While the weather outside was frightful, spirits inside UNC Pembroke’s Main Gym in the English Jones Athletic Center were high.
Graduates at the December 11 Winter Commencement – approximately 577 – are optimistic about their futures. They came from many different places and headed off for even more destinations.
In welcoming remarks, Hannah Gage, chair of the UNC Board of Governors, asked first generation graduates to stand. UNCP prides itself on being a university of opportunity, and in fact, about one third of the graduates stood up, demonstrating they had already come a long way.
UNCP also takes pride as a teaching institution, and the graduates received their last instruction from speaker Dr. Elizabeth Maisonpierre.
Dr. Maisonpierre, the 2010 recipient of the UNC Board of Governors Award for Teaching Excellence, challenged the graduates to pay attention to their listening skills.
The piano instructor administered one last test. In a first for UNCP commencements, Dr. Maisonpierre played the piano, explaining, “it takes practice to be a good music listener.”
She played a soaring four-minute piece titled “The Resplendent Quetzal.” Listening is a critically important life skill for more than music, Dr. Maisonpierre advised.
“The ability to be a good listener will be important to your future,” she said. “Listening is the top skill for success in business.”
Another kind of listening may be even more important, Dr. Maisonpierre said.
“The day will come when a friend needs you to listen,” she said. “True listening is more powerful than speaking.
“Listening is really an art, and it is also a choice,” she continued. “It is a real gift to your friends.
“It also takes practice,” Dr. Maisonpierre said, just like learning to play the piano well.
Chancellor Kyle R. Carter, who presided over his first commencement at UNCP, offered some fatherly advice to the graduates.
“I love commencement,” Chancellor Carter said. “It is a wonderful day of beginnings and the fulfillment of dreams.”
With two grown children and a new grandchild, Dr. Carter was speaking from experience.
“Do the right thing even when nobody is watching,” the chancellor advised. “Ethical people practice it even when others are not watching.”
Dr. Carter also advised graduates to “find the one thing.”
“That one thing is for you to find out,” he said. “It’s in your own hands.”
THE GRADUATES SPEAK
In conversations with the graduates, they confidently answered the age-old question: “what are you going to do with your degree?”
Kion Scott graduated with a degree in broadcasting and a certificate in entrepreneurship.
“I’m working with UNC-TV right now, and I want to start my own production company,” Scott said.
A UNCP employee, Jamie Hall also earned a degree in mass communication, concentrating in public relations. She served as a public relations intern at the recent World Equestrian Games, and her goal is as lofty as any.
“My husband and I breed Rocky Mountain Horses on our farm,” Hall said. “My goal is to ride in the next world championship.”
Carlos Townsend majored in computer science and is aiming high also.
“I am working right now and applying for a job with the NSA (National Security Agency),” Townsend said.
Do history majors have a future? Yes, they answered in unison.
Benjamin Cooper is already teaching civics at Pine Forrest High School in Cumberland County. Elizabeth Ewing-Moore is going to law school, and Sabrina Godwin is entering a Master of Library Science program with a goal to “get a job in research.”
Music major Kelsey Cummings said the question most people ask her is “what took so long?”
“It just took four and a half years,” Cummings said. “I plan to teach music.”
For Jan Hester Maynor, a cum laude graduate and political science major, the degree was the goal. A long-time employee of the Lumber River Council of Governments, she did not have an answer to “what took so long,” but she enjoyed the ride.
“I started to school here in 1973,” Maynor said. “This time around, it was a wonderful experience being in class with young people.”
Maynor said attending graduation was important to her, and members of her family traveled from as far away as Baltimore, Md.
Attending commencement was also important to Elisha Lawson. He traveled from Germany, where his parents live.
“I finished last summer, and I’m working in Germany,” said Lawson, who majored in theatre. “I’m going to New York to get a master’s degree in acting.”
Hannah Simpson, who earned a degree in political science and was a member of the Esther G. Maynor Honors College, was well traveled as an undergraduate. She listed England, Italy, France, Ireland, Germany, Hungary, Morocco and Mongolia.
“Yes, I had an opportunity to travel a lot,” said Simpson, who also served a year as president of the Student Government Association. “I’m going to work a year and go to graduate school to study economic development.”
On the graduate student side, Richard Dannie Evans and Steve Tyson, who both earned master’s degrees in physical education, were engaged in a lengthy conversation.
“I really enjoyed this,” Tyson said of his accomplishment. “It’s like our professor Danny Davis told us: ‘a journey of a million miles begins with the first step.’”
Tyson echoed Chancellor Carter’s advice: “It’s important to find the thing you really like to do.”
Evans, who is a 1976 UNCP graduate, agreed.
“If I’m driving down a road and see a ball game, I pull over,” Evans said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a peewee league game.”
Tyson summed it up for the graduates.
“I earned my master’s degree because it opens up a lot of opportunities,” he said. “There are a lot of opportunities out there.”