Graduates of Vance-Granville Community College’s Adult Basic Skills programs were challenged to believe in themselves and to continue their education, as an alumna who is now a member of the Henderson City Council offered encouragement at commencement exercises on May 5.
“Twenty-five years ago, I was sitting in the same spot that you all are sitting in,” Melissa Elliott told the graduates, who were among those students who have completed either the Adult High School Diploma program or the High School Equivalency program in the past year. “Back then, I didn’t know if I was capable of doing anything, but 25 years later, I’ve conquered four degrees, and I’m working on my doctorate right now.”
As the principal commencement speaker, Elliott, in her first term on the Henderson City Council, urged the new graduates to enroll in a curriculum program at VGCC immediately, just as she once did in the Criminal Justice program. Her associate degree from the community college paved the way for Elliott to continue her education, serve in various capacities in law enforcement and start her own non-profit organization, Gang-Free, Inc.
“I encourage people to go to Vance-Granville, because I know that the people here care about you,” she said. “They love you and they want you to succeed…. I was catapulted into my educational career through this institution. This is just the beginning of where you can go, but you have to believe in yourself.”
Elliott asked the graduates to focus on three P’s: perseverance, patience and perception. “Perseverance means you will continue even with the wind against you, but you still move forward,” she said. “You all evidently have patience, because you are here.” As for perception, she said, “Sometimes, our perception is totally off, and we begin to believe that we can’t do it. Well, I want you to believe that you can do it, you can have it, and you will be it! I want you to get that down in your heart. You can become absolutely anything your heart desires.”
Speaking on behalf of the graduating students during the ceremony was Melissa Pearce of Franklinton. She said it was “a miracle” that she was standing in that position as a graduate. At age nine, Pearce was seriously ill and was in a coma for 48 hours. “I stayed in the hospital for two weeks recovering,” she said. “After being released from the hospital, I had a really hard time learning and remembering things, and still do to this day.”
School was always difficult and frustrating for Pearce, and eventually, she dropped out. Pearce married and had three sons, but she always felt the need to go back to school to obtain a high school diploma. Twice, she started but did not finish.
“Once my boys were all in school and didn’t need me during the day, I started to think again about education and all of the benefits associated with education,” she said. “I decided to try to get my GED again, but this time, I created a six-month game plan.” She went to class four days a week for five months at VGCC’s Franklin Campus, and then in the sixth month, took all four of the required tests. “I worked hard and stayed focused and had two amazing teachers who helped me and encouraged me to not give up,” Pearce recalled.
“Within one month’s time, I had passed all my tests and received my GED in March 2016! I did it! I want my children to know even with all the obstacles that stood in my way, I never gave up. I may have lost focus on my education, but it was all worth it to raise my family. Now that I have regained my focus on my education, I plan to keep pushing myself and reaching for the stars!”
Pearce is now enrolled in the VGCC Early Childhood Education program, starting in the summer term. “My goals are to one day become a director of a day care to provide the care and support that all children need,” she said. Pearce urged her fellow graduates, “Don’t give up on your dreams, no matter how long it takes.”
In welcoming remarks, VGCC Vice President of Academic & Student Affairs Dr. Angela Ballentine congratulated the graduates. “You have passed the tests. You have completed your work,” she said. “It may not have been easy, but it has been worth it, because tonight, you can celebrate a great achievement.” Ballentine, too, urged them to continue their education at VGCC. “We will help you make the transition to college, and we will advise you as you dream, design and discover new pathways and new possibilities,” she said.
Following Elliott’s address, Dr. Stelfanie Williams, the president of VGCC, praised the graduates and applauded the Basic Skills faculty for preparing students to succeed. “The diploma you receive tonight will allow you to begin to realize your dreams,” the president said. “You are now able to further your education, start a career, and become a lifelong learner.” As an extra incentive for graduates to move on to the next level of education, she 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.
After VGCC Adult Basic Skills department chair Greg Nash announced the candidates for graduation, Dr. Ballentine assisted President Williams in presenting diplomas.