PEMBROKE — With the possibility of a record number of freshmen – estimated at 1,240 – arriving on campus on Aug. 17, UNC Pembroke’s staff and volunteers were ready to make it a smooth first day.
“It was great, very efficient,” said Harod Denby, who with wife, LaPonda, moved in their daughter, Andrea. “Everything went great, even a trip to financial aid. We had made a mistake, but they fixed it right up, no waiting.”
Why UNC Pembroke for the family who traveled from Raleigh?
“We like the diversity of the students,” Denby said, while watching the entire freshman class stream by as students assembled on the quad for their class photo.
There were some bittersweet moments too.
“My daddy’s going to miss me when I’m gone,” said Neshia Johnson from Fayetteville, who was saying goodbye to her father Antonio. “Be strong, Daddy. Call me anytime.”
More than 100 student-athletes, Greeks and volunteers pitched in to help. With refrigerators and all the clothes and accessories that modern students require, the move-in crews managed to move students in with just one massive trip into the residence halls.
One of the volunteers was none other than Chancellor Robin Cummings, who was touring the move-in early Monday morning. Assuming office in July, it was his first move-in at UNCP.
A total of 2,130 students moved into on-campus housing. Preston Swinney, director of Housing and Residence Life, said there are 122 more students living on campus this year filling every bed. With three student apartment complexes surrounding campus, the total number of students living in Pembroke is around 3,500.
With the freshmen gathered on the quad in white T-shirts for the official class of 2019 photo, Cummings announced the historic news.
“Welcome to the largest freshman class in the 128-year history of this institution,” Cummings said. “You are a special class.This record is a sign that a lot of people want to be here. When you leave here in four years, you will be more than ready for the real world.”
The exact number of first-year students will be released in early September, but the excitement of a large, likely record-breaking class has been talked about for weeks.
After the class photo, students took the traditional Brave Walk across Jones Bridge to the Givens Performing Arts Center for first-year student convocation, the ceremonial start of the new academic year. The marching band, chancellor and Rebecca Cummings and the Lumbee Ambassadors led the way.
More than 1,500 seats in GPAC were filled with new students, faculty, staff and friends of the university. Cummings launched the new academic year. Directing most of his comments to the new students, he punctuated his remarks with cheers of “Go Braves!”
“The regalia we are wearing, this convocation and the Brave Walk are all traditions at the university,” he said. “Some traditions are older than others, but they all serve the same purpose, which is to tie us to this university and to connect us in the shared experience of higher education. We want you to love this place.
“This university has a long and extraordinary history,” Cummings said. “Founded by a small group of people who saw that education was the key to prosperity, a tiny school with a single teacher, 15 students and a $500 budget has become the thriving regional university that we are today. Like the vision of those folks from 128 years ago, we continue to believe that education is the key to life.
“You are starting your career as a student at UNCP at the same time I am starting as chancellor,” he said. “We are probably sharing some of the same emotions, maybe a little anxiety, but that’s normal.
“What is important is this. I am convinced I am in the right place, and I want you to believe you are in the right place,” he said. “This is precisely where you need to be. UNCP is about changing lives, and we promise to change yours. As your chancellor, you have my sincere and heartfelt welcome, every single white shirt in this audience.”
Dr. Zoe Locklear, interim provost and vice chancellor of academic affairs, presided over the convocation. Offering greetings, encouragement and advice were Dr. Alfred Bryant, director of the Southeast American Indian Studies program, Dr. Scott Hicks, an English professor and chair of the Faculty Senate, Nicolette Campos, acting director of the Accessibility Resource Center and chair of the Staff Council, and Candace Locklear, president of the Student Government Association.
Keynote speaker was Dr. Jesse Peters, a professor of English and American Indian literature. He talked about being a first-generation college student straight off a south Georgia farm.
“My parents were sharecroppers who plowed the land with mules and rode in a wagon to town. We lived in an old slave quarters with no underpinning while my father built a new home,” Peters said. “My parents believed in education and gave my brother and I time to learn.”
Peters said he found college frustrating at first.
“Several professors took an interest in me, and they took the time to help me,” he said. “They told me I could do it. Faculty believe in you. You will think they are asking a lot of you, but they are not.
“Education does not just happen to you,” Peters said. “You have to get comfortable with discomfort.”
One of his last pieces of advice was to take an course from the Department of American Indian Studies while at UNCP, because “this is one the few universities east of the Mississippi that offer them.”
The inaugural First-Year Advising Award was given to Dalton Hoffer, assistant director of the Office of Civic and Community Engagement. The award was based on student recommendations and Hoffer, who is a 2013 UNCP graduate was credited with being “a constant support” and someone students felt comfortable seeking out for advice.