OCtech grads step into the future
By DALE LINDER-ALTMAN
T&D Staff Writer
“You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes
You can steer your self
Any direction you choose.”
Dr. James Williamson, president of the S.C. Technical College System, launched Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College’s 2016 graduating class into the world with words from Dr. Seuss.
During Thursday night’s commencement ceremony, Williamson told the graduates that they’ll be deciding what’s next in their lives.
Some are contemplating a new career. Some are working on promotions. But what they decide will be unique and special.
The degrees and certifications awarded to OCtech’s students ranged in areas from criminal justice to health sciences to automotive technology.
Williamson said each of them has a different and unique story.
With a grade point average of 3.957, Ke’Andra Johnson of Orangeburg graduated with the highest average of any student in her area. She earned an associate degree in criminal justice.
“I’m very excited,” she said. “But I feel like it’s just a stepping stone on my way to my bachelor’s degree.”
She plans to return to OCtech as part of its bridge program with four-year colleges. She’ll be able take all her courses except those in her last semester at OCtech. That’s much more economical, she said.
At one point, she wanted to be a law officer, but she’s looking at working at a prison because she’s really interested in prison reform.
“I don’t like the jail system, especially in South Carolina,” she said. “There are a lot of people doing a lot of time for crimes that really weren’t that serious and that they could have gotten lesser charges for.”
Johnson plans to become a guard and work her way up in the system.
“I would love to become a warden and see how I could help with prison reform,” she said.
Claire B. Arnold is the first college graduate in her family. They were all at graduation to help her celebrate, she said.
Arnold earned an associate of arts degree and plans to transfer to the University of South Carolina-Upstate to get a bachelor’s degree in middle school education.
“I’m really excited and proud,” she said.
The greatest thing about her experience at OCtech was “developing a family here. It’s such a close-knit school and TRiO has had my back 100 percent.”
TRiO is OCtech’s student support services program.
Shirley B. Smith is a non-traditional student who overcame major obstacles to graduate with her class. She was recently diagnosed with lung cancer, but she put off surgery to graduate with her class.
“I was determined,” she said. “I’m 52 years old, and this is the first time I’ve ever marched.”
Smith says her surgery is scheduled for Tuesday and the doctor has given her a good prognosis.
“To God be the glory,” she said. “The way that I found out about it, I had been having some pain, and they found it early.”
Smith earned her certification in patient care technology. That’s three certifications in one, she said.
She’s been through other obstacles during her time at OCtech, including losing her mother last December. But she has some words of advice for people, she said.
“No matter what you’re going through, always continue to push forward. Continue to smile and know that there’s a greater plan for your life,” she said.
Leonard Rivers, another non-traditional student, earned his certification in automotive technology. He said he’s always loved working on cars.
“I feel great,” he said. “I feel terrific. I’ve always wanted to do this.”
He plans to open his own business.
“I want to be an entrepreneur,” Rivers said.
Williamson offered the graduates words of advice about looking for opportunities.
Keep your eyes open, he said. Opportunities seldom show up telling you they’re opportunities. Often, things that look like obstacles turn out to be great opportunities in disguise.
Don’t let a fear of being uncomfortable prevent you from accepting a challenge. Don’t focus on what could go wrong. Focus on what could go right and replace fear with curiosity.
Williamson was named head of the S.C. Technical College system in March 2014.
Before that, Williamson served as chief human capital officer for Agape Senior and president of Northeastern Technical College and Williamsburg Technical College.
Additionally, he has served as a faculty member or administrator at four community colleges and three universities in South Carolina.