Not even a rainy evening could dampen the spirits of this year’s Piedmont Community College graduates, their families and their friends, who gathered in the Person High School gymnasium Friday for the college’s 48th commencement ceremony.

Donned in dark green robes made from recycled plastic water bottles, the graduates listened with anticipation to an invocation given by Rev. Dr. Jeanine Driscoll of St. Mark Episcopal Church and a welcome given by PCC Board of Trustees Chair Bayard Crumpton.

“Life truly is a journey, and we are grateful that you allowed us to be a part of your great journey,” Crumpton said.

He thanked those who supported the graduates in their academic careers, urging them to continue being a place of stability and strength as the graduates decide what their next steps will be.

To the graduates, he expressed the confidence and pride that the college’s trustees board and faculty hold for them.

“We hope that your experiences at [PCC] have prepared you for the next path chosen as you look to achieve your life’s purpose,” he said.

“We also encourage you to continue learning, teaching and sharing with those around you. Set an example for those who may follow.”

PCC President Dr. Pamela Senegal introduced Michael Chaney, the college’s 2018 Alumnus of the Year, who graduated in 2014 with his associate in arts and criminal justice degrees. He went on to earn a bachelor’s of science degree in homeland security – with a double concentration in terrorism and intelligence, and a minor in criminal justice administration – from Campbell University. Currently, he is a student at Campbell Law School.

“The recipient [of the 2018 PCC Alumni Partnership’s Alumnus of the Year award] must be a person who personifies the Partnership’s motto: ‘serve, support, share,’” Senegal said, before she shared Chaney’s various involvements in the college and in the local community, including PCC Student Government Association Vice President, Phi Theta Kappa National Honor Society member, LEO Club member, peer tutor and Person County District Attorney’s Office intern.

“I am also pleased to announce that Michael is not the only Chaney who will take the stage this evening,” she said. “His brother, Zachary, is graduating tonight. As a true PCC student, Zachary has encouraged his brother to stay connected and engaged with the college.”

Michael Chaney shared with the audience his formula for changing the world – a phrase, he said, that is constantly studied and discussed. First, he said, love mercifully. Second, act justly. Third, walk humbly.

“Because, you see, you need your strength,” he said. “Because while each of you find yourselves coming to the end of a very long journey today, graduates, I dare say that your journey is just beginning.”

Senegal then introduced the ceremony’s guest speaker, former PCC Board of Trustees Chair Donald Wilson, who served on the board from 1990 to 2016 in various roles, including treasurer, chairman and lead supporter.

“Let me begin by saying, if it can be done in Person County, Donald Wilson has done it,” she said.

With a degree in accounting from East Carolina University and, as a member of the North Carolina National Guard for seven years, Wilson became the CPA of Person County’s 2008 Small Business of the Year, Donald W. Wilson accounting firm. In addition to his positions on the PCC Board of Trustees, he has also served on various other boards, including the Person County Recreation, Arts and Parks Department; Person Memorial Hospital and Bethel Hill Charter School.

His involvement in the community also runs deep, with Concord United Methodist Church, Roxboro Jaycees, Kiwanis Club, Roxboro/Person County Home Builders Association and the Roxboro Area Chamber of Commerce included in his undertakings. In 2016, North Carolina Representative Larry Yarborough presented Wilson with the Order of the Long Leaf Pine award, which is the most prestigious service award given to civilians by the North Carolina State Governor.

“Now, before I let you be motivated by Donald’s words and experience, I would like to share a few details about tonight’s presentation,” Senegal said. “As Donald will tell you, he has [Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease.] The speech you will hear tonight was written by Donald with the use of remarkable equipment and technology that allows him to place words on a page by moving his eyes around a screen.”

In his speech, Wilson highlighted the importance of having strong support systems.

He likened four important support systems to the legs of a table, each depending on the other for balance.

The first leg, he said, is a strong family support group. The second is a strong educational support system – existent in the PCC community to be found and maintained even after graduation. The third leg is professional support systems, made up of “other people who are headed in the same direction you are.”

The fourth – and, Wilson said, the most taken for granted – is valued friends.

He then encouraged the graduates to partake in an exercise, where they looked at the people to their right, left and rear, considering which roles those people may play in their later lives.

“Don’t miss the opportunity to make an acquaintance,” he said. “You never know when that acquaintance might become a friend – better yet, a valued friend. Better yet, a lifelong friend. Better yet, a friend in need.”

Wilson then took a moment to share some background about brain and central nervous system diseases and encouraged the audience to support the research of these diseases. He ended his speech with one last exercise.

“I want our graduates to stand up for me,” he said. “I will give you a second to get up, then turn and face the stands.”

“On my count of three, I want you to yell, as loud as you can, ‘Look Grandma, I made it!’ Then please sit back down.”

Senegal and Crumpton joined Wilson to present the Academic Excellence Award to Katie Slaughter, a graduate who earned an associate in arts degree, upheld a grade point average of 3.46 and was just accepted into the PCC Associate Degree Nursing program.

“Katie believes she has grown – not only as a student, but as an individual while at [PCC,]” Senegal said. “She noted that her instructors and advisor helped her gain confidence in her abilities with their positive comments, and expressed certainty in her ability to handle difficult classes and class loads.”

Slaughter was also awarded the P&A Scholarship to assist with funding her education.

“She shared that, financially and personally, attending PCC was the best decision for her education,” Senegal said.

PCC Interim Vice President of Instruction and Chief Academic Officer Lisa Cooley presented the 292 graduates who would be receiving degrees, diplomas and certificates. Piedmont Community College Vice President of Continuing Education Dr. Doris Carver then presented the 75 candidates for high school equivalency.

Senegal awarded the degrees, diplomas and certificates before recognizing families and making a few announcements.

After a benediction by Driscoll, the graduates exited the gym to the time honored notes of “Pomp and Circumstance.”

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