The past and future came together Saturday during Commencement 2010 for 613 graduates of The University of North Carolina at Pembroke.
It was an historic day celebrating the largest graduating class in school history. It was a day to chart plans for the future for the graduates, the University and the 17-member University of North Carolina system.
During the ceremony, UNC President Erskine Bowles received an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters. In six months, he will leave UNC for a presidential appointment to co-chair the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform.
UNCP is a “special university, a real gem,” he said. In his final days with the UNC system, Bowles pledged to fight for public higher education in North Carolina through challenging financial times.
“I promise you that I am going to do everything I can to get the resources we need to continue to provide quality education at this University,” Bowles said.
President Bowles thanked Dr. Charles Jenkins, who led the University as its interim chancellor this academic year. Dr. Jenkins also acknowledged leaving a University at a crossroads.
James W. Oxendine
“Over the next few weeks, there will be much discussion regarding budgetary matters ... there will be tough decisions,” Chancellor Jenkins said. “I hope that everyone at this Commencement today recognizes the value of this institution and the UNC system in the educational and economic development of our region and state.”
If North Carolina and UNCP’s graduates “continue making daily choices aimed at achieving our goals … (we) will revel in the joy of lives lived wisely,” he said.
Commencement speaker Judge James W. Oxendine has lived an exemplary life. From Fairmont, N.C., he became the first Lumbee Indian to graduate from law school and the first American Indian admitted to the Georgia Bar and to argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court.
“I hope you will not forget where you came from,” Judge Oxendine advised. “It’s great to be from North Carolina and great to be from Robeson County.”
The retired Superior Court judge said times may be challenging, but “don’t let anyone tell you that you cannot succeed.
“Remember that the difference between mediocre and good is not much,” Judge Oxendine continued. “I realized if I worked harder and did better, I would excel. You can do the same.”
UNCP’s graduates were focused on the future. Their plans were as diverse as the student body itself.
Three generations of Traci Johnson’s family were on hand to watch her receive a Master of Arts in Education. Like Judge Oxendine, she is from Fairmont, and she was a first generation college graduate.
“None of it was easy,” said the first grade teacher. “If I had it to do again, I wouldn’t change anything.”
Johnson said she plans to earn National Board Certification as the next step in her education.
Husband and wife, Nadine and Elliot Samuel were all smiles as they graduated together. Two of their four children attended.
“We plan to get a master’s degree in public administration at UNCP,” Nadine Samuel said. “We love it here; that’s why we are continuing here.”
Nadine and Elliot Samuel
The question of who was the better student brought laughs. Elliot graduated Summa Cum Laude and Nadine, Magna Cum Laude.
“It was crazy,” Nadine said. “We pushed each other, especially in the classes we took together.”
“I would say we excelled in our own special areas,” Elliot said.
Jordan Reisman’s education included four colleges, but he knew where he would be Saturday afternoon as a quarterback for Fayetteville’s professional indoor football team.
“It’s been fun, and I started one game and threw four touchdown passes,” said Reisman, who is from Lumberton, N.C.
With a degree in exercise and sports science, Reisman has longer term plans that include graduate school.
Ava Walker’s grandchild was in the audience Saturday. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in mass communication.
“How did I do this?” Walker laughed. “Prayer and no home cooking. But we survived.”
The new graduate hopes to turn an internship at a local radio station into a full-time “on-air” job.
Tiffany Lee, a psychology major who worked throughout college, has an ambitious plan.
“I am moving to Atlanta to start an organization for young women called Opened Cocoon,” Lee said. “I plan to get a graduate degree in counseling and a Ph.D. in divinity with a concentration in counseling.”
Approximately, 5,000 attended the ceremony held on Lumbee Guaranty Field in the Grace P. Johnson Stadium.
Dr. Beth Maisonpierre, a 25-year member of the Music Department faculty, was grand marshal. During the ceremony, she received the UNC Board of Governors Award for Teaching Excellence from Dr. Cheryl Marvileane Locklear, a member of the UNC Board of Governors and a UNC Pembroke graduate.