12/16/07 — 350 graduate at Mount Olive College

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350 graduate at Mount Olive College

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on December 16, 2007 2:05 AM

MOUNT OLIVE -- About 350 graduating students at Mount Olive College marched across the stage to launch what college president William Byrd called "the next challenging stage of their lives."

And a challenge it was for many of them, like Sherica Mitchell of Goldsboro, who received her bachelor's degree in business management and accounting. Her husband, James, and their two children were in the balcony of the George and Annie Dail Kornegay Arena trying to get her attention when she came through the door wearing the tassel that designated her an honor student.

But her eyes were straight ahead -- as they had been for the past four years while she went to school full-time, and through two of her husband's deployments, managed the house, the children, the car and house repairs.

"Proud is not the word after all that hard work, effort and sacrifice," Air Force S. Sgt. James Mitchell said. "It's a beautiful day."

Mrs. Mitchell never stopped, he said.

"She continued through all of it."

Another determined grad basking in the victory of the day was Dorothy Oates of Faison, who earned her bachelor's degree in criminal justice while working full-time as head of security at the college.

Called Dot-O by her friends at the college, Ms. Oates has already signed up to continue her education in January through the N.C. Justice Academy in Salemburg. Then, she will pursue her master's degree from Methodist University at Fayetteville.

"It feels good," she said. "It was a long time coming."

Tamar McIver of Kinston is planning to use her degree in criminal justice to further her mission to help at-risk children.

"I want to go to juvenile court and put those who are in trouble in my program," said the character education behavior counselor.

This is her second degree.

This kind of passion is the recipe for success, said commencement speaker, Jeff Minges, whose family name is synonymous with Pepsi Cola in eastern North Carolina. He is the family's third generation, and there is a fourth generation involved in the family business.

"Now life going forward will bring tons of excitement and opportunity," he told the assembled graduates. "It will also bring with it adversity. Always remember it's how you handle adversity which will define your character and leadership as a person."

He recalled a devastating fire that destroyed the family business in 1975 when he was 21 years old.

"It was completely destroyed, not a bottle left," Minges said. "I saw how quickly something so precious could be taken away. It humbled me."

But it was at this point he committed himself to the future, and the fire tested the entire family's faith.

"God gave my father and our entire family the strength to persevere in a time of adversity. God was good to us and kept us together as a family," he said. "My father encouraged me to stay focused and to listen, learn and yes, grow up, instilling an attitude of 'Let's build back bigger and better.'"

And they did.

Eleven months after the fire, the family was back in the bottling business with renewed determination and spirit.

"You can be assured as you travel through your life, you'll face similar situations that will challenge your character but will also make you stronger as a person," he said. ".... My point is simple. When you're given opportunities in life to challenge yourself and make a difference, then you must seize the moment. Don't step back and later ask yourself,, 'Why did I let that chance slide by?'"