PEMBROKE — Dan Middleton moved from Ontario, Canada, to Pembroke when he was 11.
Later, as a student at UNC Pembroke performing community service projects, he began to take notice of the health care challenges in his community.
Middleton was among 733 graduates during the two-day Spring Commencement. With his chemistry degree in hand, he plans to return to Robeson County one day and make a difference.
Middleton has been accepted into the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University.
“There are a lot of challenges kids are going through in this community,” said Middleton, who graduated with the highest academic honors. “I think providing quality health care and having good doctors are solutions to addressing those problems. I want to be able to do something good for this community.”
He’s leaning toward a career in neonatal care or cardiology.
More than 6,000 family and friends filled the Quad Saturday for the undergraduate ceremony. More than 1,000 attended a separate ceremony for the Graduate School, where 123 degrees were conferred, was held at Givens Performing Arts Center on Friday.
The keynote speaker for both exercises was Jefferson Keel, president of the National Congress of American Indians, the oldest, largest and most represented American Indian organization in the country. He is serving his fifth term as Lt. Gov. of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma.
Keel told the graduates they were poised for success. “Because of what you’ve accomplished, you are prepared to make a positive mark in the world. You’ve been continually referred to as the hope and the future of America. That’s true. Live life as there is no tomorrow. Love your fellow man.”
Daniel Leonard of Raleigh already has already landed a staff auditor position with S. Preston Douglas & Associates, a local accounting firm. He will soon begin studying for the state CPA (Certified Public Accountant) exam and eventually apply to graduate school.
“My long-term goals are to specialize in fraud examination with the FBI and eventually get my Ph.D. in accounting and possibly return to teach at UNCP.”
Michael Blair and his wife, Diane, wore matching caps and gowns, crossing the stage minutes apart to the cheers of family and friends, including their three children ages, 11, 5 and 2.
“This is exciting for both our families but, more importantly, for our kids. This shows them whatever goals you set out to achieve, you can do it, no matter the obstacles,” said Michael, who earned magna cum laude honors.
The Clayton couple enrolled at UNCP after a combined 17 years of active duty in the U.S. Army. Michael has been accepted into the MBA program at N.C. State.
In his remarks, Chancellor Robin Gary Cummings told the graduates life is a series of decisions and choices.
“The road forward beyond UNCP will be defined by you. The older we get, the more impactful those decisions. And it’s what you decide to do next, that will further shape your destiny.
Cummings left the graduates with a series of challenges.
“Dance to your own music, create your own path, work hard and know that you determine your destiny. Don’t listen to those who would limit you. And when that breeze changes, believe in yourself and in your dreams.”
Kevan Fox of Fayetteville earned his MPA degree. He joined eight other graduates to be commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army and Air Force. Fox’s next stop will be Fort Knox, Kentucky.
Savannah Melvin came to UNCP on a softball scholarship. Following her freshman year, she decided to hang up her cleats to focus solely on academics. It wasn’t easy to walk away from a sport that had been a major part of her life since she was nine. Looking back, she has no regrets.
Melvin earned a biology degree, graduating with summa cum laude honors. She has been accepted to Methodist University’s Physician Assistant Program.
“My experience at UNCP has prepared me academically for PA school. The Honors College courses challenged me to be ready for the rigorous course load at Methodist. In addition, I have worked for the last year as a paramedic with Robeson County EMS which has prepared me to make clinical decisions,” she said.
Vincent Molson — with flowers in one hand and a small jewelry box hidden behind his back in the other — greeted his girlfriend, Diandra Ingram, after she crossed the stage. After they embraced, Molson dropped to one knee and proposed. Shocked, Ingram burst into tears. Molson is stationed at Ft. Bragg and will deploy to Afghanistan next month.
After 26 years working in the banking industry, Don Merritt decided it was time for a career change. The Bladenboro resident plans to use his degree to teach middle school science.
Taylor Hammonds’ hard work resulted in acceptance letters to four law programs – UNC Chapel Hill, Elon, Appalachian State and Campbell. The Lumberton resident chose Chapel Hill and wants to one day practice in the area of civil litigation.
“I found a home away from home at this institution. There are so many memories and relationships that I have established here that will last a lifetime.
“My experience here at UNCP has been more influential than I ever could have imagined. I have matured greatly since my freshman year and I have had the opportunity to meet some amazing people along the way. The faculty and staff played an immense role in my life for the past four years.”