PEMBROKE – Michelle Scott’s road to a teaching degree has been marked by unimaginable heartache and grief.
Scott lost both parents, a year apart, but never stopped pushing himself. She relied on the words her mother repeated often to get her through difficult times with every reason to give up.
“She always told me that an education is something that no one can take away from you,” Scott said.
On Saturday, an emotional Scott crossed the stage, joining 1,045 of his fellow graduates in early spring at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. With all its splendor and circumstance and a procession led by Lumbee Ambassadors and Flautist, the outdoor exercises were a welcome return to a sense of normalcy for thousands of families and friends gathered alongside the Quad filled with balloons.
Keynote speaker and native of Pembroke, Sheila Cummings, is a very successful founder and owner of an aerospace engineering company in Alabama, although that was not part of her plans. She enrolled in the UNCP pre-engineering program after a recruiter shattered her dream of becoming a US Air Force pilot.
“What that recruiter did for me that day was ignite what I call ‘the fire in my stomach’ – the motivation that gets you up every day, determined to make a difference,” said Cummings told graduates.
Cummings went on to earn her aerospace engineering degree, and in 2009 she opened Cummings Aerospace – a company dedicated to providing engineering solutions to the US Department of Defense.
“Every day I realize my dream of serving the military, but not as I originally planned. Graduates, pursue your passion relentlessly. Develop your definition of success and find your voice and use it for good, ”she said.
After serving six and a half years in the military, Taja Flagg is eager to begin her new career as a pediatric nurse. She enrolled in the UNCP nursing program determined to indulge her passion after a diagnosis of an autoimmune disease kept her from practicing nursing in the military.
“I feel extremely lucky to have this chance to go back to school and get my nursing degree,” said the Raeford resident and single mother of three. “The UNCP gave me my start. The instructors walked me through the process and made sure I had the resources I needed to be successful. It was a privilege to be accepted into this program, and it means a lot to finish the program and say, ‘we did it!’ “
She recently accepted a position in the Surgical / Pediatric Unit at UNC REX Hospital in Raleigh.
Chancellor Robin Gary Cummings told graduates that despite the uncertainty over the past year, they have kept a positive outlook and stayed focused on their goals.
“You have chosen to fight, to persist, to adapt, to persevere. You did not succumb and retreat when each day a new fear was introduced into our vocabulary. Your presence here today is a testament to your determination to succeed. Always be guided by your dreams, not driven by circumstance or fear, ”said Dr. Cummings.
Cummings’ starting advice for the class of 2021 was to find success in life, but also to seek meaning.
“Be who you were called to be – who you hoped to be – and create a world that is not only better for you, but for others,” he said.
While many graduates will enter the workforce or enlist in the military, others like Dhyaneshwar Sudhakar will continue their education at master’s and doctoral level. programs. Originally from Chennai, India, Sudhakar was accepted to Johns Hopkins University as part of the Master of Arts in Film and Sound program. He plans to pursue his passion for writing for film and television.
“UNCP has helped me identify what I want to do with my future career and how I should prepare for it,” he said.
James “Wells” Graham of Laurinburg graduated with first class honors and will continue his academic path into the PhD in Physics at Wake Forest University. program. He is considering research in the field of experimental condensed matter physics.
Dustin Paul, who graduated in Commerce, will take a short break before returning to UNCP in the fall to begin the Master of Business Administration program. His goal is to become a financial analyst.
“I would love to retire early, buy rental properties and flip houses,” said Paul of Lumberton. “I’m also thinking of becoming a teacher and giving business lessons online.”
He credits his success to the advice provided by the business school and his participation in mock interviews, CV workshops and the Pathways to Career Success program.
Seauna Richardson enjoys her job as a second grade teacher. Yet to have a more meaningful impact on the lives of students in Robeson County, she chose to pursue a graduate degree, opening the door to one day becoming a literacy coach.
“We are fighting a literacy deficit in this county. So I wanted to have the opportunity to broaden my horizons outside of the classroom, ”said Richardson, who earned a master’s degree in reading education.
Richardson, raised in social housing in South Lumberton, went to college after high school but put her dreams on hold to help her mother make ends meet. Ten years later, married with three children, Richardson earned her bachelor’s degree from NC Central University while working full time.
She had to face other obstacles on the road with the death of her sister, while continuing her graduate studies at UNCP.
“Life has taught me to be successful. Without the strong support system here at UNCP and at home, I would not have completed this program. It was difficult, but it was worth it. I am excited about the future, ”she said.
Isaiah Maher graduated with her best friend and fiance, Kasey Cooper, earning degrees in biology and elementary education respectively. The couple have set a wedding date for November.
Tiffany Bramblett Simpson worked for 10 years in the banking industry before enrolling at UNCP to pursue studies in analytical chemistry. Simpson, a RISE scholar, overcame adversity and personal challenges during her studies.
“There have been a ton of sleepless nights, a lot of tears and a head full of doubt,” Simpson said. “But with every obstacle that presented itself, I was able to face it with optimism knowing that no matter how difficult things were, I had my UNCP family there to help guide me along the way.
“I had so many advantages that students at large universities don’t have, such as small class sizes with lots of opportunities to interact with faculty, including the ability to conduct and present my research.”
This fall, Simpson will pursue a doctorate. in chemistry at Florida State University, one of the nation’s top analytical chemistry graduate schools.
Scott, still grappling with the loss of his parents Raymond and Jackie, experienced joy on his UNCP trip with the birth of his son. More good news came last month when she was offered a kindergarten teacher job at Rockfish Hoke Elementary School.
“Today was definitely a moment of relief. There were a lot of emotions. I wanted to quit after my mother died. During the days when I felt I couldn’t go on anymore, the faculty of the education department, my friends and family pushed me. I couldn’t have done this alone, ”she said.