During two ceremonies on Friday evening and Saturday morning, UNC Pembroke conferred degrees on 533 graduates.
Winter Commencement saw 61 students graduated with master’s degrees on Friday in the Givens Performing Arts Center. On a blustery Saturday morning, 453 students received bachelor’s degrees in the Main Gym of the English E. Jones Health and Physical Education Center.
While giving his customary advice to graduates, Chancellor Kyle R. Carter thanked the graduates for inspiring him. “What makes it so great,” he said, “is the people here at this university, each with their own unique story.”
Commencement speaker and Grand Marshal Dr. Tim Ritter also turned the tables, walking into the throng of graduates and asking them to speak at their own commencement. The offer was met with cheers.
“Oh my gosh!” the first student said. “What I’ve learned ... in my six years here ... is that you have to do your work.”
Another student thanked faculty members, Drs. Len Holmes and Ben Bahr, for his internship in their science labs. And another student said her most meaningful educational experience happened far from Pembroke while studying abroad in Spain.
The graduate students also weighed in: “My memories are about the great faculty here. I know they often wondered why we didn’t learn enough in high school. I’ve become a high school teacher to make sure you don’t say that about my students.”
“My bachelor’s degree at UNCP taught me to teach, and my master’s degree taught me to be a leader in my school and my profession,” said another student, who earned both degrees in six years.
Dr. Ritter brings an outstanding reputation as a teacher to the lectern. He was the recipient of the 2013 UNC Board of Governors Award for Teaching Excellence. A 17-year veteran physics teacher and director of the Undergraduate Research and Creativity Center, Dr. Ritter is well traveled. As a commander in the Navy Reserves, he was deployed twice after 9/11.
Dr. Ritter said he was challenged to give memorable advice to the graduates. So, he gave them advice from Dr. Seuss, reading from “Oh the Places You’ll Go.” He earned a standing ovation when he finished.
PLACES THEY’VE BEEN
As one of the nation’s most diverse schools, UNCP’s students have, as Chancellor Carter noted, incredible stories to tell. Many of them will go far to follow their dreams and many have already traveled far to arrive at this day.
From Hamlet, N.C., Crystal and Ronnie Long graduated together Saturday. One of 21 graduating veterans, Ronnie was deployed twice to the Middle East while earning a degree in criminal justice.
“We met in junior high, and we’ve done everything together,” said Crystal, who graduated with honors and recently started a job teaching second grade. “My wish,” Ronnie said, “is to share this Christmas with family.”
Business major Luke Rotramel got off work in Greensboro, N.C., at 5:30 a.m. Saturday morning to attend commencement. He is well traveled.
“Last summer, I smuggled Bibles into China - 604 of them,” said Rotramel, who also visited Burmese refugee camps in Thailand. “My wish for the future is to balance mission work with my job.”
James Ellison hopes his talent for musical theatre will take him all the way to Broadway. He has acquired other skills that will help pave the way.
“I was in my first play in the fourth grade, and I joined the volunteer fire department in the seventh grade,” Ellison said. “I will go to the fire academy, and, hopefully, land a some acting roles.”
Graduating Magna Cum Laude Saturday, Elka Groothuis traveled far to attend UNCP. A soccer player from the Netherlands, she will remain at UNCP to join the master’s program in sports administration.
Some students, like Marajo Kellihan and Jacob Glenn, stayed closer to home. As a school founded in 1887 to train homegrown school teachers, the pair, who earned Master of Arts in Teaching degrees Friday, exemplify UNCP’s mission. Kellihan grew up in Bladenboro, N.C., and Glenn in Laurinburg, N.C., and both are teaching science at their former high schools.
1st Lt. Dawu Bowman, who was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan four times, studied at several universities over seven years to earn a degree in criminal justice from UNCP.
Effie Locklear, who works in the Political Science Department at UNCP, took 10 years to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree in American Indian Studies. At first, she said graduation was not even a goal.
“I just wanted to learn, and after my first class in American Indian Studies with Dr. Linda Oxendine, I was hooked,” Locklear said. “It gave me something exciting to look forward to every day.”
“With brains in their heads and feet in their shoes,” UNCP’s diverse graduates paused to celebrate before commencing their next journey.