In his welcoming remarks at Spring Commencement on May 3, Student Government Association President Barry Burch Jr. summed up the moment for 475 graduates of The University of North Carolina at Pembroke.
View webcast of commencement (requires Real Player)
Commencement Speaker Scott Turow
“We all took diverse routes to get here and we will all go different ways, but commencement is the one moment we all come together,” the student leader said.
On cue, commencement speaker Scott Turow, who is an attorney and author of seven best-selling novels, advised the graduates to reject the famous words of poet Robert Frost, that there is “one road or the other.”
As a youthful idealist of the 1960s, Turow set out to become a great novelist but went to law school instead.
“It turned out to be the best decision I ever made,” he said. “Going to law school gave me what I needed to become an author; the law gave me a subject about which I am passionate.”
Looking back, Turow said he “met more great human beings in the law than I would have any where else.” Two roads separated and came together for the lawyer turned writer.
“I regard my life as a charmed one, and I cannot give anybody guidance on being as lucky as I have been,” Turow continued. “I recognize how large a factor chance has played in my own success.”
Despite the fact that “fortune cannot be tamed,” he said “remember who you are today; write your stories; and be loyal to yourselves.”
“Values matter,” Turow said. “If there is such a thing as happiness in this life, then one of its measures seems to be being able to tell yourself that you tried hard to do what mattered to you; that you refused to lay down before the remarkably random forces that govern our lives; and instead, controlled what you could, which is your own beliefs and the meaning they provide to your own actions.”
ROADS TO GRADUATION
Looking over a sea of graduates of one of America’s most diverse universities, the black regalia was the same, but the people were not. Two outstanding graduates offered their stories.
Graduates Bryan Howington and Emily Howden
A double major in English and biology, Emily Howden attended three colleges in three states on her way to this graduation day.
“I loved all three colleges,” Howden said. “They were all different, all good.”
Along the way, Howden conducted research on Lowland Gorillas, atmospheric carbon dioxide and co-authored a book with her father which was published in 2007.
Titled “Silent Wounds: The Hidden Cost of War,” the book addresses war and its human costs. It is about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or as Howden calls it “post-traumatic soul disorder.”
“The book is about healing of the soul that can be a life-saving event,” she said.
Howden’s family attended commencement, but her husband had an engagement in Iraq. Next week, she will move on to Raleigh where she will attend NC State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.
Biology major and Pembroke native Bryan Howington stood directly behind Howden to receive his diploma, although the two had never met. Early in his college career, he stood at a crossroads, and he believes he took the right road.
“I went to another college to play football and came home,” Howington said. “Coming here was the best decision I ever made.”
Graduate Marvin Jacobs
Howington, who was tempted several times to join UNCP’s new football team, concentrated on his studies, excelled and earned a full scholarship to East Carolina University’s Brody School of Medicine.
Chancellor Allen C. Meadors, who presided over his 9th spring commencement at UNCP, gave this charge to the graduates: “During your years here at UNCP, we have often spoken to you about leadership. We want each of you to take your place as leaders in your community; in your profession; and in society.
“You do not have to be born with characteristics or traits of a leader,” Chancellor Meadors said. “You do not have to wait for a tap on the shoulder; you do not have to be at the top of the organizational chart; you can step up and lead at any point in your life.”
Offering greetings to the graduates were Dr. Cheryl Locklear, a former UNCP trustee and current member of the UNC Board of Governors; Dr. Breeden Blackwell, chair of the UNCP Board of Trustees; Dr. David Zeigler, chair of the Faculty Senate; and Jason Bentzler ’96, president of the Alumni Association.
Dr. Mark Canada, English professor and winner of the 2008 UNC Board of Governors Teaching Excellence Award, was grand marshal. Later in the day, Dr. Canada was host of UNCP Conversations for an interview of Turow on UNCP’s WNCP-TV.
Turow is a practicing attorney in Chicago, Ill., and author of seven top-selling legal mystery novels, including “Presumed Innocent” (1987), “The Burden of Proof” (1990), “Reversible Errors” (2002) and his most recent book “Ultimate Punishment” (2005). He discussed his life and both of his professions.
After attending Stanford University’s creative writing program and teaching, Turow said he found that he was a failed writer with little passion for teaching.
“I’ve enjoyed being a lawyer; it’s almost a superstition,” he said. “I’ve been a part-time lawyer since 1989.”
Asked about his practice of turning out a novel every three years, Turow said “it just works out that way.”
“I don’t really know where I am on this schedule,” he continued. “The three-year schedule reflects a year to gestate, a year to write and a year to promote.”
Recently, Turow participated on a high-profile Illinois commission investigating the death penalty. That work led to several non-fiction pieces that appeared in publications like The New York Times and The New Yorker. His latest book, “Ultimate Punishment,” is also on the death penalty.
“Being on the commission gave me a lot of stuff that I did not feel was appropriate to say in the novel,” Turow said. “The two years I spent on the capital punishment commission, gave me insight.
“My own view of the death penalty is that the legal system will never give the American public what it wants, which is the swift sure moral clarion call; it’s just a mess,” he said. “I think that capital punishment will not last out this century.”
Sounding like the story line to the next Turow thriller, the writer predicted that powerful “chemical alternatives” will replace the death penalty.
In his commencement address, Dr. Canada noted a strong defense of the legal profession. Turow said there are good reasons to criticize attorneys, but they are “an instrument to democracy.”
“Everybody hates lawyers, except their own,” he said. “Attorneys facilitate the pursuit of justice in this country, and they are needed.”
The conversation turned to Hollywood versions of four of his books: “I was under no illusion that a novelist is important to making the movie.”
On good friend and fellow genre writer John Grisham, Turow said “we’re different writers. I would love it if my books were as popular as John’s. He’s a wonderful human being, and I’ve enjoyed my friendship with him.”
On his writing habits, Turow said “I write in an atmosphere of almost complete chaos. I write, write, write, in no particular order. In about a year, I put things in order. For me it’s a messy process.”
On advice to aspiring writers, Turow said “just do it. You have to log a lot of pages.”