PEMBROKE — The University of North Carolina at Pembroke awarded diplomas to 600 graduate and undergraduate students during the 2012 Winter Commencement ceremonies Friday and Saturday.
More than 5,000 attended UNCP’s 140th commencement. The institution, founded in 1887, is in the midst of celebrating its 125th anniversary.
“Much has changed,” Chancellor Kyle R. Carter said. “But the mission of improving the quality of life through education remains the same.”
Commencement speaker David Nikkel welcomed the graduates to the next era of their lives. He encouraged them to continue to embrace the values of a liberal arts education, which he said is one that encourages lifelong inquiry.
Nikkel, a theologian and winner of the 2012 UNC Board of Governors Award for Teaching Excellence, has written three books and is a pastor at a small church in Fayetteville.
Nikkel told the graduates to be wary of “persons, institutions and movements that will discourage you from taking advantage of that education and will discourage you from continuing to grow as broadly educated citizens of the United States and the world.”
“These voices label the education of students about history, art, literature, philosophy, religion, the social sciences and the natural sciences generally as wasteful,” he said. “With digital and other technology changing the specifics of most jobs at ever-increasing speeds, most employers want workers who can think critically and flexibly and express themselves well orally and in writing.”
Nikkel told the graduates, “as broadly educated citizens, to use your influence to ensure that future students will have the education opportunity you’ve received and taken advantage of.”
In the main gym of the English E. Jones Health and Physical Education Building, degrees were granted to 492 undergraduate students from the College of Arts and Sciences and the schools of Education and Business.
Patricia Taylor, of Lumberton, earned a bachelor’s degree in English and will continue her education next semester at Asbury Theological Seminary. Taylor is a mother to a 10-year-old and is the first in her family to get a college degree.
“I am encouraging him by being a role model,” Taylor said of her son. “I never tell him what to do, but to follow me.”
From a family of 18, Tammy Locklear dropped out of high school and worked in a factory and as a hairdresser and teacher’s assistant before obtaining a bachelor’s degree in sociology.
“My children will have an easier path than I did, because they will learn from what I did,” Locklear said. “My daughter’s at East Carolina University with a full scholarship.”
Rhonda Cooper, of Lumberton, waited tables at a local seafood restaurant for eight years while taking classes.
“My little boy was my inspiration,” she said. “I am setting an example, and I hope to give him the same opportunity I had. When he goes to college, he will have the benefit of my experience — and a teacher for a mother.”
Graduate Amanda Lippard traveled from Stokes County to pick up her diploma.
“This is the first time I have ever been on campus,” Lippard said. “I took all my classes online and had great support from professors. I hope to meet them in person today.”
On Friday, the School of Graduate Studies formally “hooded” 108 students on the stage in the Givens Performing Arts Center.
Kindra Locklear, who works in the Office of the Chancellor at UNCP, said graduate students need support because most work and have families. She is expecting her second child in March.
“Graduate students are sometimes overlooked,” Locklear said. “My husband and my parents were my biggest supporters.”
Catherine Entrocaso, a high school English teacher, drove from Wilmington to attend evening classes. After crossing the stage, she wiped away a tear.
“I am married with a daughter, so it was a tough three years,” Entrocaso said. “It was worth it. I had a phenomenal experience with the professors here who encouraged me.”