RCCC graduates challenged to be ‘lifelong learners’
CONCORD — More than 1,400 Rowan-Cabarrus Community College graduates filled Cabarrus Arena on Saturday morning, with their excited families and loved ones looking on and cheering their accomplishments.
They ranged in age from 17 to 71, according to RCCC President Carol Spalding.
But, as Spalding and others told them, their achievements will have a positive impact on the community for years to come.
RCCC spokeswoman Paula Dibley said this year’s class included 988 students receiving degrees and certificates, and another 484 who earned General Equivalency Diplomas.
The class of 2013 also includes a record number of students taking advantage of the four-year college transfer program, Dibley said.
Recipients of qualifying associate’s degrees can be admitted to one of the University of North Carolina system’s institutions and begin working on their major courses immediately.
Catawba College and other private institutions have similar agreements with the community college system, Dibley said.
At a time of rising college costs, Dibley said, the transfer program allows students to earn a four-year degree less expensively.
Another sign of the changing face of academia is the large number of students who’ve participated in online courses, Dibley said.
“This could be the first time some of these students have met their teachers face to face,” Dibley said as the graduates continued to file into the auditorium.
“I’m very encouraged to see so many people taking advantage, going back and continuing their education, or going back to finish their education,” said N.C. Rep. Harry Warren as he prepared to enter the auditorium.
In his address, commencement speaker Tony Almeida told graduates that those educational accomplishments will have an impact far beyond their own lives.
Almeida, a former Duke Energy executive now serving as Gov. Pat McCrory’s senior adviser on jobs and the economy, said
“All of you represent a wide range of knowledge and skills,” Almeida said, as he went on to give some stories and testimonials of graduates in the audience.
As the job market becomes more and more competitive, he said, higher education will not only help individuals reach their goals, but will help attract more jobs to North Carolina.
“Labor market projections show that, by 2020, less than seven years away, this state will need to have 61 percent of its workforce having at least post-secondary education,” Almeida said.
However, Almeida said, in North Carolina at present, “only 38 percent of our workers have an associates degree or higher.”
Almeida said this year’s crop of graduates have the advantage in a changing job market, and in closing, he challenged the class of 2013 to “stay ahead of the game.”
“You’ll have to embrace being a lifelong learner,” Almeida said. “Don’t stop today. ... I’m going to tell you that every minute of education you can acquire will be worth it.”
For graduate Brandy Allen, Saturday’s commencement was a chance to put that lesson into action for her own children.
Allen said that, even as she received her associate’s degree in general education, she’s already planning to return to school for a bachelor’s degree.
Within five years, Allen said, she hopes to have a job as a physical therapist.
“I’m a runner, and I do Crossfit-type training,” Allen said. Those experiences and interactions with other runners, she said, have given her a desire to help others.
“I just want to have more of an education beyond this. I feel like that’s my place in this world,” Allen said.
Moreover, Allen said, she said she was glad that her three children could witness her accomplishment.
During the ceremony, RCCC also honored President Emeritus Richard Brownell.
Brownell retired in 2008 after 30 years at the college, the longest-serving community college president in North Carolina.
He joined Spalding and others on the stage for the presentation of a portrait of himself commissioned to commemorate the Richard L. Brownell scholarship endowment at RCCC.
Spalding said the portrait will be on display at the college, along with portraits of other honorees.
Speaking by phone after the ceremony, Spalding said it was important for graduates to remember the future as they celebrate.
Spalding said the community should particularly acknowledge the graduates of Early College High School programs in both Rowan and Cabarrus counties, who she said have shown their potential “by earning a two-year college degree at 18 years old.”
“They are young, accomplished and energetic, and ready to go to work,” Spalding said.
Echoing Almeida’s challenge, Spalding told the Post that this year’s graduates would go on to further accomplishments that will ripple out into the community. “We’re glad to be a part of that,” she said.
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.