More than 900 Durham Technical Community College graduates and 150 GED diploma graduates marched across the stage at the Durham Performing Arts Center on Wednesday afternoon to receive their degrees.
It was the fifth year gradation has been held at downtown’s DPAC.
Graduates in black robes, some with gold sashes to indicate honors, entered the auditorium to live bagpipes and drums.
The commencement speaker was Wake County District Court Judge Michael Denning, a Durham Tech alumnus.
Denning was raised in Colorado and enlisted in the Marine Corps after graduating from high school. He served for 11 years, obtained the rank of staff sergeant, and served as a guard at U.S. embassies in China, Japan and Indonesia, and as a counterintelligence specialist in Bosnia, Somalia and Haiti.
He then served as a private investigator before enrolling at Durham Tech in 2000. He went on to earn his bachelor’s degree in English and medieval history from UNC-Chapel Hill and then went to Campbell University’s Norman Adrian Wiggins School of Law.
He joined the Shanahan Law Group in Raleigh in 2007 as a civil litigator and defense attorney. In 2010, he successfully ran for judge in the N.C. 10th Judicial District.
The seventh of 12 children, Denning said he joined the Marine Corps to get some privacy.
Denning told the graduates that they many of them started college later than average because, like him, they were busy with life.
“It’s not important when you accomplish your goals, but that you do accomplish them,” Denning said.
For those graduates who are continuing on to a four-year college, Denning said they will be prepared to succeed there. Durham Tech has taught them how to think – not what to think, he said.
GED diploma recipient Xiomara Gonzalez, 26, of Carrboro, said she will be applying next year to UNC-CH and hopes to study dentistry there.
“I feel very happy today because of my goals,” Gonzalez said. “I have my certificate. I feel proud of myself. I’m living the American dream.”
GED diploma recipient Jody Jenkins, 41, of Durham, has enrolled in the business administration program at Durham Tech.
After high school, he spent five years in the Marine Corps and then worked as a salesman.
“There just came a time when I needed to get back to school and reinvent myself,” Jenkins said.
Shaunette McCray, 40, a paralegal studies graduate, transferred to Durham Tech from a program in Philadelphia. She is already working for Blue Stephens & Fellers law firm in downtown Durham.
She said she sometimes had problems when classes were not offered consecutively, but that her teachers kept her on track.