U.S. Sen. John Edwards issued UNC Pembroke graduates one final assignment "to confront the bigotry and hatred we have yet to purge from this country."
The first-term senator, who launched a bid for the presidency in January, said civility and passivity are allies of hatred and racial bigotry, and that "silence implies consent."
"We turn our backs daily from small battlegrounds," Sen. Edwards said. "You -and we - have an obligation to stand against the forces of intolerance that deny opportunity to others. You - and we - have an obligation to confront hatred and state clearly that it will no longer be tolerated."
Sen. Edwards was the keynote speaker Saturday, May 10 for commencement ceremonies that saw 384 graduate, 61 with master's degrees. It was the largest Spring Commencement in the history of a rapidly growing university.
The North Carolina born and bred Edwards said the years following graduation should not be years of "blind ambition," but "blind compassion."
"How brightly you burn on this journey will not depend on what you do for yourselves," he said. "It will depend, I am certain, on what you do for others, on how you treat others, and on how you permit others to be treated in your presence."
"Where there is injustice, there is your battleground," he concluded. "Where there is misery, there is your battleground."
"I know you can, because 116 years ago, your forefathers, the founding fathers of The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, acted and made a difference," Sen. Edwards said.
Senator Edwards with UNC President Molly Broad
In a press conference before Commencement, Sen. Edwards said he is "very encouraged" about his campaign for the presidency.
The Robbins, N.C., native, who is the first member of his family to graduate from college, sidestepped foreign policy questions to focus on domestic issues - social and economic.
"We have work to do in North Carolina, particularly in some parts," Sen. Edwards said about Southeastern North Carolina. "The first thing we have to do is rebuild the economy of this country. We must energize the economy."
Sen. Edwards also proposed a "College for Everyone" program to ensure that every young American can attend college.
On a sweltering Saturday morning with a standing-room-only crowd in the Main Gym of the Jones Athletic Complex, Chancellor Allen C. Meadors bid farewell to a class that enrolled at UNCP the same year he arrived on campus.
"We share a special bond as many of you began your journeys here at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke four years ago when I became chancellor of this fine institution," Chancellor Meadors said. "During the past four years, UNC Pembroke has become the fastest growing university in North Carolina, and each of you are fully prepared for your futures as UNCP graduates."
"I challenge each of you to claim your dreams and goals as your own," he said.
UNC President Molly Broad offered praise for enrollment growth and high quality instruction at UNCP, but added a cautionary note.
"This is a university on the rise with an outstanding faculty and a growing commitment to the region," President Broad said. "In the face of remarkable growth, we face unrelenting rounds of budget cuts that now place the birthright of every North Carolinian in jeopardy. That birthright is to obtain a high quality, affordable education."
President Broad called upon legislators and the people of North Carolina to find the courage to make the right choices for the future of the state.
Dr. Ruth Dial Woods of Pembroke brought greetings from the UNC Board of Governors, Henry Lewis from the UNCP Board of Trustees, Dr. Thomas Dooling from the faculty, Hal Sargent II from the Alumni Association and Koji Sado from the Student Government Association.
Four outgoing UNCP Trustees were recognized by Chancellor Meadors: Roger Oxendine of Rowland, Dr. Cheryl Locklear of Pembroke, McDuffie Cummings of Pembroke and Lewis, who is from