Brief History of Commencement


During the early years of the institution, Commencement spanned four or more days and was a huge campus and community event. The celebration typically included a baccalaureate ceremony; declamation, recitation and oratorical contests led by student literary societies; award presentations; a baseball game; student drama productions; and separate graduation ceremonies for the high school and normal/college graduates.

Pictured at the top of the page is the Class of 1940 - the first recipients of four-year baccalaureate degrees. From left are Conrad Oxendine, Joseph Sampson, Eteska Locklear Hunt, Dorsey Lowry and Charles W. Maynor. Not pictured is Inez Hunt Bell.



1962 Commencement - Old Main's Memorial Auditorium 

The May 1922 Commencement attracted more than 2,500 attendees. According to the May 22, 1922 edition of the Robesonian newspaper, “Considering the crowd and large number of automobiles, it was predicted that there would be more or less collisions or mishaps among the autoists, but nothing happened. It is true, however, that two buggies, each being pulled by a fine mule, became entangled on the campus. The result was a new wheel for the unlucky one.”


1960 Commencement - Reception in front of Old Main

Notable events in the history of Commencement at UNC Pembroke

  • 1905: Rev. D.F. Lowry, the school’s first graduate, completed a “scientific course.” He is the namesake of the D. F. Lowry Building.
  • 1909: The last Commencement exercises took place at the original campus at Pates.
  • 1912: John A.B. Lowry, the first high school graduate and second graduate from institution
  • 1914: Winnie Lee Bell Jenkins and Ruth Sampson Locklear received high school diplomas; they were the first females and third and fourth graduates from the school.
  • 1923: Commencement took place in Old Main for first time.
  • 1928: The first two-year “normal” (teaching) class graduated with ten students.
  • 1935: The first two-year junior college class graduated with four students.
  • 1938: The first three-year normal and college class graduated with twelve students.
  • 1940: The first four-year baccalaureate degrees were awarded to six students: Inez Hunt Bell, Eteska Locklear Hunt, Dorsey Lowry, Charles W. Maynor, Conrad Oxendine and Joseph Sampson. Maynor is recognized as the first four-year graduate because he finished his degree requirements one semester early.
  • 1944: First Bachelor of Science degrees awarded.
  • 1954:
    • Reba M. Lowry wrote the lyrics of “Hail to PSC,” the university’s alma mater, to a melody written by her husband Ira Pate Lowry '29; both were faculty members in the Foreign Languages and Music departments, respectively; the song was renamed "Hail to UNCP" to reflect the university’s name change in 1996. Lowry Bell Tower is named in their honor.
    • The first white graduate, Rev. Christian White
  • 1966-71: Summer Commencement held
  • 1969: The first African American graduate, Sylvia Baugham Banks
  • 1979: The first graduate degree, a Master of Arts in Education, was awarded to fifty-seven students.
  • 1981: The university awarded its first honorary doctorate to Dr. English E. Jones, a former chancellor.
  • 1987: Graduates wore gold tassels to commemorate the school’s Centennial celebration.
  • 1999: The first Winter Commencement took place; the UNC Board of Governors Excellence in Teaching Award recipient has since served as the Winter Commencement keynote speaker.
  • 2004: Three Chinese students received Master of Public Administration degrees after completing UNC Pembroke's first international degree program.
  • 2011: In May, a separate Commencement exercise was established for the School of Graduate Studies; Commencement returned to the Quad next to historic Old Main.
  • 2012: In May, the tassel color was permanently changed to gold as part of 125th anniversary celebration. Graduates also wore special zipper pulls during the spring and winter ceremonies to commemorate their graduation in the school’s 125th year.
  • 2013: In May, graduates wore commemorative 125th anniversary zipper pulls. Commencement marked the conclusion of the university's 125th anniversary celebration.
  • 2014: The May ceremony marked the 149th Commencement.