Less than one year into his tenure as president of the North Carolina Community College System, Dr. James C. “Jimmie” Williamson addressed some of his system’s newest graduates as the principal speaker at Vance-Granville Community College’s 48th commencement exercises on May 12. Members of the Class of 2017 were joined by numerous loved ones at the outdoor ceremony in front of the gazebo on the college’s Main Campus.
While saluting the graduates’ accomplishments thus far, Williamson focused on what their future would hold. “Today is not just an end, it is also a commencement, a new beginning,” he said. “Each of you has a unique ‘what’s next’ path before you. Regardless of your path, you will face obstacles along the way. It’s how you handle those obstacles that will matter the most.”
Williamson said that his own career path had not always been focused. “In hindsight, everything I’ve ever done has led me to this position today, but it was not always so clear for me,” he told the graduates. “Early on in my career, I landed in jobs, almost serendipitously at times, that enabled me to explore new ideas and concepts which I had never considered.” Likewise, Williamson advised graduates to be on the lookout for moments that offer the unexpected. “I’ve never had an opportunity come up to me and shout, ‘Hey, I’m that great opportunity that you’ve been waiting for!’” he said. “No, instead, it presents itself as a challenge or a roadblock that gently steers me in the direction that, upon reflection, seems to be the most obvious of all choices. I would urge you to fully vet any and every opportunity that comes your way.”
The state community college system leader cited the example of twin brothers in the graduating class, Paul and Peter Caroline of Louisburg, who looked at challenges as opportunities to be seized. Williamson formally presented the system’s Academic Excellence Award to Paul, just after he received his Associate in Arts and Associate in Science degrees. Both brothers, Franklin County Early College High School students, have received full QuestBridge scholarships, Williamson said, Paul to the University of Pennsylvania and Peter to Stanford University. “They will both make the N.C. Community College System, VGCC and their community proud as they embark on stellar academic pursuits,” Williamson said. “Paul and Peter, we are honored to have been a part of your future.”
Colton Hayes of Epsom, who graduated with an Associate in Arts degree, spoke on behalf of his classmates. A Franklin County Early College High School student, Hayes is the first student from an early college program to serve as president of the VGCC Student Government Association and student member of the college’s Board of Trustees. He is set to continue his education at North Carolina State University in the fall.
Hayes said that his time as a VGCC student had taught him about hard work and persistence. “For my fellow students about to walk across this stage tonight, things are about to change,” Hayes said. “Some of you are going straight into the workforce. Some are transferring to four-year universities to further your education. Some may even be going into the line of duty to serve our country. No matter what it is you do, it’s going to be far different from anything you’ve done up until this point, and it’s probably going to be a lot harder than anything you’ve ever done. But we’re going to deal with this the way we’ve dealt with everything else in our lives. We’re going to push forward. We’re going to get stronger. We’re going to get better. And we’re going to jump over every hurdle that life throws at us.”
Following the speakers, Dr. Stelfanie Williams, president of VGCC, applauded the graduates for their achievements. “The class of 2017 is a fine group of scholars,” she said, with 70 inductees into the Phi Theta Kappa honor society and one third of the class recognized as honor graduates. She noted the diversity of the class, who included not only young Early College High School students, but also “students who have attended college while taking care of families, and some students who are the first in their families to earn a college degree. These graduates reflect our living mission.”
After Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. Angela Ballentine presented the candidates for graduation, Board of Trustees chair Danny Wright and President Williams presented degrees and diplomas and congratulated the graduates.
Members of this year’s class, including those predicted to graduate at the end of the summer term in July, were awarded a total of 523 credentials. These included 242 Associate in Applied Science degrees in a variety of curriculum programs, 174 Associate in Arts degrees, 59 Associate in Science degrees and 48 technical and vocational diplomas. Many students graduated with more than one credential.
Hayes led the new graduates in ceremonially turning their tassels as the ceremony concluded. Music was provided by the Vance-Granville Community Band, conducted by Brian Miller. Bearing the ceremonial mace for commencement was Law Enforcement/BLET Coordinator/Instructor Andrea Hyson, the college’s 2016-2017 Faculty Member of the Year.