Lee Ann Sides Garrett
CONCORD ó Transformation was the topic of keynote speaker Lynne Scott Safrit’s address to more than 650 graduates at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College’s 44th annual commencement exercises Saturday.
“You endured. You succeeded,” Safrit said. “You transformed your world.”
Nowhere is transformation more evident than in the life of a Laotian immigrant turned Pillowtex worker turned college graduate. Somchay Siharath has mastered the art of transformation many times over.
Siharath, her husband, their two children and her brother came to the U.S. in 1992. Even though her English was not very good, she began sewing sheets on third shift at Pillowtex in 1995. In 1996, she began taking classes for her GED.
“With better communication, I can help my kids at home with homework and other things,” she says.
Then Pillowtex closed. Like many, Siharath took advantage of the re-education opportunity RCCC provided. Not only did she attend classes there, she assisted in ESL classes and helped to translate publications aimed at Asian populations. Often rising at 4 a.m. to do homework before waking her now four children, Siharath continued working at RCCC and attending school in spite of her husband’s death in April 2006.
“I’m lucky,” Siharath says. “Lots of people were so nice to help me.”
Jeannie Moore, vice president of continuing education, took her under her wing and taught her a lot about U.S. culture and about working with different people. Now, Siharath says, she must learn all she can “to help my people.”
“I learn. I teach my family,” she says. “Then I help other people.”
Lynn Scott Safrit, president of Atlantic American Properties and the North American Commercial Division of Castle and Cooke Inc., expressed just that thought. Personal transformations can lead to much larger transformations, such as the N.C. Research Campus, a place where graduates from schools like RCCC may soon be getting jobs. Projections say the campus could lead to 2,219 jobs by 2008 ó some of them on the very ground they started at while working at Pillowtex.
“You can see the physical transformation under way,” Safrit said. “At the site of an abandoned mill, a state-of-the-art research hub is rising.”
Safrit has managed more than 2 million square feet of office and retail space and 500 residential units, and has been involved in the construction of office, retail, medical, country club and residential properties throughout the United States. Dr. Jarrett Chandler, senior vice president of the college, introduced Safrit as a former RCCC trustee and a former employee of Cannon Mills.
Safrit urged the graduates to seek their potential.
“The power and potential for transformation is in each and every one of us ó all the time,” she said. “You can change the world. In fact, we’re doing it right now, right here.”
The college recognized RCCC Board of Trustees Chairman Ray Paradowski with the 2007 Distinguished Service Award. Appointed to the board by Governor Jim Martin in 1988, he became vice chairman in 1989 and chairman in 1991. Paradowski has served in that position since then.
The 2007 Excellence in Teaching Awards recognized 10 faculty members:
– Emily Ward, R.N., an associate degree nursing instructor, was recognized with the Outstanding Excellence in Teaching Award and is a nominee for the 2007 North Carolina Community College System R.J. Reynolds Excellence in Teaching Award;
Excellence in Teaching Awards with special distinctions were:
– Brenda Brady, criminal justice, for support to the mission of the college;
– Donna Ginn, English, for active learning practices; and
– Frank Merrell, construction management, fire protection and industrial engineering technologies, for use of technology in instruction.
Excellence in Teaching Awards also went to:
– Charles Albrecht, business administration;
– Charlotte Grossman, mathematics;
– Denise Madrazo, life sciences;
– Greg Sember, political sciences;
– Betty Stack, English; and
– Kathy Vestal, foreign languages.
Dr. Richard Brownell, president of RCCC, said 120 of the graduates attending had more than one degree from the college. Graduates ranged in age from 18 to 65. Fifty-one percent were Rowan County residents and 37 percent were from Cabarrus County.
“This college has been a catalyst for dynamic growth in our two county area,” he said.
Brownell urged the students to commit to lifelong learning. Siharath agrees.
“I love to learn,” says Siharath. “I’m thinking next semester maybe taking art classes.”
Lee Ann Sides Garrett