Durham native urges Durham Tech grads to use talents to help their communities

May. 28, 2014 @ 10:14 PM

The Durham of Kennon Briggs’ boyhood is much different than the one graduates of Durham Technical Community College know today.

When Briggs was a boy in the 1960s, his mother could drop him off at the old Durham Athletic Park where $2.50 bought a game ticket, a drink and a hot dog.

 “Carl Yastrzemski, Joe Morgan, Rod Carew and Johnny Bench ran the bases while the aroma of curing tobacco wafted all through the stadium and filled your nostrils and permeated your clothes,” Briggs said during his keynote address to hundreds of graduates and several thousand friends and family members who jammed the Durham Performing Arts Center on Wednesday.

The local economy during Briggs’ boyhood was driven largely by Liggett & Myers and American Tobacco companies, where even those residents without a high school diploma could go to work and earn a good living.

But Briggs, a former vice president and chief of staff of the N.C. Community College System before retiring in 2012 and who now works as a higher education consultant, said IBM, Burroughs-Welcome and the Research Triangle Park came to the region and changed everything.

 “The skills demands of employers began to increase and Durham evolved into a City of Medicine with the growth and expansion of Duke Medical Center,” Briggs said. “Better jobs, better pay, more skills, more education.”

He said Durham Tech has been the “constant” that has embraced radical economic change while being at the forefront of helping to prepare residents for those better jobs.

“While traditional industries have gone by the wayside, replaced by healthcare, entrepreneurship, technology and advanced manufacturing, Durham Tech has been here to prepare your predecessors and you 2014 graduates for hope, prosperity and jobs,” Briggs said.

He urged graduates to go into Durham and surrounding communities and to use their gifts and talents for the greater good.

“We need you to be productive, contributory and responsible,” Briggs said. “We need you to be an ethical, proud and caring people. And we need you to be leaders, mentors and volunteers in Durham and Orange counties.”

Graduates and their supporters were in a festive mood, with families and friends shouting out to the graduates as they crossed the stage to receive diploma and certificates.

Afterward, they gathered in the lobby of the Performing Arts Center to share hugs and laughs and to take photographs of the new graduates.

Arthur Romero, 48, stopped just outside of the Performing Arts Center to take photos with his family.

 The Army veteran had just earned credentials to become a paralegal.

 “It was challenging,” said Romero, the father of three. “It was a lot of work, time and effort.”

Romero said he now has his sights on earning a bachelor’s degree.

“I’m not done,” Romero said, thanking his wife for her support while he earned his associate’s degree.

Christina Harford, 18, also earned an associates degree and will enroll in UNC Chapel Hill in the fall.

Harford, who was home-schooled before enrolling at Durham Tech, said she thoroughly enjoyed the experience at the community college.

“I wanted to save money and it seemed like a really good option,” Harford said. “I really enjoyed my time here.”

Crystal Jones, 30, earned an associate’s degree in medical office administration, said her next move is to find a job in her chosen field.

“It’s a big accomplishment,” Jones said. “I’m the first in my family to go to college.”

 The mother of two said it wasn’t always easy juggling the books, kids and a husband.

 “It was hard at times,” Jones said.

Mary Ann Black, chairwoman of Durham Tech’s Board of Trustees, reminded the graduates of the many sacrifices they made and those made by their families in support of their efforts to earn degrees and credentials.

 “We ask you to thank your families,” Black said.

Durham Tech President Bill Ingram also urged the graduates to thank those who supported them.

“Their success is your is your success as well,” Ingram said of friends and family members who supported the graduates.

Of the nearly 950 graduates, 661earned associates degrees or career certificates, while 278 were recognized for completing General Equivalency Diploma (GED) or Gateway to College Adult High School Diploma programs.