Durham County

Durham Tech’s proud Class of 2017 celebrates at DPAC

Shelby Brooks takes part in Durham Technical Community College’s 2017 commencement exercises at the Durham Performing Arts Center Wednesday night.
Shelby Brooks takes part in Durham Technical Community College’s 2017 commencement exercises at the Durham Performing Arts Center Wednesday night. The Herald-Sun

More than 325 Durham Technical Community College graduates walked toward the Durham Preforming Arts Center stage and to their seats Wednesday night to Whooos and Yeeeaahs screamed down from the mezzanine.

Parents yelled their children’s names.

Joyous outcries kept coming.

Proud smiles worn on faces watching from galleries shone down silently from the more reserved sections of the crowd.

The audience did the wave.

One graduating student’s scream was heard above all else: “Mom!”

Cameras snapped. Thousands of pictures locked moments into memories.

Two of the women in cap and gown at DPAC were the first members of their families to graduate from college.

Every graduate was allowed to invite and give a limited number of tickets to the graduation ceremony to relatives and friends. Krystal Spivey, of Hillsborough, said she gambled with her peers for extra tickets.

She won.

“I got nine other tickets,” she said. “I’m the first person to graduate from my family. They’re really proud.”

Spivey’s mother has recently gone back to school herself and her brother, an Army medic, has ambitions of attending UNC-Chapel Hill after the impedning completion of his military service. Spivey said: “Maybe my graduating will encourage my family to go back to school and to go in the future.”

Like Spivey, Carmen Williams — “Durham born and raised” — is the first member of her family to graduate from college. Williams studied architectural technology at Durham Tech.

Years ago, Williams initially attended N.C. A&T State University but dropped out to take care of her mother during her recuperation from spinal surgery.

The majority of Durham Tech’s programs are designed for students to graduate in two years. It took Williams three. She worked full-time while in school.

“I paid for this out of pocket,” Williams said.

Her mother could not attend Wednesday’s ceremony because of her health.

Williams said, “I did it for my mom.”

The graduates of Durham Tech’s 56th graduating class who attended the ceremony Wednesday were only a portion of those who graduated from the college in the past year. Durham Tech awarded more than 1,200 degrees, diplomas and certificates to more than 900 individuals in its curriculum programs and more than 200 high school equivalency credentials in the past 12 months, Durham Tech President William Ingram said.

Eileen Baccus, president emeritus of Northwestern Connecticut Community College, delivered the commencement address.

“I ... Am ... From ... Durham,” Baccus told the audience, to cheers. “... And a very proud graduate of Hillside High School,” she added, to even greater applause. “Class of 1960. Yes, I’m an old lady.”

She grew up on Ridgeway Avenue, a few blocks from the Durham Tech campus, and attended W.G. Pearson Elementary School and Whitted Middle School.

Baccus’s speech focused on the theme of critical thinking. She said, “Be a critical thinker. Know the right things to ask. Then choose between good and bad, darkness and light.

“You know there is an old Chinese adage, which I’m probably paraphrasing. ‘May you live in interesting times,’” she said. She continued, “Well, Class of 2017, there has hardly been a time more interesting than the present.”

Baccus told her listeners, “There seems that there is no end to the challenges that pop up in each new news cycle, even as recently as yesterday ... opposing views on health care, creeping intolerance of the other, all this and more, contribute to these ‘interesting times’ in which we live ... Your faculty and administration don’t claim to have given you all the answers during your studies at Durham Tech. Nor do they expect you to bear the burden of these challenges on your individual shoulders but can hope to have .. .provided a curriculum aimed at building thinking skills, which benefit the individual learner, the community and the entire democracy.”

Anticipation abated into rolling energy as students readied and began to cross the graduation stage and anxious parents angled to snap pictures of their babies being handed their diplomas in recognition of their hard work.

Colin Warren-Hicks: 919-419-6636, @CWarrenHicks