‘Go big, or don’t go at all’

May. 10, 2013 @ 08:06 PM

Students, family, friends and staff flooded the main campus of Vance-Granville Community College Friday night for the 44th annual commencement ceremony.

Nearly 500 proud students turned tassels, symbolizing the end of an educational journey at VGCC, described by Felicia Sanders-Gupton, student government association president as, “the perfect place to start the rest of our lives.”

Gupton, who received an Associate in Arts degree, began attending VGCC after the economic downturn left her unemployed.

While her plans for the future include attending N.C. Central University to pursue a bachelor’s degree in social work, leaving the school she describes as home will be difficult.

“It’s such a bittersweet day for me today because I’m excited and proud to take my education to the next level,” Gupton said. “I’m also sad about leaving home because Vance-Granville is home.”

Friday’s ceremony marked a milestone for VGCC, as early college students from Vance, Granville, Franklin and Warren counties became the first graduates in their school’s history.

“Among the members of the Class of 2013 being honored tonight are the very first graduates of early college high schools in the history of Vance-Granville Community College,” said Deborah Brown, chairwoman of the school’s board of trustees. “This month a total of 46 students from these schools are graduating with both their high school diplomas and their college degrees.”

Dr. Thomas Houlihan, a member of the state board of community colleges, also gave a speech, urging the graduating class to, “Go big, or don’t go at all.”

“Chase those dreams and never give up,” Houlihan said. “Each of us no matter how young or mature or how many obstacles are placed in front of us, each of us can follow our dreams and achieve far more in our lives than we ever dreamed.”

Dr. Stelfanie Williams, president of the college, emphasized the close bonds that were created among students as they completed their academic journeys together.

“You came from near and far to the arches of VGCC with various goals and aspirations,” Williams said. “Vance-Granville embraced you, and you helped create a community with your fellow students.

“You stayed together, formed friendships and made lasting memories.”

Williams’ comments were echoed by Erica Bullock, who spoke on her experience as a radiography major at VGCC.

“I loved it,” Bullock said just before the ceremonies were to begin. “It was a great experience. We’re all like a family. Super close.”

Bullock, from Henderson, is currently employed with Triangle Orthopedics in Durham as an X-ray technician.

Brittany Fuller, also graduating Friday night, received an Associate Degree in Nursing.

“I love caring for people,” Fuller said. “I will say the clinical sites we got to go to were really fun.

“The variety was really good.”

After graduating, Fuller plans to get a Bachelors of Science in Nursing from either UNC Chapel Hill or Duke.

“I’m really happy, excited, and kind of nervous about going out into the real world now and starting a new job,” Fuller said. “I’ve done mainly restaurant work since I was 15, but now I’m getting into the medical stuff.

“I’m ready for it.”

For Marisol Diaz, Friday’s graduation was exceptionally special, as the single mother proudly received her Associates Degree in Business Administration in front of friends and family.

“I’m excited to see friends and family see me go through this experience being that I’m a single mother doing it all by myself,” Diaz said.

Accomplishing goals by chasing dreams was a common theme during VGCC’s Friday night commencement ceremony, and one that Houlihan urged students to continue.

“Don’t stop chasing those dreams,” Houlihan said. “Believe, believe, believe, and never give up.”

Rita Hatzimimis received the 2013 N.C. Community College System Academic Excellence Award, and Wendy Frandsen was named Faculty Member of the Year.


Contact the writer at abentley@hendersondispatch.com.