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Graduates make history at BCCC

Maurita Harris of Fairfield (left) hugs fellow Beaufort County Community College graduate Maggie Anderson of Lake Landing Friday before graduation exercises. The two are the first Early College High School students to earn degrees at the college. (Submitted Photo/Beaufort County Community College)

Two Hyde County students made history Friday night at the 45th annual Beaufort County Community College graduation exercises.

Maggie Anderson, of Lake Landing, and Maurita Harris, of Fairfield, became the first Early College High School Students to earn associate degrees from BCCC which they earned along with their high school diplomas.

For their efforts, they received a standing ovation from the crowd of some 1,000 students, family members and BCCC officials, faculty and staff members who attended the graduation exercises at Washington High School.

“Many students will take the opportunity to attend the Early College High School and graduate,” said Wesley Beddard, BCCC dean of instruction, in introducing the two to the audience. “But you will always be the first.”

Anderson and Harris completed the five-year program in four years — a year ahead of their fellow ECHS classmates — thanks to a grueling academic schedule and honed time management skills, the two said in an interview before the graduation ceremony.

“I’ve learned to manage my time and not procrastinate,” said Anderson, 18, who, this fall, is scheduled to attend the University of North Carolina at Wilmington where she will study speech therapy and special education.

“I feel like I have accomplished something,” said Harris, 18, who is scheduled to attend N.C. State University this fall and pursue degrees in psychology and textiles while also studying Spanish.

The two have been best friends and have helped encourage each other throughout their high school and community college studies and can even finish each other’s sentences.

Anderson and Harris said they are looking forward to attending university and believe the study skills they learned during their high school years will serve them well as they continue their studies.

“I think it will be better for us,” said Harris.

Added Anderson: “That’s because we already have the work ethic that we will need.”

BCCC offers students in Beaufort, Hyde and Tyrrell counties the chance to take high school and tuition-free community college courses and graduate in five years with a high school diploma and an associate’s degree in the field of their choice.

The students face a rigorous schedule of classes in the ninth grade — equivalent to honors courses in a traditional high school — that prepare them to begin taking community college courses as early as the 10th grade.

“It’s difficult to say how proud I am of Maggie and Maurita,” said Lisa Hill, BCCC liaison to the early college high schools. “The fact that these students are the first early college high school graduates in the history of the college is by itself an accomplishment. But to earn both a high school degree and an associate’s degree in just four years, is remarkable!

“I admire them for their perseverance and hope that other early college high school  students will follow in their footsteps,” she said. “I feel confident both girls will be successful as they continue their education at the universities of their choice.”

Friday night, BCCC awarded some 239 degrees, diplomas, certificates and high-school equivalency degrees at its commencement exercises held at Washington High School.

The graduates received advice from one of the top officials in the N.C. Community College System, Kennon D. Briggs, the system’s executive vice president and chief of staff.

Briggs manages the day-to-day operations and the 210-person staff of the system office and provides direct supervision to the system’s chief financial officer, director of human resources, director of audit services, general counsel, executive director of the state board, director of governmental relations and associate vice president for research, among other duties.

He talked about beginnings and endings — highlighting the changes that have occurred in Beaufort County and elsewhere in North Carolina over the last 50 years as the economy has transitioned from manufacturing in which workers could earn a good living without advanced training or higher education.

But throughout North Carolina today, he said, most good jobs require additional studies or training.

“One way of life was ending and another way of life was beginning,” he said.

He called on the graduates to help improve the quality of life in Beaufort County and the surrounding region as it continues to transition to a new economy.

“I challenge you on our graduation night to make Beaufort, Hyde, Washington and Tyrrell counties better places to live, better places to work and better places to raise a family,” he said. “Your education at Beaufort County Community College has made it possible to make a difference.”

Morgan Roberson, president of the BCCC Student Government Association, presided over the ceremony.

Dr. David McLawhorn, BCCC president, welcomed those attending the graduation exercises. Mitchell St. Clair, chairman of the BCCC Board of Trustees, conferred the degrees diplomas and certificates on the graduating students.

Awards went to Kristina Kay Carpenter and Angel B. Emerson, who were recognized with the highest academic average in the college transfer programs and Charles Stephen Gravely and Kellie Renee Lozano, who were recognized with the highest academic average in associate in applied science degree programs.  Carpenter and Emerson earned associate in arts degrees; Gravely, an associate’s degree in criminal justice technology, and Lozano, an associate’s degree in business administration.

As at graduation ceremonies everywhere, the experience was bittersweet for some students who enjoyed their college experience but are relieved to be finished.

“I’m glad to be graduating and getting on with my life,” said Roberson, of Williamston, prior to the ceremony. “But it’s going to be different to not see all of my friends as often.”

It was also a bittersweet evening for McLawhorn, who will retire May 31 after 11 years at the helm of the community college.

“I have some of every emotion you can think of. I’m sad, I’m happy,” he said before the ceremony. “But it’s not about me. It’s about the graduates.”