SANFORD — Ruben Pratt couldn’t have been happier. His smile matched those of any of the graduates at Central Carolina Community College’s Jan. 21 Adult High School/GED programs commencement exercises.
Pratt’s son, Jaspen, 22, had just received his high school diploma, years after dropping out of school in 10th grade.
“It was a bad decision then,” Jaspen Pratt said, “but I’ve got it now. It feels good.”
He is already continuing his education as a student in the college’s auto body restoration program in Pittsboro.
“I am so proud of him,” Ruben Pratt said as he gave his son a big hug. “His getting his diploma is one of the most beautiful things in the world. Glory be to God.”
Jaspen Pratt was one of about 150 graduating students attending the commencement exercises held at the Dennis A. Wicker Civic Center. A total of 272 residents of Chatham, Harnett and Lee counties completed studies for either a high school or a General Educational Development diploma during the semester.
The Civic Center was filled with proud family and friends. They rose to their feet in honor of the graduating class as the students entered the hall accompanied by the strains of “Pomp and Circumstance.” Some called out their graduate’s name, others whistled or cheered to express their pride and enthusiasm for the graduates’ achievements. Members of the graduating class smiled in return, standing a little taller in their blue robes at this recognition for what they had accomplished.
Three of the graduating class delivered commencement addresses: Teresa Ward, of Chatham County; Mark Valle, of Harnett County; and Daniqua Davis, of Lee County.
Ward dropped out of high school at the age of 16. Twenty-five years later, she stood at the podium as an honor graduate about to receive her high school diploma. Making the event even more special was the fact that her son, Darryl Crim, was also receiving his.
Ward said that the first few weeks after returning to school she felt out of her element. Then she earned her first two high school credits.
“I was so proud of myself,” she told the audience. “I set my goals and no one would let me give up.”
Now, Ward wants to continue her education and become an adult high school teacher.
“I want to teach, to give back to those who gave to me,” she said. “To those in the audience who never finished high school, go, go back. If you can believe, you can achieve.”
Valle, now 23, the oldest of five children, had dropped out of high school to help support his family. After a time, he decided to return to get his GED, but he struggled. He said the weeks became months and the months became years. He told his mother that he was going to quit, but his mother said quitting was easy, not giving up was the hard part.
“I stuck it out and here I am, graduating,” he told the audience. “If you left school, go back. It will be worth all the hard work.”
Valle plans to continue his education, going to college either in architecture or computer technology.
Davis, 18, told the graduates that many people limit themselves to what they believe they can do.
“Don’t stop here,” she told her fellow graduates. “Education means a better life.”
She took her own advice by already earning her certified nursing assistant certificate from Central Carolina C.C.
“I’ve decided to take it to the next level,” she said. “I’m going to Louisburg College for a degree in nursing.”
All of those graduating received a voucher good for one class at Central Carolina. In addition, the CCCC Foundation awarded $600 scholarships to Teresa Ward, Diaudra Baldwin, of Lee County, and Colby Willett, of Harnett County, to continue their education at the college.
Finally, the moment arrived that everyone in the room had been waiting for. College trustee R.V. Hight congratulated the graduating class and instructed them to move their cap tassels from the right side to the left, symbolizing their graduation.
With that, the audience spontaneously rose again, applauding and cheering while the new graduates tossed their hats in the air and hugged each other.
“Congratulations,” said Stelfanie Williams, vice president of the college’s Economic & Community Development Division. “We look forward to your continuing your education.”
For many of the graduates, that is exactly the future they can now envision for themselves.