Wayne Community College students turn their tassels at ceremony
By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on May 12, 2013 1:50 AM
Viola Figueroa, left, of Goldsboro holds a fan that has a photo of her and her granddaughter, Zara Geser, right. Zara, 6, is graduating from kindergarten at School Street School. Ms. Figueroa was among students graduating at Wayne Community College's curriculum commencement exercises at Love Temple.
Ashley Burkette of Goldsboro helps Kayla Cushing of Dudley adjust her mortarboard prior to the start of Wayne Community College's curriculum commencement exercises. Both received degrees in medical assisting.
Michele Cherry-Newton drew on difficulties in her life as well as the support of family, friends, and staff at Wayne Community College to provide words of encouragement and inspiration to those attending the college's graduation.
Michale Cherry-Newton is living proof that perseverance pays off.
More than 20 years ago, she took her first class at Wayne Community College.
When she got married and had two children, they became her priority. Son Tyler is attending East Carolina University and Michael is a freshman at Rosewood High School.
Now a single mom, her journey back to college was fraught with obstacles, including an accident three years ago that almost incapacitated her.
"I injured both ankles, had two blood clots in my left leg and had to teach myself to walk all over again," she said. "I went from a wheelchair to a walker."
Fortunately, she had good support along the way -- from her parents and grandmother, as well as her children and others at the college who guided her through the educational maze.
On Friday night, she was able to stand tall and to walk across the stage to receive her associate degree in medical assisting. She also was chosen to be student speaker.
"I know what it is like to stand in the unemployment line, the feeling of depression and homelessness," she told the audience. "I know what it is like being a single mom due to divorce, all the emotions that are felt, wondering how I am going to pay the light bill, where the boys and I will move to after losing the house or how will I get my older son who also attended Wayne Community College to ECU?"
And even though she is still in the midst of those struggles, which now include finding a job in her field, she remains steadfast and optimistic.
"I'm a true believer that it will happen in God's time," she said prior to the ceremony. "Throughout my whole process of me getting my education, He's taught me that all along the way and He's opened all the right doors."
The college's curriculum graduation, held at Love Temple in Goldsboro, had college officials handing out 604 certificates, diplomas and degrees and two special awards.
The George E. Wilson Excellence in Teaching Award, given to an educator who demonstrates the highest standard of teaching, was presented to Tracy Schmeltzer, department chairman, business and accounting.
Dr. Kay Albertson, WCC president, shared a nominator's comments about Ms. Schmeltzer.
"(She) has high expectations of all of her students and encourages them to give their full efforts in pursuing education," she said. "She continually tries to find new teaching methods or forms of delivery ... makes accounting fun and interactive by using learning activities that engage the students."
The President's Award for Distinguished Service was given to Larry Boyce, after Mrs. Albertson noted that this is only the fourth time in the college's 56-year history that the recognition has been made to a community member.
Boyce became a volunteer with the WCC Foundation in 2008, taking an active role in the Foundation's annual golf tournament.
"That year, they raised over $50,000," Mrs. Albertson aid. "In 2009, Larry became the chair of the tournament and since then he has taken (it) to new heights. Net proceeds each year since 2009 are over $100,000. Last year's tournament event raised $110,000 and 210 students were awarded scholarships as a result."
Since joining the WCC team, she said 804 scholarships have been awarded to WCC students.
Candace Jones is a "first-generation" student, the first in her family to attend college. But the 22-year-old says there is much more to the story.
"It took me four years to get through," she said. "It's amazing that I'm even getting the degree.
"It's hard not having the motivation or encouragement from your family but I found a family at Wayne. It's been really difficult, but at the end of the day it led me to the people I met and the experiences."
She juggled classes and often worked two jobs, while earning accolades that included being an honor graduate and part of Phi Theta Kappa. In the fall, she will be attending UNC-Chapel Hill, studying psychology, with hopes of pursuing a master's degree as a rehabilitation counselor.
"I had to study more than the traditional student, but because of Wayne, I'm going to Carolina," she said, something she hopes will be an inspiration to her nephews.
It took Viola Figueroa 17 years to get her degree in general education.
"I'm still in shock because it's like it took me so long and now that it's here, I want to cry, I want to scream, it's just a mix of emotions," she said before the ceremony."
She took her first college course in June 1996 but health concerns -- she suffers from asthma and COPD -- proved to be a constant interruption.
And even though she required a walker to reach the stage, the 46-year-old grandmother of three said she had something to prove for those "munchkins" and a message for others.
"You're never too old, it's never too late, just keep going at it one credit at a time," she said.
Crystal Austin of Princeton took her first class in 1989, and wound up finishing with her son, Trent, 21 -- both got degrees in business administration.
They were "study buddies," she said, with the only difference being he attended classes on campus and she did most of hers online.
"It's great," she said. "I feel so proud. I'm proud of him more than I am of myself."