05/13/12 — Diploma? Check.

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Diploma? Check.

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on May 13, 2012 1:50 AM

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Dre Hall, second from left, smiles Friday before Wayne Community College's graduation ceremony. Hall received his associate degree. More than 600 students turned their tassels Friday as they celebrated their achievements in a variety of study areas.

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Wayne Community College students listen to speakers during their graduation ceremony Friday in Goldsboro. Kimberly Massey and Karen Peralta, both spring graduates, spoke at the event.

Tech Sgt. Brian Haynes has encountered more than a few challenges while trying to obtain his Associate of Arts degree from Wayne Community College.

Since he and wife, Susan, moved to Goldsboro in 2005, their family has expanded to include four children. In addition to changing jobs within the military, he has juggled a full-time schedule of classes interspersed with deployments and temporary duty assignments away from home.

"It's been very hectic," he said, crediting his wife with holding down the fort through it all.

"My wife is awesome. She supported me with this endeavor."

In the Air Force 17 years, the 36-year-old received his degree from WCC Friday night.

"It doesn't feel real," he said before the ceremony. "I feel like I'm finally getting to see what my hard work ... it's finally paying off."

But he isn't through yet.

Haynes has been accepted to attend East Carolina University in the fall, where he will pursue his bachelor's degree in nursing, and is also a candidate for the Air Force officers school.

The college boasted a record number of students completing requirements for graduation this spring, with 604 candidates -- 159 certificates, 80 diplomas and 467 associate degrees -- some earning more than one award. Ceremonies were held at Love Temple.

It took Brandon Cutler three years to obtain his degree. Starting out in the associate of science program, he switched to the associate of arts, while juggling a job and family responsibilities.

The youngest of three, his father is a disabled Vietnam veteran. He also has an autistic sister and a brother who is paralyzed. Those challenges actually helped him become a better student, he said.

"Just by watching them, basically made me realize if they can do it while they have handicaps, there's no reason for a non-handicapped (person) like me to be able to strive for success," he said. "I just know I can go for the goal."

The 21-year-old plans to enter the Naval Reserves later this month, after which he will continue his education at a four-year school.

Pamla Oliver of Mount Olive has seen all four of her children through college. Friday it was her turn.

She came to WCC in 2003 to enroll in the nursing program, but didn't have a high school diploma. So, she went through the adult high school program to acquire that. Now, her Associate in Nursing degree in hand, she intends to pursue a bachelor's degree in the field.

First, though, she plans to take a much-needed break.

"When I was coming to college, it was like I had no life but study and go to school and study and go to school," she said. "I wasn't able to spend any time with my children. Now that it's over, I'm looking forward to taking them on a vacation."

For some, the occasion was especially bittersweet.

Rebecca Sampson of Mount Olive was there to support her husband of nearly 30 years, Charles Sampson, who returned to college to fulfill a lifelong dream to become an accountant after his workplace closed, rendering him unemployed.

His 62nd birthday coincided with the occasion. The family wasn't certain he would make graduation, though, because he was recently diagnosed with cancer and usually feels sick after chemo treatments.

"He had a treatment on Wednesday," his wife said. "We were all praying that he'd be able to do this. He really felt able to do this, so he's here.

"I'm just so proud of him."

Commencement speaker Kimberly Massey, outgoing president of the Student Government Association and an honor graduate, received her own associate degree in criminal justice. Her remarks came late in the program, right before degrees and certificates were conferred.

She captured her classmates' attention as she reminded them she was "the only thing standing between you and your diploma," then encouraged them to keep learning something new every day.

"I urge you to continue to gain knowledge about anything you're interested in as well as knowledge about yourself," she said.

The other recognition made during the ceremony was to an outstanding educator. Charlotte Brow, a history instructor, received the George E. Wilson Excellence in Teaching Award.