480 graduate from Wayne Community College
By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on May 14, 2006 2:04 AM
Michelle Buchanan sat in wonder outside the Wayne Learning Center at Wayne Community College Friday night, still not believing all that stood between her and college graduation was a walk across the stage and the turn of a tassel.
She was one of the 480 students who received associate's degrees, diplomas and certificates during the commencement ceremony, WCC President Ed Wilson commented on a day that matched the occasion.
"I've been president 14 years, and this is the most beautiful night we've had," he said.
Ms. Buchanan's road to her seat among the soon-to-be graduates was not an easy one -- even if she was one of the honor students with a 4.0 grade point average on this day.
"I was a ninth grade drop-out," said Ms. Buchanan, who was about to receive her industrial systems technology degree. "I got my GED in California. I can't believe I came back to school and was successful. It is just amazing."
Ms. Buchanan has already started working at the second Smithfield Packing plant in Kinston.
She is working as an electrician -- a non-traditional career for a woman. She said she is proud of herself and the company that took a chance.
"They had to be prepared to take the flack that comes with hiring a woman to be your electrician. It's not the norm, but maybe it will be some day."
Student Government president Suresh Bhagchandi also had a story of a journey.
During his greeting to the graduates, he spoke of one of his instructor's recent comments.
"Suresh you sure have come a long way here at Wayne," the teacher said.
"Yeah, 6,000 miles," he said, referring to the distance he traveled from India.
But although he joked, he knew what his instructor meant.
He said he has come far as a student and as an individual during his years at Wayne Community College. It is an achievement he shares with all those who were waiting to graduate Friday.
"That is the great thing about America -- everyone gets a chance, whether you're a funny little guy from India like me, or you are one of the students who have worked hard and earned their right to be here today."
Bhagchandi will continue his education, transferring the credits he has earned at Wayne Community College to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Keynote speaker Kennon Briggs told the graduates they represent all that is good about the countries they come from, the state they live in and the college where they chose to continue or begin their education.
"I am humbled to be in your presence this evening," said Briggs, the vice president for business and finance for the state community college system.
Although he is one of the primary people in charge of keeping the state's community colleges running now, Wilson said he comes from a family that understands the sacrifices it takes to succeed, especially when getting started isn't easy.
He said his mother dropped out of school early. She married an older man and bore two sons, divorced and worked full-time while studying for her GED from Vance-Granville Community College.
"Over the next decade, she took enough courses to obtain her associate's degree," he said. "Later, she would obtain a baccalaureate degree. She is 68 years old now and recently retired as a regional director from the N.C. Lung Association."
He said his mother could not have attained success, supported her children and contributed to the well-being of the people of North Carolina without the community college system.
In addition to granting of the degrees, the college also honored one of the instructors who helped the students reach their goals.
Elizabeth Hooks received the college's 21st Excellence in Teaching Award, which was presented by Hank Crawford of the Foundation of Wayne Community College.
Ms. Hooks has worked for the college 18 years in business administration and computer technologies programs.
Faculty and students described Ms. Hooks as a dedicated instructor who comes in early and stays late to assist any student who might need help or encouragement.
One of her students said "(Ms. Hooks') hardworking attitude is a shining example for her students. When students see their teacher working hard, it makes them want to do the same in their classes."
Ms. Hooks will also receive a $2,500 cash award and money to attend a national conference honoring outstanding teachers.
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