Graduates of Vance-Granville Community College’s Adult Basic Skills programs were encouraged to adopt a can-do attitude and keep learning at their commencement exercises on May 4. The honorees were among those students who have completed either the Adult High School Diploma program or the High School Equivalency program in the past year.
The principal commencement speaker was Dr. Timothy B. Tyson, an award-winning author and Duke University professor who spent part of his childhood in Oxford and now resides in Durham. Tyson recalled that although he now holds a doctoral degree, he did not usually enjoy school as a child.
“I slowly began to withdraw from school,” Tyson said. “I went less and less, and I found other things to do. I dropped out of high school as a junior. I became a construction laborer and then a cook.” But a young woman he was dating, who was in graduate school, told him that he would like college, arguing that it was quite different from high school. “I started at a community college, where I found intellectual excitement and I did well, and then I transferred to UNC-Greensboro,” Tyson said. “I loved college. It was a place where independent thought and passion were rewarded.”
Over time, Tyson discovered more and more educational opportunities that he did not know existed. He encouraged the graduates not to limit themselves but to keep striving for more. “You’re not stuck in some place that your past performance has put you,” Tyson told them. “You can’t let anybody stop you and put you in a box. Keep looking forward and figure it out. There’s a way to do it. It’s not as though, if you took a wrong turn at the beginning, somehow you’re stuck in that groove. You can navigate this, and you can end up doing what God put you here to do.”
The author said he was “thrilled” to witness this “proud and important moment” for the graduating students. “Your education will affect yourself, your children and people who are yet unborn, but it’s not just about advancing yourself, it’s about lifting up everybody,” Tyson said. “Each of us, day to day, doing our own bit, can change the world and have changed the world.”
Speaking on behalf of the graduating students during the ceremony was Spencer Bojan Boyd of Oxford. Boyd completed the Adult High School Diploma program online. A native of Serbia, he was adopted at the age of six by a family in Johnston County, who later moved to Granville County. He was born without a right leg and with a distorted left leg, which was later amputated. “Throughout my journey, my friends and family, particularly my mother, have stuck by my side, supporting me, saying ‘yes, you can,’” Boyd said.
He said his mother’s insistence pushed him forward, so that now, “I am an adult high school graduate – yes, I am. To be clear, I didn’t become a graduate solely on my mother’s belief that I could. I’m an adult high school graduate because Vance-Granville Community College also believes in ‘Yes, you can.’” He said the online program allowed him flexibility and time to focus.
“Through its resources, VGCC has helped me graduate high school and is in the process of helping me into college,” he said. “By extending my education beyond high school, I will be able to discover new doors and opportunities.” Boyd recently enrolled in the College Transfer program at VGCC. He plans to complete two years at the college and then continue his education at a four-year university to study orthotics and prosthetics to help other amputees. “I hope to encourage, support and take care of those who are less fortunate than myself,” Boyd said. “I hope to use the tools that Vance-Granville provided in the future and really get a hold of my purpose in life.”
He concluded, “No matter what obstacle comes your way or how many hardships in life you face, you can turn the idea of ‘this is impossible; I can’t do this’ into ‘Yes, I can, and yes, I have!’ and the fact that I stand before you as a proud graduate is living proof. Mom, yes, I can. VGCC, yes, I can. Henderson, North Carolina, yes, I can. Serbia, yes, I can. The world, yes, I can.”
In welcoming remarks, VGCC Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. Angela Ballentine congratulated the graduates. “You saw an opportunity to improve your life through education, and you seized that opportunity,” she said. Ballentine urged them to continue their education and invited them to meet with college faculty and staff at the conclusion of the ceremony. “This could be the first of many commencement exercises for you,” she said.
Following Tyson’s address, Dr. Stelfanie Williams, the president of VGCC, praised the graduates and applauded the Basic Skills faculty for preparing students to succeed. “Commencement, as you know, does not mean ‘an ending’ — it means ‘a beginning,’ and that is especially true for this occasion,” she told the graduates. As an extra incentive for graduates to begin their collegiate studies, Williams announced that each would receive a certificate worth free tuition and fees for one semester of courses in curriculum programs at VGCC, absorbing costs not covered by federal financial aid. “This certificate for tuition and fees is our way of saying ‘congratulations’ and ‘keep going,’” the president said.
After VGCC Adult Basic Skills department chair Greg Nash announced the candidates for graduation, Dr. Ballentine assisted President Williams in presenting diplomas.