me,” said Brayboy, a 1964 graduate and descendant of Isaac Brayboy and Preston Locklear. “I come from a large farming family, but we were encouraged by our parents to get an education to seek a better life away from the farm.”


After earning a degree in 1964, Brayboy enjoyed a distinguished career with the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.


“By graduating from here and getting into the workforce, my education prepared me to be successful in life,” he said.


Opportunity and an intense pride resonated with many who spoke at Thursday's UNCP Founders’ Day event. Several of the university’s oldest living alumni were recognized during the ceremony, including 96-year-old Catherine Locklear, Rosa Dial Woods, Dorothy Blue, Sally Locklear, Bernice Brooks Lowry and Earline Locklear.


Several family members of former Chancellor Joseph Oxendine were also in attendance, including his wife, Adrienne. 


Established as Croatan Normal School on March 7, 1887, to train Lumbee people to be teachers, UNCP is the third oldest public university in North Carolina. The school opened with 15 students and one teacher. Today, enrollment has soared to nearly 7,700 and, over time, shifted the trajectory of higher education in southeastern North Carolina.


From humble beginnings as an institution with the sole purpose of training Lumbee people to be teachers to grow into a regional, comprehensive university that now offers bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral programs––we achieved that over 137 years, which is something to be proud of,” said Dr. Lawrence Locklear, university historian and director of Student Inclusion and Diversity.


“It’s always important to remember our past––where we came from and what it took to get where we are today,” said Locklear, a descendant of Isaac Brayboy.


During the ceremony, a panel of students, alumni and community members reflected on the founders, their legacy and the impact of UNCP on the Lumbee Tribe and southeastern North Carolina.


Jacob Oxendine, a fourth-generation pre-med student, didn’t consider any other university when deciding where to continue his studies.


“It makes me proud to continue the family legacy and to charge on and continue their legacy,” Oxendine said.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, UNCP is also home to a large population of first-generation students like Magally Ortiz-Rojas, a daughter of Mexican immigrants. Ortiz-Rojas has thrived during her time at UNCP. She serves as student body vice president and plans to pursue a career as an immigration law advocate. 

“I often wonder if our seven founders envisioned the incredible potential of the school they worked so hard to establish,” said Chancellor Robin Gary Cummings. 

“If they knew it would one day go from a small building with 15 students and one teacher to a university now serving nearly 7,700 students and granting master’s degrees and soon doctoral degrees …. They saw the power, the potential and the pathway of education

“Founders’ Day is about bringing our community together— to remember our story, our history and to look to the future and the promise our university represents. Many changes have occurred, but the one constant is our commitment to providing access to education and education that changes lives.”