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OTC Holds Memorable Commencement Exercises

The Waycross Middle School auditorium was full of proud and excited family members and friends at the Okefenokee Technical College Summer and Fall 2007 Commencement Exercises, which were held last Friday, January 18, 2008.

It was a memorable evening, as Carl Swearingen, State Chair of the Technical College System of Georgia, delivered a special message to the graduates.

“It’s great to be back,” began Swearingen. “Some of you may ask, ‘Where have you been?’ Well, thirty years ago I was here. As part of the Southern Bell district team, I worked here and had the opportunity to see Waycross grow.” Swearingen described Waycross as the heartland of Southeast Georgia and of educational growth and success in Georgia.

Swearingen had visited the Alma Campus earlier that day, and he expressed his excitement regarding the potential for that campus, for what that facility and campus could do for this part of the state and the region.

Swearingen stated that he believes that there is a refocus on education in Georgia and that we are all in this together. He referred to the team effort that is taking place among the Department of Education, the University System of Georgia, and the Technical College System of Georgia. “We are in this together to improve lifelong learning and to give educational opportunities to every citizen of Georgia.”

According to Swearingen, on average, 148,000 students are enrolled in technical colleges in this state annually, and twenty-eight thousand graduate each year. As a result, technical colleges have a 1 million dollar impact on the state of Georgia.

In our adult education programs, according to Swearingen, 17-20 thousand participants graduate each year with their GED. In 2015, less than 3% of all jobs in the US will be available to someone without a high school diploma or GED. “If you know someone who does not have a GED,” stated Swearingen,” invite him or her to go to a technical college and enroll in an adult education program.”

“We need to ensure that the technical colleges have the facilities and equipment necessary to move forward and be globally competitive. We need visionaries. In the early 1960s visionary leaders right here in Waycross-Ware County invested 600,000 in a vo-tech area school. It took a great deal of wisdom and courage to invest that much money into one place, but now that investment is worth 60-68 million dollars, and the impact that it has had on the lives of its graduates is immeasurable.”

“They had the vision to look ahead. What will we see in 2040?” asked Swearingen.

For those who say that those enrolled in a technical college are not really in college, Swearingen challenged them to “Come along and take a course. The central difference is in the proportion of training - technical versus academia.” In his closing remarks, Swearingen challenged the graduates to share what they have learned with others.

Prior to Swearingen taking the podium, Selena Strickland, the 2007 OTC Goal Winner, addressed her fellow graduating classmates, challenging them to make a positive impact on their world and their community through quality workmanship, ethical practices and community service.

She shared her success story with the audience. Strickland earned a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree before enrolling at OTC. “The [degree] that has benefited me the most, the one that I worked the hardest for, and the one that means the most to me,” she said, “is my degree that I am receiving here, from Okefenokee Technical College.”

Strickland, a graduating Collision Repair Technology student, received several scholarships, awards, and honors while attending OTC. She is now operating her own collision repair shop in Brantley County.

Applause filled the room with Strickland’s final words, “Look out world, here we come.”

The ceremony began at 7 p.m. with the processional of graduates and the presentation of colors. The colors were presented by the Ware County JROTC.  The invocation was given by Adult Education Director Mr. Peter Mills, who also led the audience in the Pledge of Allegiance.

After a short welcome by Dr. Steve Pearce, Vice President for Academic and Student Affairs, Strickland spoke, followed by a beautiful rendering of “Please Remember” by Eryn Carter, OTC’s Career Transition Specialist for Charlton, Clinch, and Pierce Counties.

OTC President Gail Thaxton introduced and recognized special guests, including Representative Hatfield, community leaders, and OTC board members and trustees. These are, according to Thaxton, “some of the people who make the good things happen for Okefenokee Tech and at Okefenokee Tech.” She also welcomed Mrs. Pat Swearingen, Mrs. Maxine Higginson, and her husband, Billy Thaxton.

Thaxton recognized the OTC faculty and staff for their work and dedication to students and education, calling them “a truly outstanding faculty and staff” and “excellent performers who are working every day for the betterment of our students to create a learning environment that gives our graduates the fuel and knowledge that they need to be successful when they go into the workforce.”

Thaxton then introduced the guest speaker, Carl Swearingen, as having a long and distinguished career in telecommunications and a long history of community involvement. “Over the span of his career, Swearingen has been tapped on the shoulder by many people to lend his expertise and energy,” explained Thaxton. “Among those who have called upon him to serve on or chair committees are Governor Perdue and former Governor of Georgia Zell Miller. In addition, Swearingen was awarded the Bronze Star for his service in the Vietnam War.”

“As you can image,” stated Thaxton, “the Technical College System of Georgia is very, very blessed to have such a strong asset and leader to lead this organization. We are very fortunate to have Mr. Swearingen with us tonight,” continued Thaxton. “He is a champion of technical education throughout our state.”

Following his speech, diplomas and Associate of Applied Science degrees were awarded by Dr. Steve Pearce, Vice President of Academic and Student Affairs; Phillip Cook, OTC Board member; and Dr. Gail Thaxton, to the graduates.

On behalf of the Student Government Association (SGA), Sherry Beverly, an SGA representative presented honor pins to the honor graduates.

