There was plenty of pomp and dignity at the Thursday afternoon ceremony to install Dr. Thomas A. Walker Jr. as sixth president of Wayne Community College.
But it was his presidential address that captivated the crowd -- a blend of humility and emotion while offering up a strong challenge for the college and community he will serve.
The event was kicked off with a procession of academic gonfalons carried by college representatives and deans, followed by several symbolic items.
Veda McNair, chairperson of the board of trustees, read a letter of congratulations from Gov. Roy Cooper before explaining the significance of the amenities.
The charter of the college, carried by Chad Evans, Class of 2016, represented the alumni. SGA president Adam Williams, representing the current students of WCC, carried the chain and medallion of the presidential office.
The academic mace, symbol of presidential authority, was carried by Paul Compton, department chair of industrial technologies, represented the faculty and staff. Compton, who has been at the college for 33 years, had made the mace and created the medallion, which contained links with names of each WCC director and president.
Dr. Jimmie Williamson, president of the N.C. Community College System, said he and Walker shared the "newbie" title. He had begun his role in July, with Walker coming on board in September.
"So we're on our own learning curve," said Williamson, whose installation ceremony will be in April.
He said he looks forward to working closely with Walker and the 58-member community college system.
Jimmie Ford of Goldsboro, a member of the state board of community colleges, said he was proud to bring greetings from the state board tasked with approving every president in the system.
"This college is my home, and I want only the best for it," he said. "I believe that you have the best in Dr. Thomas A. Walker Jr. It was with confidence and enthusiasm that I supported his nomination to lead this wonderful institution."
Mrs. McNair also affirmed the WCC board's support in its choice to serve in the office of president.
As Walker's turn to speak arrived, he looked out over the capacity crowd and unabashedly paused several times during his remarks to take in the enormity of the occasion.
He thanked his wife, Camelia, for her support and the board for placing its trust in him. He also acknowledged three predecessors who have pledged support to him -- Dr. Herman Porter, Dr. Ed Wilson and Dr. Kay Albertson.
"It is an honor to follow in your footsteps, and I will protect and nurture this treasure that is WCC, with all my being," he said.
Students are the ultimate reason the college exists, he said, and as such as the most important resource of this community.
He sang the praises of the college he was hired to lead -- from its award-winning programs like automotive, welding and machining to its child care center on campus. WCC has a legacy of success, he said.
But it is in stark contrast to the climate of the day, he said.
"We are living in perhaps the most divisive, chaotic and stressful time in our nation's history. And right here in Wayne County, poverty dominates far too many people's lives," he told the crowd.
Work and education are antidotes to poverty, he said, expressing hope that the college will be a vanguard in leading the charge.
"As your new president, I urge, implore and encourage the citizens, county agencies, private sector and everyone else with an interest in seeing Wayne County thrive, to join us in a commitment to work together to address our county's most pressing needs."
He said he is confident the college will not only be an example in this county and the state, but potentially in the nation as being an institution that collectively galvanizes itself to positively impact the lives of its residents.
He quoted a passage from the Bible that he has recited every morning for more than eight years, which speaks of having the faith to move mountains.
"I am blessed to be doing exactly what I was built to do, and I could serve others," he said of his aspirations to be a community college president. "I wanted to be in a healthy institution, in a community that would be my family's home and close to my mother and sister. I have never doubted the power of believing. Faith and family is an unstoppable combination."
The North Carolina native, who calls Lumberton home, may have achieved a modicum of success but credited his family with its example and faith in him early on.
"You all saw something in that boy who cropped tobacco in Columbus and Robeson counties," he said, drawing applause from the audience.