HAMLET – A record number of graduates walked across the stage at area schools of higher learning.
Dr. Dale McInnis, Richmond Community College president, described the events as the pinnacle of an academic year. RCC held two ceremonies Saturday to accommodate the many graduates and their family and friends. The University of North Carolina at Pembroke also held recent graduation exercises.
“Today is the day we cherish and look forward to with great anticipation all year long,” McInnis said. “Today we’re celebrating the largest graduating class in the 53-year history of this great college with 409 degrees and diplomas being awarded. This does not happen without great effort, tenacity and drive on part of everyone involved.”
McInnis recognized the RichmondCC Board of Trustees, faculty and staff, as well as the many family and friends who supported a student through college.
One RCC graduate was invited to speak before her fellow classmates. President of the Student Government Association and a graduate of the Criminal Justice program, Mary Lampley spoke about her battle with addiction and how going to college for her was a second chance at life. On Saturday, she was earning an Associate in Arts, her second degree from RichmondCC.
“RichmondCC has not only given me a second chance, but it has restored everything that my addiction had deprived me of, such as my courage, my self worth, my dignity, my intelligence, my common sense and most importantly my family and friendships,” Lampley said.
From a scared first-year student who was unsure of how to even begin this educational journey, Lampley quickly involved herself in campus life. She became the student activities coordinator for
SGA and started working as a student worker in the Financial Aid office. That same year, she became president of the Criminal Justice Club. A year later, she became SGA president.
Lampley had these inspiring words to offer as she and the rest of the graduates prepared for the next phase of their lives.
“Don’t stop here. Continue your education and go as far as your desires and dreams will take you. Don’t allow past adversities to hinder or define you; instead use them as fuel to drive you toward your dreams and ambitions,” Lampley said. “And finally my message to all people is don’t use drugs. Thanks and congratulations to the Class of 2017. This is only the beginning.”
Also offering departing words of wisdom to the Class of 2017 were two faculty members. In the morning ceremony, Faculty Association President and mathematics instructor Ian Allred told about his not-so-glorious journey as a college student at RichmondCC.
“Academically, I did not have a great first year of college. I dropped several classes and spent a lot of time in the parking lot,” Allred said.
However, Allred had several instructors at RichmondCC who looked beyond his flaws and believed in his potential. Because of their confidence and subtle guidance, Allred went on to earn a bachelor’s degree and become a full-time instructor himself at RichmondCC.
“Your future is pretty wide open, whether you are a little lost right now or you have a plan,” Allred said. “Either way, I look forward to seeing some of you again down the road where I can measure my success by your success when all the flaws have blurred into the background.”
Speaking at the afternoon graduation ceremony was 2016-17 Faculty of the Year award winner, Kim Parsons, who is also the Business and Technologies Department chair.
Parsons also talked about her educational journey, which began when she was 28 years old. She had worked many jobs but was never really happy. What she really wanted to do was teach business.
“As I have told those of you in my classrooms, going to school was the hardest job I have ever had. You do not get paid, you have tons of homework, tests, and no social life,” Parsons said.
However, in order to have the career she wanted, Parsons had to earn a bachelor’s and then a master’s degree.
“Degrees are not given, but earned by all of us. We all have stories to tell, but we made it and it is a wonderful feeling. A degree is something no one can take from us,” she said. “The road that lies ahead of you will not always be easy. Nothing worthwhile in our lives is easy, but it is worth working toward. You already know this because you are graduating today. Keep pushing yourselves to achieve your dreams!”
More than 7,000 people filled the Quad on the south lawn of campus of UNCP recently to cheer on their loved ones.
Keynote speaker Judge James E. Lockemy, a 1971 graduate of UNCP, urged the graduates to seek a career that represents their passion, not just the need for a job.
“As you go forth, go forth with passion,” Lockemy said. “Whatever you choose to do, keep passion in your life. It does not matter what profession you choose or what road you take, passion is the important ingredient in happiness and a productive life.”
“If you are fortunate enough to be paid to do what you are passionate about, well that is wonderful. If you are not, you have duties to meet and your profession provides the means to do so. Then do your duty, but do not forget your passion. Keep the flame burning. Engage in your passion as you do your duty. Know what you ache for and don’t forget your dreams.”
Lockemy is the chief judge of the South Carolina Court of Appeals. The Dillon, S.C. native served 18 years as a Circuit Court judge before he was elected to the Court of Appeals in 2008. He served two terms in the South Carolina House of Representatives and retired as a full colonel with the S.C. Army National Guard.
“As you now approach your career and challenges, do not forget that the piece of paper that you received today is just that – a piece of paper,” he said. “It represents what you achieved, but it is not the achievement. You have made the achievement and it lives within you.”
During the ceremony, long time physician Dr. Martin Brooks was given an honorary Doctor of Laws degree. Brooks opened the first medical practice in Pembroke in 1958.
Chancellor Robin Gary Cummings asked the graduates think back to their first day at UNCP. For most, it was an extremely hot day in August of 2013. Recalling that day, he asked they each think about the ways they have changed.
“Every class you’ve had taken, every club you’ve participated in, every service project, every concert, every research poster or paper, every relationship you’ve made has changed your life in subtle ways that result in a profound transformation in the way you see yourself and see the world, whether you realize it now or not.” Cummings said.
More than half of the graduates are from southeastern North Carolina. Cummings said he hopes many will choose to remain in the region and serve their communities in fields like teaching, nursing, business, social work and public administration.
Diona Covington of Rockingham was among the 155 graduate students who crossed the stage at the Givens Performing Arts Center during the Graduate School ceremony on Friday. Hours earlier, Covington received a phone call.
“I was offered a job as a licensed clinical social worker,” she said with a smile.
Wylie Bell with Richmond Community College and Mark Locklear with The University of North Carolina at Pembroke contributed to this article.