Among those graduating were the following students:

Appling County: Angela Brewer, Early Childhood Care and Education

Bacon County: Tina Jennings-Crosby, Surgical Technology; Megan Hall, Practical Nursing; Tisha Metts, Practical Nursing; Jessica Moore, Practical Nursing; Amy Roppe, Cosmetology; Ryan Thomas, AAS Microcomputer Specialist; and Bonnie Warren, Practical Nursing

Brantley County: Kristen Morgan-Crews, Cosmetology; Amanda Davis, Surgical Technology; Mikel Johns Jr., Automotive Fundamentals and Automotive Technology; Alana Peeples, AAS Accounting; Kendal Pollard, AAS Accounting; Nicole Spears, Practical Nursing; Selena Strickland, Automotive Collision Repair; and Dawn Waldron, Practical Nursing

Camden County: Lanequa Dallas, Cosmetology; Sheri Goss, Cosmetology; and Stacy Strickland, Cosmetology

Charlton County: Dana Cribb, Cosmetology; Marie Hubbard, Medical Assisting; Megan Miller, Cosmetology; and Stephanie Roberson, Medical Assisting

Clinch County: Deana Beverly, Surgical Technology; and Travis Chambless, Automotive Fundamentals and Automotive Technology

Coffee County: Tonya Chaney, AAS Respiratory Care Technology; CaTessa Graham, AAS Medical Laboratory Technology; and Merita Horton, AAS Medical Laboratory Technology

Glynn County: Kathi Maroney, AAS Respiratory Care Technology

Jeff Davis County: Victoria Bateman, AAS Technical Studies

Pierce County: Chad Aldridge, AAS Respiratory Care Technology; Gary Andrews, Forest Technology; Melissa Brant, Medical Assisting; Monica Chandel, Practical Nursing; Pamela Evans, AAS Microcomputer Specialist; Erica Hayes, Cosmetology; Brandi King, AAS Respiratory Care Technology; Elizabeth Lattany, Cosmetology; Alicia Lewis, Surgical Technology; Shalonda Moore, Surgical Technology; Hemal Patel, Medical Assisting; Tanya Roberson, Cosmetology; Tinesha Warren, Early Childhood Care and Education; and April Williams, AAS Surgical Technology

Ware County: April Aldridge, Cosmetology; Amanda Allen, Cosmetology; Jacklyn Bacon, Practical Nursing; Skye Baldwin, AAS Medical Laboratory Technology; LaTheresa Bostick, Criminal Justice Technology; Kimiko Coffie, Retail Management Specialization; Katie Coomer, Cosmetology; Nancy Davis, Practical Nursing; Norma Deen, Accounting; Laveta Edwards, Business Office Specialist; Rachel Ellis, Surgical Technology; Kelly Fogle, Practical Nursing; Mclyn Hendrix, Practical Nursing; Kristen Jockisch, Cosmetology; Katherine Johnson, Cosmetology; Nakisha Kemp, Early Childhood Care and Education; Ambia Kickligher, Medical Assisting; Jennifer King, Surgical Technology; Shemekia Lattimore, Business Office Specialist; Antoinette Lewis, Criminal Justice Technology; Aalia McClendon, Environmental Horticulture; KaLee Morgan, AAS Medical Laboratory Technology; Willie Newsome, Automotive Technology; Arpita Patel, Medical Assisting; ReGina Reese, Cosmetology; Katherine Robison, AAS Respiratory Care Technology; David Sandiford, Surgical Technology; Jessica Sutton, Surgical Technology; Rodney Tyus, Automotive Technology; Jemmi Lynn Wasdin, Early Childhood Care and Education; and William Yarbrough, AAS Respiratory Care Technology

The ceremony concluded with closing remarks by Dr. Gail Thaxton, who congratulated the graduates and stated how proud she was of each one. Her comments were followed by the ceremonious “moving of the tassel.” Sondra Chapman was the pianist for the occasion, and Neal Murphy presided as Graduation Marshal.

Photo 1: Honorable Mike Boggs (Left), Superior Court Judge, and Honorable Mark Hatfield (right), State Representative of House District 177  joined OTC President Gail Thaxton in welcoming Carl Swearingen to Waycross. Swearingen was the guest speaker for the college’s commencement exercises.

Photo 2: Members of the OTC Board of Directors and Board of Trustees attending the OTC Summer & Fall Commencement Exercises Friday evening were recognized by Dr. Gail Thaxton (front) for their support of technical education. Carl Swearingen (second from left), State Chair of the Technical College System of Georgia, also commended the board members for their work. Among those recognized were Gary Strickland (Brantley) (Front, left), Judge Sam Edgar of Bacon County (second from right), Tom Davis (Bacon), (Back L to R) Ben Bennett (Pierce), Phillip Cook (Clinch), James Willis (Ware), and Bill Higginson (Pierce).

Photo 3: Swearingen (right) was greeted by several community leaders upon his arrival. Among those on hand to welcome Swearingen (right) and his wife, Pat (not shown), were Tony Tanner, Waycross Police Chief; Linda Zechmann, State Board of Education member and Team Leader for Work Ready Ware; and Curtis Brantley (right), Executive Director of the Children’s Initiative.

Photo 4: Ware County Graduates (Front to Back - L to R):
Nakisha Kemp, Early Childhood Care and Education; Kimiko Coffie, Retail Management Specialization; Kristen Jockisch, Cosmetology; Jacklyn Bacon, Practical Nursing; Jessica Sutton, Surgical Technology; Mclyn Hendrix, Practical Nursing; Katherine Johnson, Cosmetology; Shemekia Lattimore, Business Office Specialist; Norma Deen, Accounting; Jennifer King, Surgical Technology; April Aldridge, Cosmetology; Regina Reese, Cosmetology; David Sandiford, Surgical Technology;  Rachel Ellis, Surgical Technology; Nancy Davis, Practical Nursing; Katie Coomer, Cosmetology; Kelly Fogle, Practical Nursing; Amanda Allen, Cosmetology; Jemmi Wasdin, Early Childhood Care and Education; Rodney Tyus, Automotive Technology; and Antoinette Lewis, Criminal Justice Technology

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