12/14/08 — 290 MOC students turn tassels at commencement ceremony

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290 MOC students turn tassels at commencement ceremony

By Steve Herring
Published in News on December 14, 2008 2:00 AM

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Barbara J. Grummert, left, of New Bern helps fellow student Barbara J. Sawyer of Bayboro secure her mortarboard in place prior to the start of the graduation ceremony at Mount Olive College on Saturday.

MOUNT OLIVE -- "That's my mommy," shouted one excited young spectator Saturday afternoon as graduates walked across the stage to receive their diplomas during Mount Olive College's 55th commencement exercises.

The family ties weren't just in the audience. They were in the line of graduates as well.

Jennifer Smith of Jacksonville received her diploma just steps ahead of her mother, Sandra Smith, and Melva Green of Farmville was just ahead of her son, Kevin Green of Greenville.

There were husband and wife graduates Darrell and Felicia DeVane, who not only completed their degrees, but did so while raising five children.

They were among the 290 students who graduated -- almost two-thirds of whom earned their degrees through the college's satellite campuses at Wilmington, Washington, New Bern, Research Triangle Park and Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.

Wayne County native Martin Lancaster, former president of the North Carolina Community College System, delivered the commencement address.

Both Jennifer Smith and Kevin Green said they enjoyed attending college and sharing classes with their mothers.

Sandra Smith said she and her daughter were full-time students.

"But not anymore, we are in the working world now," she said.

It wasn't the first time the two women have attended college and graduated together -- they both received paralegal degrees from Coastal Community College at Jacksonville. They earned degrees in criminal justice at Mount Olive College. Jennifer Smith plans to work in juvenile probation, while her mother wants to be an investigator for the Department of Social Services in Onslow County.

Kevin Green and his mother, Melva, who are both employed at Pitt Memorial Hospital, received degrees in health care management. They attended at the Washington site

"I hope to get a promotion," said Mrs. Green who is a patient access representative with the hospital.

Kevin Green, a cardiac cath technician, said he found out about Mount Olive College from his mother who started classes first.

"It was fun, we had a good time together," he said of attending class with his mother.

Martha Turnage of Mount Olive who received her degree in early childhood development said she hopes to get a job as a teacher.

She is currently a teacher's assistant at Grantham School.

"I started (classes) in 2004 and got my associate degree in 2005," she said. "It has been tough to work and go to school. But the one night a week it is great. I couldn't have done it if it hadn't been for that. People with small children, I don't know how in the world they do it (go to school), but I guess if you want it bad enough you will do it."

Mount Olive College President Dr. J. Williams Byrd joked that he faced a dilemma in preparing comments to introduce Lancaster.

Lancaster, he noted, is a lawyer, a former state and Congressional representative, former president of the N.C. Community College System and adviser to President Clinton.

"Some folks might say that he just had a hard time keeping a job, but I think it is because he is a smart fellow whose talents have always been in demand," Byrd said.

"Our church (Stoney Creek) and our family have always been proud of the record of academic excellence, community services and support of the church which has characterized Mount Olive College since its founding," Lancaster said.

He congratulated the graduates and said their graduation "is about the power of choices... and the courage to change." Lancaster said a person's biggest challenge is learning to make the "right choices."

He said to reach Saturday's graduation meant the students had made choices to invest in their future through higher education.

"I urge you to keep making those good decisions as you learn as much as possible about yourself, about your dreams, about the life you want to lead and about what God has in store for you and your life," Lancaster said.

He added that creating happiness takes "lots of choices on lots of days."

"I never stopped changing, and I hope you never do. I'm now working on my eighth career... about average, we're told. And, I've grown with every change. These changes have stimulated, challenged and made me a better person with a fuller life."

In his comments to the graduates, Byrd called Saturday a "milestone."

"But know that the value of the investment of self and resources that you have made will depend totally on how you use it," he said. "The challenge I place before you is to do good work, but to go beyond just what you can do for yourself to include your community, your country and the entire planet."