09/18/11 — Mount Olive College holds hurricane-delayed ceremony

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Mount Olive College holds hurricane-delayed ceremony

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on September 18, 2011 1:50 AM

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Graduate Shanna James decorated her mortar board for ceremonies at Mount Olive College Saturday afternoon. The ceremony was delayed by Hurricane Irene.

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"It's all good," said Seretha Gary, as she stretched out her arms during the processional of graduates walking to Kornegay Arena Saturday. The ceremony marked the summer graduation.

MOUNT OLIVE -- Ray Brinchek of Kenly hated seeing his wife come home from work, weary and greasy from her job working on heavy equipment at Caterpillar.

More than once, he asked why she didn't return to college to better herself.

"Ray would look at my calloused hands and shake his head and tell me that no woman should ever have to work that hard to make a living," Melda Brinchek said. "He pushed me to take a job that opened my eyes to a part of Caterpillar I had never seen. When I came home and told him that I liked it, he said, 'Now, think of what you could do if you had a degree.'"

Juggling a job and night classes at Mount Olive College became even more complicated in August 2009, however, when Ray was diagnosed with stage four stomach cancer. He would not let her take a break from education, though, fearing she might never go back.

It paid off, as she was later promoted to her current position of product support analyst.

"I will never forget the day that I was offered a promotion at work, simply because I was a senior in college," she says now. "I went to the hospital and I told Ray that he could finally retire.

"We had a deal that if I got a promotion, he could officially quit working and retire so that he could focus on the cancer. He was so proud of me, but sad at the same time because I was where I wanted to be and he was struggling to survive."

He did not live to see his wife graduate from MOC on Saturday, losing his battle with cancer on Jan. 17.

"He will not physically be at graduation, but I know that he will be smiling down on me as I walk across the stage," Mrs. Brinchek said. "Weeks before he passed, he made me promise him a few things. Graduating and walking across the stage, whether he was there or not, was one of them."

Receiving her bachelor's degree in management and organizational development, she was among 290 students awarded diplomas during the 58th summer commencement. The ceremony was delayed by three weeks from its original date, Aug. 27, due to Hurricane Irene.

Michelle Saint-Dic of Knightdale attended classes at Research Triangle Park to earn her bachelor's degree in health care management.

She took a break after obtaining her associate degree, she said, because "when you have a family, you stop and take care of them."

Working full time as a hospital secretary while raising two teenagers with her husband and going to school has been a challenge, she admitted.

So on the chilly Saturday afternoon as she waited for the ceremony to begin, she agreed it was a moment of triumph.

"It's a milestone but it's well worth it," she said.

Gina Kirk, black graduation gown open, exposed a "baby bump" as she strode down the aisle before the ceremony began. Her first child is due Nov. 21, she said.

She was able to attend classes at one of the college's satellite locations, near her home in Jacksonville. She also worked full time at a day care while earning her bachelor's in early childhood education.

"In the beginning, it was rough, trying to get everything, but the experience was pretty good managing school and work," she said. "At times, it was difficult but it was definitely well worth it."

Tim Marshburn of Greenville held 4-year-old son Parker's hand as they returned to their seats before the ceremony. They were there to see wife and mom Stephanie receive her associate degree in general studies.

"She's actually done it online, because she's a working mom," Marshburn said. The couple also have a 17-month-old daughter, Sianna, he said. "It's been tough. She worked full-time; I do, too. It's been a long road for her."

The ceremony marked the 60th anniversary of the college, said Dr. Philip Kerstetter, MOC president.

Fifty-two associate degrees were awarded during the commencement exercise, while there were four recipients of applied science degrees and 235 bachelor's degrees were handed out.

Dr. David Johnson, president of Johnston Community College and featured speaker, also recognized those who had ties to the community college system.

He asked those in the graduating class who had received diplomas from JCC to stand, drawing response from five candidates. When he asked how many had attended classes at JCC, the pool grew to 10. And when he asked how many had community college credits that transferred as part of their latest degree, the number swelled to approximately 70.

"This is a testimony, Dr. Kerstetter, to the good relationship that we have with MOC," he said. "I'm proud to be a part, graduates, of your upward mobility."

In his remarks, he challenged the graduates to focus not so much on "what" they will become but rather on the "who."

"Who you are, your character, will determine the results of your actions, and people are watching to see if you are who you say you are -- are we the values we talk about, are we genuine, are we models of the Christian values?" he asked, before referencing the Old Testament book of Micah, which asked what the Lord requires of us.

"When you're tempted to be ruthless in business, will it be what you are or will it be who?" he asked. "When your humility is being threatened by anger and resentment and being right at all cost, will it be what you are or who you are?

"Love justice, be kind, walk humbly. Wrap these attitudes around who you are and you, with your Mount Olive College degree, will change the world."