UNCP spotlights its American Indian graduate candidates

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Denise Salvetti
Alumnus Donna Chavis, left, UNCP senior Denise Salvetti, Chancellor Robin Gary Cummings

In a ceremony this week, UNC Pembroke honored its American Indian students who are degree candidates for 2018 Winter Commencement.

UNCP was rooted in providing access to education to American Indians, which made the event special to the students, parents and faculty in attendance.

Students were given traditional Native gifts, along with a custom lapel pin inscribed ‘UNC Pembroke Indigenous Scholar’ to display on their stole. Chancellor Robin Gary Cummings, who was joined by First Lady Rebecca, presented each student with a certificate.

The keynote speaker at the American Indian Academic Achievement Ceremony was Donna Chavis, a 1971 UNCP graduate, and co-founder of the Center for Community Action, a Robeson County-based social justice organization.

“I think it is great that we receive special recognition,” said senior Denise Salvetti, a member of the Lumbee Tribe. “It gives you a sense of belonging and motivation.”

Salvetti will earn a biology degree with a focus on sustainable agriculture. The Wagram native plans to apply to the Master of Public Administration program.

Kristian Bullard of Pembroke, found time to sneak away from her week-old newborn, Bristol, to attend the ceremony. She will be graduating with a degree in criminal justice. She, too, plans to continue her UNCP journey in the MPA program. A journey that began in 2008.

"I stopped taking classes in 2012 and returned last August,” Bullard said. “It was a tough decision to return because I was working full-time, but I was determined to finish my degree. I couldn’t have done it without the help from my advisors with the Center for Student Success.

“It’s been an awesome experience.”

Chancellor Cummings spoke about the proud history of the university which was founded by seven American Indian men in 1887.

Today, UNCP is the only four-year, accredited institution in the country established by American Indians for American Indians.

Cummings highlighted several prominent American Indian leaders who blazed trails in education, medicine, law and other professionals after earning a UNCP degree.

“We are a university that is focused on the future, but at the same time, we honor our past,” Cummings said. “You are part of this proud tradition.

“You are part of a community that wants nothing more than to see you succeed.  Take great pride in this university. Take pride in the fact you walked these grounds. Know that your future is brighter because others believed in you and your success.”

The event was organized by the Center for Students Success and the Southeast American Indian Studies Program.