PEMBROKE — Award-winning author Josephine Humphreys urged new students at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke to embrace diversity.
Humphreys was the keynote speaker for the First-Year Student Convocation on Sept. 27. She is the author of “Nowhere Else on Earth,” a novel assigned to all first-year UNCP students as part of the Common Reading Experience book for the 2016-2017 academic year.
The historical novel recreates the lives of Rhoda Strong and her love interest, Henry Berry Lowrie, who is widely regarded as a folk hero among the Lumbee community. It is set during the Civil War.
“One of the things I hope you take away from my book is that we are all alike,” Humphreys said. “While we may all have a distinctive culture, personality and custom, we are not that different from other places on Earth.”
A Charleston, S.C., native, Humphreys first learned about the Lumbee during a train ride in 1962. She sparked a conversation with a teenage Lumbee girl who was on her honeymoon. The girl shared the story of Rhoda Strong.
Nearly 40 years passed before Humphreys would write the book. She spent 10 years researching the history of Robeson County and the Lumbee before it was published in 2001. Her book won the Southern Book Award that same year.
More than 900 first-year students attended convocation in the Givens Performing Arts Center. Convocation marks the official opening of the academic year.
Humphreys, who served as UNCP’s spring commencement speaker in 2001, is also the author of three other novels. “Rich in Love,” probably her best-known novel, was made into a 1993 film of the same title.
She received her education at Ashley Hall and also studied creative writing with American poet Reynolds Price at Duke University. Humphreys also holds degrees from Yale University and the University of Texas.
She held fellowships from the Woodrow Wilson Foundation and the Danforth Foundation and taught English in Charleston.
Chancellor Robin Gary Cummings assured the Class of 2020 that they have the full support of the faculty and staff during their academic career at UNCP.
“Your success is our top priority,” Cummings said. “If you succeed then we are successful in what we dedicate our lives to, which is changing lives through education.”
“Our dedicated faculty and staff will provide challenging experiences to help you grow intellectually and to prepare your for success once you graduate,” he said.
The chancellor encouraged the new students to take advantage of a wide range of opportunities on campus, including undergraduate research, service-learning, internships, study abroad and student life.
“These experiences will complement what you learn in the classroom and will make your time at UNCP much richer.”
Cummings told the students about a recent visit from UNCP alumnus Jerry Lanier, who after graduating in 1974, worked his way up the ranks at the State Department.
Lanier served as U.S. Ambassador to Sudan and Uganda. Most recently, he was appointed to lead the State Department’s Counterterrorism Bureau.
“You too, can start here and go anywhere,” Cummings said.
Robert Canida, staff council chair, offered his top 20 ways for first-year students to be successful.
Among those were to be engaged; don’t be afraid to seek help; learn the name of the person mowing the campus lawn; appreciate the rich diversity and heritage of the university and the community; and surround yourself with good people.
Also offering greetings were Sara Simmons, faculty senate chair, Logan John, Student Body president and Scott Billingsley, acting provost.
Also during convocation, Bethany Wendler was presented with the 2016 First-Year Advocate Award. Wendler serves as associate director of Student Involvement and Leadership.
Mark Locklear is a Public Relations specialist at UNCP.